[Editor’s note: The following interview contains spoilers for the “The Leftovers” Season 3, Episode 7, “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother).” Moreover, what follows likely won’t make a lick of sense unless you’ve seen the episode, which cannot be succinctly explained.]
On Sunday night, the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense secretly plotted to destroy the world — and succeeded.
No, this isn’t a breaking news story — not yet, anyway — and the world eviscerated by nuclear war luckily wasn’t even real in the fictional world of “The Leftovers.” In the most recent episode, aptly titled “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother),” the American political trio destroyed the afterlife as we know it in order to save Kevin’s soul, and playing the titular roles were Justin Theroux, as President Kevin Harvey, Ann Dowd, as Secretary of Defense Patti Levin, and Liv Tyler, as VP Meg Abbott.
While the well-hidden reunion was cherished by all three actors, both Theroux and Tyler made special declarations to their co-star.
“I love her — I mean, I truly love her,” Justin Theroux said of Ann Dowd during an interview with IndieWire. “She’s genuinely a lovely person, [but] she’s also a towering talent. She’s up there with Meryl Streep for me.”
“I love her,” Tyler said in a separate interview. “She’s my favorite person on the whole show. It’s such a testament to her […] that no one wanted her to go.”
Tyler is referring to when Dowd’s character died in Season 1, but she may as well have been talking about Season 2 as well. Dowd’s character has died not once, but twice on the series, and each time, it was thought to be a permanent goodbye.
“I feel like we love Ann Dowd so much, we couldn’t face not having her back,” Theroux said. “I was like, ‘We have to figure out a way to bring her back,'” Theroux said. “So Damon was like, ‘If I can figure out a way to bring her back, I’ll bring her back.’ And then he brought her back.”
Dowd’s appearance was certainly a surprise to fans, but it surprised the actress, too.
“I thought it was not happening,” Dowd said in an interview with IndieWire. “But then I got [an e-mail] about the pickup for Season 3, along with the rest of the cast, and I thought, ‘Well, this is an error. I’m on a group list, and that’s the only reason why [I got the e-mail].'”
It turns out that wasn’t the case. She called co-creator Damon Lindelof, and he informed her it wasn’t an error. She was coming back for Season 3.
That being said, Theroux knows Dowd wasn’t brought back just for the hell of it. Her character, Kevin’s arch-nemesis and spiritual other half, served a very important role in his character’s journey.
“I don’t think it was just a function of just getting her back,” Theroux said. “[Patti came back for Season 3] in what I thought was an ingenious way: to help Kevin through his journey, whereas in Season 2 I was really helping her through her journey.”
Both Theroux and Dowd see their characters’ relationship as a love story. While she killed herself in front of Kevin in Season 1, he helped Patti find peace in the afterlife — by brutally drowning her — in Season 2. Now, in Season 3, Patti is there to help Kevin.
“In this third season, she’s there for a specific purpose,” Dowd said. “By now, she’s let go of all that pain [from her life]. So she’s able to focus on him and what he needs. He brought her to the place she needed to be, and she’s there to return the favor.”
But Dowd wasn’t the only surprise of Episode 7. Liv Tyler, who played Meg, the recruit-turned-rebel leader of the GR, also returned after being killed in the Season 3 premiere.
“I kind of felt like Meg died at the end of Season 2,” Tyler said in an interview with IndieWire. “When you see her in Episode 1 [of Season 3], even that had a weird dream quality to me, and I wasn’t sure if it was Meg or not. I know that sounds strange.”
Tyler said she felt “guilty” about getting pregnant before shooting began on Season 3, and it felt “weird” playing Meg in the first episode while she was carrying her third child.
“Standing in the room with everyone smoking and being part of the GR — I just wasn’t in that headspace at all,” Tyler said with a laugh.
In Episode 7, Meg returned as the Vice President to help Kevin’s other self — the beardless assassin — reach the underground bunker and meet with President Kevin. But considering Meg’s destructive path, it’s understandable that Patti and Kevin are both suspicious of her.
“I don’t want her there,” Dowd said of Patti’s reaction to seeing Meg. “I’ve got work to do, and you’re on a different thing. She knows what Meg’s capable of doing, and Meg has a shaky past in Patti’s view.”
“[But] she wasn’t there to hurt him,” Tyler said. “She was there to help him. He thought she was there to hurt him, and she was just trying to relay information to him.”
No matter the complicated feelings of the characters, the three actors were overjoyed to be working together again.
“I was standing there with Ann and Justin, and I had just had a baby so my form was totally not there, and we were just trying to remember all our weird presidential dialogue,” Tyler said. “It was hilarious, to be honest.”
“She is such a trooper,” Dowd said. “That woman had a baby like 10 minutes before [shooting Episode 7]. She flew with her newborn baby, and so here’s Liv — probably not sleeping — stepping into a whole other side of Meg, and she was just terrific.”
The two actors are close, and both Dowd and Tyler remembered bonding while shooting the pilot, which Tyler described as “one of the coldest winters ever in New York.”
“There was something special about it,” she said. “We were just there, all talking, getting to know each other.”
“You have those experiences in your life where you don’t even know what happens — you don’t know what the words are — but boy, it was big,” Dowd said.
“The overall arc of the whole thing is that it’s a family drama,” Theroux said of the show. “It’s not a family drama in the same way as ‘Parenthood.’ It’s obviously a much more whacked out version of a family drama. [But] I think at it’s core, [‘The Leftovers’] is about love, family, connection — period.”
How fitting it is, then, that these three on-screen enemies found such a powerful connection off of it; powerful enough, even, to end the world.