“Depending on the day, if someone asks me about Patti, I can’t get through the conversation,” Dowd said, in an interview with IndieWire. “You didn’t play those parts. You lived them.”
For three seasons, Dowd portrayed the confounding antagonist-turned-hero Patti Levin. She earned the series’ first and only Emmy nomination in 2017 (her second of the year, along with “The Handmaid’s Tale”).
“I think if you were to internally poll all of us — Justin, Carrie, [director and producer] Mimi [Leder], [music supervisor] Liza Richardson, the editors, and all the actors — and say, ‘The Leftovers’ is only going to get one nomination — and we’re taking [Outstanding Drama] Series off the table’ — I think everyone would’ve written down ‘Dowd,'” co-creator Damon Lindelof said.
“She should be working in everything,” co-star Justin Theroux said previously. “She’s not a secret anymore, but she’s been consistently good for her entire career.”
“She’s just on it,” co-star Carrie Coon said. “Even when she tells you she’s worried that she doesn’t know her lines, she’s always word-perfect and she just gets right to the heart of what’s active in the scene.”
Through that investment, Dowd came to understand “The Leftovers” on a level as profound as anyone. She knows “the resistance is going to come up” for new viewers, so to better illustrate her point, she shared a story about her son. Now a grown man living in New York, Liam Dowd is on the autistic spectrum.
“He would never cry — he couldn’t bear it,” Dowd said, noting how family gatherings were always taxing for him. Liam was “adored” by his cousins, in part because “he had no filter,” but he refused to feel the sadness building up inside when it was time to leave.
“So he’d turn to them and say, ‘Why did I spend one minute with you? I never liked you. I’m glad I’m leaving you,'” Dowd said. “And they’d be crushed.”
Dowd said she’d pull the car over on the way home to talk to him.
“‘It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it?'” she would tell him. “‘Because you love them, and it hurts. I know it’s hard for me. I don’t want to leave, and I don’t want to say goodbye.'”
“Next thing you know, he would collapse [in tears].”
Even today, Liam rebels against sadness. It’s what comes naturally to all of us, but Dowd knows just what to do.
“I’ve got to get him to that place again,” she said. “‘Baby, it hurts. Just stop resisting,’ and then he’s much better, you see? You think the pain is just going to get worse. They don’t know that on the other side of that [pain] is acceptance and release of grief.”
“That’s like ‘The Leftovers,'” she said. “It’s fairly basic. […] Someone says, ‘Why watch it?’ and I say, ‘Doll, sit with it. It’ll be uncomfortable for 15 minutes, and then once you let go of the constraints, you’re going to be in.”
The Darker Side of Dowd
Dowd has a habit of making things feel simple. In person, she’s delightful company: “sweet, authentic, and grounding,” as Theroux described her. She’ll heap praise on her co-stars, creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, but rarely does she acknowledge the incredible work she’s done.
“There’s the picture of humility,” Coon said of Dowd. “It’s so hard to get her to talk about herself.”
“The thing about that show is there are people I deeply love,” Dowd said about “The Leftovers.” “I don’t know them personally, except Justin — and Carrie and Amy [Brenneman] a little bit — but for life I would throw myself in front of a truck for them.”
“I love her — I mean, I truly love her,” Theroux said. “And then she’s also one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with.”
Because of the warmth and modesty on display in real life, and shared between co-stars, one may be inclined to say Dowd is the exact opposite of her characters. That’s not entirely true. There are layers to Dowd — darkness and light — that she meticulously and thoroughly explores on screen.
At least, that’s what Coon said.
“The thing you now know, having spent time with Ann, is that the person you meet is so different from the person on screen,” Coon said. “But, of course, she’s not different. That’s who she is, too: The darkness is also a part of Ann Dowd.”
“That’s the great thing about these roles,” Dowd said. “You can step into another life where you don’t necessarily behave in that fashion. If someone had said, ‘Would you join the Guilty Remnant?’ Hell no. I’m not a community kind of gal. And with Lydia, her views, are you kidding? [I’m] the antithesis. But I love them both deeply.”
Love and hate, light and darkness: It all comes out on set.
“There’s a mischievous twinkle in Ann Dowd that you don’t necessarily perceive when you see her,” Coon said. “That part of her is real, too.”
“Implementing a dark sense of humor and caustic wit to Patti are not things that were on the page, and they are not things that are part of Ann Dowd’s personality,” he said. “I’m not saying she’s not a funny person. I’m just saying I don’t know where that other thing comes from.”
For instance, while shooting a scene in Season 2, Theroux caught an unscripted slap to the face. He was taken aback, but in the moment, Dowd said she didn’t know she was going to do it. Patti just took control for a second. Only later did she admit to him that she’d planned the slap all along. She had to — it helped the scene.
“In addition to her incredible talents, that she played such an incredible villain, somehow she was also the den mother of all things ‘Leftovers,'” Lindelof said. “That dichotomy sums her up.”
“I was always really jealous of Justin because he got to work with her [so often],” Coon said. “But I was also jealous of Ann because I saw the work Justin did with her.”
Dowd explained their working relationship through a scene in Season 2’s iconic episode, “International Assassin,” when Theroux’s character is sent to kill Patti. She was having trouble getting through a scene the way she wanted to, and then Theroux stepped in.
“He just said one sentence to me just before we shot it,” Dowd said. “We didn’t use this take, but this is the essence of Patti, and he got to it. He said, ‘Just remember her past for a second. Think about her past. Think about Neil for a second.’ And it got to the core of her pain, and it took a phrase from him.”
“His performance? Come on,” Dowd said, raising her hands in amazement. “But what he does for the other actor — the silent things — he’s stellar. He’s got his eye out for you.”
“Part of it is just loving to play tennis with her,” Theroux said. “She’s one of those people who comes onto a set and it’s like an anchor has been set. You’re just ecstatic that she’s there.”
That slap, by the way? It made the final cut.
Continue reading for how Dowd’s education informed Lydia on “The Handmaid’s Tale” and more.