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‘The Leftovers’ Is the Best Show on Television Because It’s Breaking the First Rule of Storytelling

Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, and Mimi Leder explain how breaking a cardinal rule of TV writing led to some of the best scenes in Season 3.

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 2 Carrie Coon Regina King

Carrie Coon gif The Leftovers Season 3

“Don’t Be Ridiculous”

The Story: After a taxing business trip, Nora (Carrie Coon) stops by Erika’s (Regina King) house and breaks down while explaining why she got a mysterious new tattoo of the Wu-Tang Clan symbol — and why she broke her arm because of it.

Why It Works: The short answer is “Carrie Coon.” For the long answer, we go to the master of long answers, Mr. Lindelof.

“When you have actors on the level that we do, the telling of the story becomes more compelling in many ways than just showing it,” Lindelof said. “We write these episodes highly collaboratively. Before the writers go off to write their drafts, we are in a room surrounded by white boards and […] you just build it in the room. You understand that in the editing room, you’re going to lose a chunk that felt essential on the page, but the performance now elevates the writing to the point that we don’t need [it].”

From directing standpoint, Mimi Leder knows just how to balance the emotion of a scene like this.

“If the actors became too emotional, it would almost take you out of it a little bit,” executive producer Mimi Leder said. “So bringing an actor in and sitting on the emotion is often much more fulfilling than letting it all out.”

When asked about the scene, Coon provided a three-step process to reaching that tricky middle-ground.

“First, you have to be very solidly off-book,” Coon said. “You have to be as memorized as you can be so you’re not thinking about the lines. The second thing is that you have an actor like Regina King across from you, who you know is going to be present and listening. Speaking into listening is so much easier. The third thing, I guess, is breathing. You just have to stay present to what’s right in front of you.”

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’ Review: Episode 2 Redefines the Series as Carrie Coon Delivers an Astounding Solo Show — And Takes Control

“With those three things, you can relax into your body and then let your imagination do the work for you — I guess,” Coon said, with a laugh. “The process is mysterious.”

Less mysterious is the motivation behind the story.

“People are telling stories for a reason,” Perrotta said. “There are dramatic stakes within the storytelling. For Nora, we’ve been watching her under huge pressure, and that’s the moment when she breaks — telling that story to Erika. So, in that sense, the stories are anti-dramatic in the sense that we’re not showing, we’re telling, but they’re in contexts that are dramatic.”

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