Spoilers ahead for “Guest,” the most recent episode of The Leftovers, so come back later if you haven’t watched it yet.
If Nora Durst seemed like an enigma before, she shouldn’t after the events in “Guest.” We have a much clearer idea of what her post-Rapture life is like — including why she totes a gun in her purse everywhere. In an interview with Vulture, Carrie Coon, the actress who plays Nora, said she’d asked showrunner Damon Lindelof about the gun early on and that he’d assured her, “You’re not going to kill yourself.” Turns out that Nora has merely developed a nasty habit of asking total strangers to shoot her square in the chest. Exploring Nora’s reaction to losing her entire family has made Coon feel like she’s been in mourning for a while, so she didn’t cancel when she lost a loved one in real life right before our scheduled interview time. During a break, she called us up from the funeral home (“We’re hanging in there, but it feels a bit surreal,” she said) and chatted with Vulture about Nora’s lack of aim, what it was like to hump a dummy, and goofing around with Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry on the set of David Fincher’s upcoming adaptation of Gone Girl.
Are you okay? I just want to make sure you’re not going to call up anyone to come over and shoot you in the chest.
Yeah, right? And that’s intense. I had to think to myself, People are capable of anything, especially when they’re insensible with grief. As an actor, you’re always confronting that reality. People will kill each other. People fly into jealous rages. People disappear. So yeah, she has some extreme behavior in this episode! It was fascinating for me to figure out this particular coping mechanism. [Laughs]
You wouldn’t want to ask me to do it. I have awful aim. I’d end up shooting you in the head.
Me too! I had to throw M&Ms into Ben Affleck’s mouth for Gone Girl, and I missed every time. So it’s definitely risky. And shocking. It’s a shocking coping mechanism. But certainly, someone is doing it somewhere! If it’s something you can think of, someone is doing it. How much money would I have to pay you to have you do that? And it’s a pretty short lesson she’s giving, in firing the weapon. Oh, boy! Pretty crazy. Nora’s always entertaining the possibility that the person could miss and she could die, and that’s okay, too. It’s a risky behavior! And she’s clearly not capable of taking her own life, but she’s willing to put it in someone else’s hands. And I think she feels badly that she’s not able to take her own life.
Prior to this, Nora’s been testing the boundaries, seeing how much she can get away with …
She’s no longer a wife and a mother. That’s been wrenched away from her. And she certainly indulges in it. It’s a real touchstone for her, for her sanity. The way people respond to her remind her that she’s there, remind her who she is, and I think she finds it kind of hilarious at the same time. I think Nora has a very dark sense of humor in spite of her situation, and I think she finds people’s responses kind of hysterical. She could punch somebody in the face, and they’re going to be the one to say, “I’m sorry.” When Carl Franklin was directing me for the grocery-store scene, he said, “She’s the Coretta Scott King of this town. She’s walking around as Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow for the rest of her life.” And that’s how she’s walking around. Like it happened yesterday. And that grief defines her now. And in episode six, her identity as the most grief-stricken person has also been taken away! And then she has to ask, “Who am I?” What does she have left? That’s the terrifying thing she’s confronting. And the possibility she’s confronting, that people don’t actually know who she is, she hadn’t considered it. She hadn’t considered that her air of celebrity wasn’t going to follow her into the city, and I think she’s responding out of fear.
Although she’s been to that conference before. And apparently, she did not spend her time there making friends, according to the woman she follows into the bathroom …
My question is always, What the hell was Nora doing that at that conference last year?! She had no business being there. She doesn’t even remember it. She was just sleepwalking. At least she’s not sleepwalking anymore.
Have you have had someone try to impersonate you before?
No, but I have this recurring nightmare that I’m being accused of murdering someone. And someone stole my credit-card number and tried to buy some amusement-park tickets in Georgia a few weeks ago. [Laughs.] So I had to convince my business manager I wasn’t running off to Georgia. But it is a really terrifying thing with how vulnerable our identities really are, with technology these days. That could happen. That could be a spinoff to The Leftovers, like Better Call Saul — the bureau that investigates people who are stealing the identities of departed people. You know, there’s a whole sector of people making a living off of that. For every tragedy, there’s someone making a living.
Speaking of making money off the departed, what was it like making out with the dummy?
So creepy! They actually made a rubber cast of Billy Magnussen, and it was especially creepy for him, considering there he was with a dead-body replica of himself. So I was definitely kissing and humping the dummy, which is one of the more odd things I’ve done on a project. And I was actually sort of deathly ill most of the week that we were shooting. I was absolutely delirious during most of it, in that sort of fever-dream state where you don’t really know what’s going on? That’s kind of how I felt that day, so it was kind of great, because then I got out of my own way. It felt like a dream.
Now that Nora has hugged it out with Holy Wayne, is she all better? It can’t be that simple, although I’m sure it was cathartic.
Nora’s not all fixed after that encounter, but I think she was primed to be susceptible to whatever it is that Holy Wayne is selling. I think you should be skeptical of anyone selling health in that way, or magic. Hugs should be free. But in the moment she’s feeling very vulnerable, and I think he does expose her in that moment, but her problems aren’t gone. It does open up the possibility of hope in Nora’s life, and that’s a very dangerous possibility for her to be open to …
It could lead to a relationship with Justin Theroux if all goes well …
Maybe! [Laughs.] I love that part of the book, but of course, we’re departing from that. There’s at least a little crack in the armor, though. Someone might get in there.
So let’s go back to throwing candy in Ben Affleck’s mouth for a moment.
Oh! That’s when we’re getting ready with [Tyler Perry’s character] Tanner. It might have been Gummi Bears, actually. I think we were throwing Gummi Bears. Tanner’s pelting him with stuff, so it’s pretty funny. And Tyler Perry, sometimes, when he would be doing his lines, Ben and I would forget to speak because we were just listening to him. Even if they were just very procedural, fact-based lines, we would get so involved in his voice that we would forget to speak. [Laughs.] And Tyler would blast gospel tunes on set, get everyone singing. And one time, I think it was actually a Bette Midler song, like “Wind Beneath My Wings” or something. And I was the perfect size for him to put his elbow on my head as a rest. Both Tyler and Ben are so tall, I felt very tiny on set. They were joking that they were going to do a buddy-cop picture, and then their heads would look like normal-size heads, because their heads are so big! They’re great guys, but [have] totally giant heads. [Laughs.]
Did you and Ben do anything to try to look alike slightly? You’re not identical twins, obviously …
[Laughs.] There was a moment when they were doing our hair and makeup tests and my makeup artist discovered that I have a tiny, tiny cleft in my chin, and so they tried to highlight it, to make it show up, shadow it a bit, since Ben’s got that chin, right? And I’ve got a bit of a chin, a bit of a Ben Affleck chin. [Laughs.] So they put the highlight in there, and then they looked at it and they realized it was off-center, and heaven forbid you have an off-center chin cleft in Hollywood, so we took that away. But having a strong chin probably helped me get the job. [Laughs.] When you see the movie, you tell me if you think Ben Affleck and I look alike — do a little side-by-side comparison split-screen!