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Amy Brenneman on The Leftovers Finale, the Guilty Remnant, and Justin Theroux’s You-Know-What

Amy Brenneman. Photo: Getty

The following interview with Amy Brenneman covers the entire first season of The Leftovers, and as such, contains spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched the series up through Sunday night’s finale. Proceed with caution.

As Guilty Remnant member Laurie Garvey, Amy Brenneman didn’t have many speaking lines during the first season of The Leftovers, but the actress has plenty to say about questions viewers might have about what her character didn’t explicitly spell out for them. So, was Laurie the mastermind behind the big Guilty Remnant plot, which fell on her to execute in the wake of Patti’s demise? “That was all Patti,” Brenneman declares to Vulture. Did Laurie tell her family where she was when the Departure went down, and that she lost the baby? “I go back and forth about that,” she says. Okay, but was Laurie as truly and fully committed to the GR as she was to her vow of silence? “She was half in and half out,” she says. Brenneman cleared up these and other questions Vulture asked in a post-finale chat, which somehow also involves twerking, dragons, and Justin Theroux’s bulge.

That was quite a finale!
Right? [Laughs.] It was pretty extraordinary.

How would you feel if people went in your home, stole your family photosmade lifelike dummies of your deceased or departed family members, and put them in your home when you were sleeping? And do you think this was all Patti’s doing, or did Laurie come up with the plan, hoping it would be therapeutic somehow?
Well, you know … mad! But in a way, Nora’s catharsis was prompted by seeing her family. That’s probably the shred of buy-in that Laurie has for this particular action. It’s kind of helping to let it out. A true catharsis. Because these people never got to bury [their Departed]. It’s pretty aggressive, but they’re thinking, I’m doing this for your own good, even though it’s f—ed up. But it was all Patti. [Laughs.] I think it’s more aggressive than Laurie usually is.

Is Laurie out of the Guilty Remnant after the events in the finale? And if so, will Laurie talk now, and will she be reunited with her family?
Um … I don’t think she knows! I think it’s pretty raw and immediate. And what’s beautifully depicted the whole season, the way Damon pitched it, is that Laurie was halfway in and halfway out, and the reason for that is because she has these ties to her children. My feeling is that, story-wise, it’s a game changer that she put her daughter at risk. My thinking throughout the season, which we didn’t do specifically, is that one of the reasons Laurie was in there was that her children were better off with her there. She was probably pretty unstable and didn’t want to suck them into the madness. So that she made things even more unsafe is a pretty big game-changer. Any relationship that’s been frayed, you wonder, Was it always really fraught, or were these people really good at one point? And I think they were great — great — for a while. And we didn’t really see that in the flashback. They had already fallen apart there. I go back and forth whether she would have told them about the baby. Did Kevin know? I think he would have confessed [the affair] to me, and I think infidelity was the least of it. I think what’s beautiful about the flashback episode is that she’s watching him for signs [and saying], Is this a safe environment?

With the baby, she had been robbed of her grief, like Meg. It might have been hard to get sympathy for a departed fetus that hadn’t come to term, when it’s weighed against what happened to Nora.
Yeah, definitely. I like that. And whatever happened, it happened inside of her body, and it’s hard to know what to do with that. It’s crazy! I rewound that scene a couple times. And I wanted to know. I was hungry for that, for Laurie.

It was interesting to learn in the flashback episode that Laurie used to be a psychiatrist and Patti was her patient, if you want to talk about unstable …
It was fun to know that was coming. [Chuckles.] As opposed to someone like Patti, or even someone like Kevin, post-Departure, he just became more of what he was. It’s a beautiful throughline. But Laurie was a fully functioning, type-A working mom [who] wore the pants in a lot of different ways, while Justin’s character was the man-child, working for his dad. She made the money and she kept it going, so she had the biggest visual change. And that story point with Patti [from the flashback episode], we knew that from the beginning. What’s so delicious, plot-wise, is that you have a character saying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” and of course you go, Oh, dear … and then she’s right! Wow! How would that embolden someone like Patti, who has a borderline personality? When Ann Dowd and I were doing that coffee-shop scene in episode five, and she’s having that wonderful aria, part of what was going through my mind, through Laurie’s mind, was, Holy shit! This is the Patti as I first met her! Very unstable — and I tossed my lot in with her? This is not good. [Laughs.] And you know, Patti recruited me the way I recruited Meg, and I would love to see that journey — something about what she stood for, and the intimacy of our relationship just got to me, to make me think that was the best option out there. That the world is over.

Sounds like you’ve got a season-two flashback right there.
Don’t you think? Because even with that amazing plot point of knowing where Laurie was at the moment of the Departure, that woman doesn’t join a cult overnight. And also, as Damon [Lindelof] and I talked it out over a year and a half ago, with Laurie’s backstory, the moment that season one starts, she’s been in the Guilty Remnant for about six months. So for about two-and-a-half years, she tried to hang in there. That’s pretty interesting, right? So I think for a good, long time, I was still a shrink, and I can imagine the entire town coming to me and talking to me, but at some point, I made a choice that all of that was meaningless. So we’ve got to do that moment!

Do you think she thought she was entering a pacifist movement? Because the Guilty Remnant acts nonviolent at first, but they incite others to commit violenceas we see with how the town responds to their planting the Loved Ones dummies in their homes.
With what we’ve seen, one thing that attracted me, and therefore Laurie, when we go into the town’s Heroes Day event and the townspeople come at us, we thought of it as the Freedom Riders, right? We were nonviolent protestors. And in that initial conversation Kevin’s having with the mayor, she says we’re nonviolent. At that point, we are nonviolent. But we become violent. That’s what happens. I think that’s one reason Laurie is sort of brokenhearted. And it would be interesting to pursue that idea. Season one was so violent, but I like that nonviolent point of view, especially in light of what’s going on.

So you want your own nonviolent army?
I do. I’d like to be Khaleesi. I’d like a dragon. Maybe they have some extra dragons on Game of Thrones! Just toss one my way. [Laughs.] So I’d like to be Khaleesi, but I’d also like to be 20 years younger than I am and have a long blonde wig. That’s what I really want.

I think HBO would be more likely to incorporate your other idea, about Jennifer Aniston being a Guilty Remnant member.
[Laughs.] I can only imagine she’s dying to swap out that good-girl thing. Enough! Maybe they could just insert a couple frames of Jen Aniston, the way they insert a couple frames of a hot dog subliminally, to make people get hungry? Just a couple frames. And then you go, Wait … was that? No … Just enough so it gets in there.

Or maybe she could just be there to smoke and glower at anyone staring at Justin’s bulge?
[Laughs.] Exactly. Hey, listen — I was married to the bulge! It’s a nice bulge. They’re just really odd running pants! And it makes me laugh, because they’re just not stylish. Justin is not Kevin, but there are very few things that Justin Theroux could wear that would make him look geeky, but those running pants are geeky. They’re just geeky.

You wrote on your blog that Lea Michele recently told you that she wants to dress up as Laurie Garvey for Halloween?
She liked the idea of the winter whites. She was asking me if there were different ways she could carry her notebook, since some of the Guilty Remnant carry it around their neck. The sexy notebook place that I discovered was that I would stick it in my boot. That’s an option.

On the night of the finale, you tweeted about the news of Miley Cyrus wearing pasties and twerking at New York Fashion Week parties, writing, “Why is this news?”
I don’t know, man! It’s such a hard time for everyone, and we need distractions. I need distractions. But there’s so much good happening as well that I would love to have that be in the news more, and not have the only distraction be Molly … what’s her name? — Miley Cyrus twerking. That’s like, Wow.

Can you imagine if any of the members of the Guilty Remnant could learn how to twerk? Just to lighten things up next season.
I think that would be fabulous! [Laughs.] Perhaps Laurie could do a little pole-dancing. Or the dragons. I think the dragons should be twerking!

Amy Brenneman on The Leftovers Finale