Spoilers ahead for Sunday night’s episode of The Leftovers.
Laurie Garvey, Amy Brenneman’s character on The Leftovers, has had quite the journey from the pilot to the third-to-last episode, which ends with what looks like, maybe, her suicide. She began as the series’ most inscrutably unstable main character: Though the Sudden Departure had spared her family, she left them to join a nihilistic cult. Then it turned out she’d been a successful and very put-together therapist, and by season two she was a kind of faith healer. Now, in “Certified,” she’s the only stable member of an extended family that seems to have gone suicidally insane in anticipation of the apocalypse. After saying maybe-good-bye to her character and the show, Brenneman talked to us about Laurie’s motivations, showrunner Damon Lindelof’s twists, the lessons of her own producing days on Judging Amy, and intersectionality.
Did the script for “Certified” catch you by surprise?
The end did! To the point where I didn’t entirely know how she got there, so there was some awesome conversations with Damon. The flashback didn’t catch me by surprise because that’s the backstory that Damon and I came up with a long time ago. There’s always a million scenes that we discuss that often are not filmed. You just see the tip of the iceberg. So I was thrilled that it was going to be part of the episode. You know, most of the stand-alone episodes are a variation on Sisyphus. The character has an impossible task. When I looked at this episode structurally I was like, wow, Laurie does take action here and there, but the bulk of the episode is sitting and listening to people telling plans to me. Almost to a person they say, “I know you’re gonna stop me. I know you think I’m crazy.” And I say, “Do what you need to do.” It’s Laurie expressing unconditional love to a bunch of different people. So it’s this tricky passivity-activity piece. Well, she takes this big action at the end.
Possibly killing herself, yeah. Did you ask Damon what happens underwater?
I honestly didn’t know. I was of two minds, I truly was. What Nora says about scuba diving is purposely enigmatic. I had to call him up and say, “What do you think Laurie is intending,” and he said, “I think she intends to kill herself.” So that was all I needed. That’s as much as she knows.
I know there was some debate about whether this move makes sense for Laurie. Did you have those types of questions for Damon?
I had a million questions, and he had limited answers for me. You know, I’m just not a suicide kind of gal. I can be extremely self-destructive but I had to really make the leap. Listen, for the entire season Laurie has said all this anniversary-of-the-departure hocus-pocus is just mob hysteria. But I think with her falling into Melbourne Bay, that is her expression of this existential possibility.
And what about her evolution since episode one? She was in the Guilty Remnant.
I feel like the final version of her is very consistent with who she was pre-departure, and I think the person that she always hoped to be, and so in a funny way the first season is the aberration. But that’s Damon’s brilliant storytelling. We meet this person and that’s the only information we have about her. But even in that first season with that [pre-departure] flashback, she wasn’t a marginal person, she was extremely high-functioning and aware. How did she get from there to here? To me it’s more like what she covered up. I think that last moment, talking to her kids on the boat, is the happiest and the most true to who she is way down deep.
What do you think this last season is about?
This sounds softer and more sentimental than I mean it, but I think it’s about love, it’s about rigorous love. One reason I love this episode so much is that Laurie’s spent a lot of time judging people and telling them what they should do. That’s her thing. When we think about it, in The Leftovers, everybody’s constantly saying, “You should do this,” and “You should think that.” So to surrender and just say, “I don’t effing know, but if this is the last time I see you or if the world ends tomorrow, I want this to be a phase of love that we end on.”
You’re more than 15 years older than Carrie Coon. Is that something you’ve thought about in the course of the show? Are you playing a little younger?
No, I think that Laurie was older than Kevin. Damon and I, four years ago, we walked around Central Park and made up Laurie’s backstory together. He said, “Okay, now that we’ve cast the show, Chris Zylka [who plays her son] is a little bit older than I’d anticipated Tom to be, and frankly a little bit blonder. I think Laurie was married before.” I loved it. That was built into the DNA. So I only thought about it to the extent that I am both psychologically and physically not in childbearing mode anymore. Nora is still in that mode — and I know from when I was in that mode — of “Oh my god, I have to have a baby in the next blah-blah-blah years.” It was very maddening. Laurie’s out of that, and I think that’s good for the story.
Carrie Coon has worried in interviews about getting parts after 40. Have you ever thought about that?
It just hasn’t been my experience, and some of it is Judging Amy, which I created. It’s nice to be cast in things, but because I’m a writer-producer, I just don’t feel like I’m at a dance waiting to be chosen by a dude. I do think the diversity thing is changing, and cable is leading the way. But I also think if you’re gonna talk about women in Hollywood, you also have to open up the intersectionality of disabled actors and non-white actors. I get a little annoyed when it’s like, “Oh, the poor girl.” It’s just a much bigger question about representation.
Does your past producing experience make you more tolerant of, say, Damon’s need to keep actors out of the loop about their own characters?
It was frustrating to him as well, and I never take things personally that you would if you didn’t know how the sausage was made. And then to me, “just being an actor” is such a pleasure, because the producing end is so difficult. “The sun is setting, we have to get the shot!” I remember patting him on the back: “Okay, buddy, I’ll be in a trailer.” I love producing when I’m producing, and I love not producing when I’m not producing.