‘The Leftovers’: Amy Brenneman on Her Shocking Episode and the Series Finale
‘The Leftovers’ star Amy Brenneman discusses her big episode as Laurie Garvey and the upcoming series finale. Warning: Lots of SPOILERS from Sunday night’s episode!
One last moment of silence for Laurie Garvey.
This one, unlike countless anguished, menacing silences while dressed in white and chain-smoking with the Guilty Remnant, was one of peace.
In the last moments of Sunday night’s episode of The Leftovers, Amy Brenneman’s Laurie Garvey counsels all of the tortured people in her life—Nora (Carrie Coon), her husband John (Kevin Caroll), and ex Kevin (Justin Theroux)—takes a boat out off the coast of Australia, has a short and pleasant phone call with her son and daughter, and then, as is alluded to early in the episode, buckles her SCUBA gear, throws herself into the water, and presumably kills herself.
Well, maybe the suicide isn’t just suggested.
In a phone conversation ahead of Sunday night’s airing of episode six, “Certified,” Brenneman herself says pretty concretely that Laurie has ended her life. Though, she is careful to warn that this is The Leftovers: “Rather than it being a binary life/death suicidal life-ending, this is a post-Departure world where people are talking about other realms all the time.”
While Brenneman confirms that Laurie does appear in the finale on June 4—“Can I say that?”—Sunday’s episode proved a rich swan song for one of The Leftovers’ most interesting and—especially when compared to the Laurie we first met, who spent the first season of the series in silence as a member of a cult—changed characters.
The episode begins with a flashback to a suicide attempt Laurie made almost a decade prior—ultimately leading her to join the Guilty Remnant—which is a poignant bookend to the serenity and certitude she seems to have in the SCUBA suit. In between is a powerhouse performance from Brenneman, particularly in a two-hander scene with Theroux on a porch (with, we learned, a brief distraction by a kangaroo) and a final send-off to Coon’s Nora.
We dig into all that—plus Brenneman’s desire to revive Judging Amy (!)—in the very spoiler-y interview that follows.
What is Laurie thinking at the end of the episode before plunging into the water? She looks up at the sky and seems rather at peace.
It’s funny. I had to sort of back into it myself, because it’s obviously not like most quote unquote “suicidal moments” that you see, or like she has at the beginning of the episode, which is full of distress and pain. I think at the very end, rather than it being a binary life/death suicidal life-ending, this is a post-Departure world where people are talking about other realms all the time. Even though she’s been quite literal and combative about those ideas, I think they’ve worked on her. So she may also be going towards something.
What about that phone call with Jill and Tommy right before she does it? What role does that play in this?
What I loved about that call is there is a very day-to-day beautiful reality to it. I’m a mom. I’ve had that kind of moment where I’ve had big emotions and I don’t want to share with them my kids. That’s just so human. And also her people are OK! I have two kids myself. I can only imagine hearing their voices as adults and they’re happy and they’re together. So there’s one impulse which would make you want to stay and connect, and there’s another piece that’s sort of just like, “My work is already done.”
It’s really interesting that Laurie, who had spent so much time being almost the audience’s voice of skepticism through all this, might entertain the idea that there’s not a finality in killing herself. That she got to the point where she could internalize the idea that there’s something else out there.
Yeah! And to your point, too, and I can’t remember if this was in the script, that it is a moment of completion and peace. So that decision comes out of that, and not out of stress.
The scene with Justin Theroux on the porch was this beautiful glimpse at two people who have a shared history that, even if it wasn’t always pleasant, are at a place to reminisce about it and be candid and familiar. What was it like to have that moment for Laurie and Kevin?
Probably two of my favorite scenes in the whole series are that and the one in season two when we have the long conversation in the hotel where I tell him he’s having a psychotic break. What I love about that is that these people trust each other in the way that you do if you parent [together]. I have friends who are going through divorces right now, and they might not be a great couple anymore but they still trust each other implicitly and have been through so much.
It’s a very realistic, relatable dynamic.
Listen, the only reason I’m in Australia is to make sure he’s OK, right? The entire thrust of episodes four, five, and six is to have a conversation with my ex-husband. Everybody’s tripping out on him, everybody’s saying all these things. I need to talk to him. And certainly in four and five, it is my belief that he is having a psychotic break and that Matt is taking advantage of him. He’s on shaky ground and people are taking advantage of that. So all I want to know is, are you OK? And once he says he is and I trust that’s true, it’s OK. If you’re OK, I’m OK. I think it’s bananas. I cannot witness this. I cannot share your death. But if it’s something you need to do, I’m not going to judge you for it.
I heard about a scene you were filming with Justin in Australia and out of the corner of your eye you saw a kangaroo. Was it this porch scene?
Yes! We were in this mountain range called the You Yangs. It’s not deep outback, but it’s out there. We were in hotels away from the City Center. And yeah! It’s like deer we have in New England. Like what the hell!? And they’re really funny. They’re like T-rexes. They have these strong legs and tiny, tiny hands. I forgot about that until I watched the episode and laughed. Through each season we always joke that we shoot The Leftovers in Biblical catastrophic weather.
The first season we were in New York and it was the polar vortex. And then Austin was 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity and then epic floods. Melbourne was actually sort of tame. It was the winter so it was kind of chilly, but we were outside in this incredible land. I feel like the physical environments are a huge part of The Leftovers and hugely inspiring to Damon and the writers. You can’t get that on a sound stage.
To that point, there’s that beautiful scene saying goodbye to Nora on the edge of a cliff with the water in the background. What was it like to figure out that relationship between Laurie and Nora in this episode, and then shoot such an emotional scene with that gorgeous backdrop?
Listen, anytime I get to be with Carrie Coon I’m a happy girl. Again, as an actor, as a person, Laurie has a very clear throughline. She wants to get to Kevin. And she’s a therapist, so she knows how to soften and deflect and do all that. I think what’s funny is you have Nora, who’s such a little spitfire fighter, right? And then you have Laurie, who’s not going to fight anymore…except for that one moment. (Laughs) That lighter. It’s so Leftovers where Laurie is calm, calm, calm, then she pushes me too far with that effin’ lighter, we have a kerfuffle, and then of course Nora’s ultimately a softie. She’s like, “Sorry about your eye!” And I’m like, “Eh, it’s OK.” It just made me laugh.
She just shrugs it off in the end.
I’ve also always loved that there’s no part of Kevin and Laurie that wishes they were together. So there’s none of that triangulation that might happen with Nora. I forgot that I become her therapist. She trusts me. That’s what’s so beautiful, too. The episode is a little tricky in that Laurie is pretty passive in an uncharacteristic Leftovers way. Usually people are very filled with activity and conviction and plans. This one, I listened a lot. To a lot of different people. After they speak their truth, they’re going to say “you’re going to judge me” or “you’re going to say I’m crazy.” And I say, “No.” Laurie doesn’t want to judge anymore. That is a really unexpected quality for her to Nora.
Why do you think it was important to Laurie that she reveal to Kevin that she was pregnant during the Departure?
I think that was really unexpected. I truly do. I don’t think she’s bursting to tell him. I don’t think she really needed to tell him. But I think there’s such an intimacy created, and they’re talking about a life together. I think what happens right before is he says he didn’t like the house. You see that on my face, just wow, there were so many things we didn’t share. And I wouldn’t have cared if he didn’t like the house. But we were in the pre-Departure world where everything was like that. So I think it’s pretty spontaneous for her.
It’s handled really delicately.
What I love about that moment is that sometimes in film and television, a pregnancy or baby can be so heavy or laden or sentimental. I feel like Laurie’s really processed it. And she speaks the truth. Laurie always speaks the truth. So I love that moment when I say to him, “Did you want another baby?” He said, “Not really.” I’m like, “I didn’t either.” It’s OK. It’s not a tragedy. I want to tell you this because I don’t know if I’ll see you again and you deserve to know. But also we’ve been through so much. I love the exact amount of weight it’s given.
I would be remiss if I talked to you without bringing up one of my favorite shows, Judging Amy. What is your perspective all these years later starring in one of the first shows where the woman is the lead and allowed to make unpopular decisions and be unlikable? Do you have perspective on what that show meant and how it may have sent you on this path to Laurie?
The immediate answer is that with Will and Grace coming back and Arrested Development, I’m like, real interested in what Amy Gray would have to say right about now. I’m sure she’d have a lot to say.
I would be so immediately on board for a Judging Amy revival.
It changed my life in a million ways. I will never feel like a passive actor again, because I know that part of my job is to create. It fully embodied another part of my vocation. I never wait for people to create stuff for me, ever. When beautiful things like Laurie come alive it’s a gift, but that’s not my expectation. My expectation is that I have to be a part of creating interesting material.
And Judging Amy started that for you?
It was so from the gut. When I first started working in Hollywood, everyone was like, “You’re so different!” Finally I was like, OK, I want to tell a story about where I come from. I’m from a bunch of lawyers. I’m from this badass mom. So all of the details of that household, the fact that the audience responded was incredible. And the female part of it, you put Barbara Hall, me and Tyne Daly together, we’re not going to be full of shit. (Laughs) That’s really what that combination is!
I’m sure you can’t tell me what happens in the finale, but I’m curious how you felt when you saw it or read the script. What was your experience with it?
Here’s my spoiler alert: I have not seen it. I have read it. I am in it. Can I say that? What I can tell you about is the words on the page, which are extraordinary. And I also will say that while episode seven is its own animal, I feel like the feeling that I have, that you had, the people will have at the end of episode six, my episode, are some of the feelings that are very prominent in the finale. So the famous “will people be satisfied?” and bringing up the LOST finale (laughs), I think they’ll be satisfied on that kind of psycho-emotional level.
Being satisfied is good!
And I think you’re going to find out all sorts of interesting things. But Damon, as he has said from day one, it’s not about connecting the dots. It’s like that Comic-Con brain has to calm down. It’s more, OK, open yourself up to this really emotional experience. Listen, people who are enjoying season three specifically, I think it’s the finale that you want. I can definitely say that.