Amy Brenneman Talks Episode 5: ‘Patti Just Gets Better and Better’

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The actress behind Laurie chats about her “unlikable” character, who Laurie trusts (note: definitely not Patti), and whether Laurie was able to retrieve the lighter from the sewer.

HBO: Is this role extra challenging because your character Laurie doesn’t use words?

Amy Brenneman: It’s totally different. I love language, and in my life, I like to talk and I like to express myself. I’m never afraid of a long monologue. This takes away that tool, obviously. What I found is that it was pretty uncomfortable – but in a good way. I said to [series co-creator] Damon Lindelof that I was uncomfortable every single moment. He was like, “That’s good, that’s really good.” For me, when Laurie wasn’t taking action – when Laurie was listening and responding to people – I liked having the camera on me. But when Laurie started to take more actions that were either mysterious or downright unlikable, I did feel that thing that’s like, ahh, I want the audience to know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and they may never. They may never. It’s all just got to be on my face.

HBO: You mentioned Laurie and the "unlikable" factor. Viewers are dying to know her motivations. How do you reconcile that and play a character who seems unlikable…at least right now?

Amy Brenneman: One thing that really helps – and especially now that it’s on the air – is the full experience of the show. Even when it’s painful, it’s very confidently done. You are really going into this really fully inhabited world. Another thing that was super-important to me – and it always is going into a role – was to know every single nook and cranny about Laurie’s past. Every response, every relationship has to be really even more specific because you don’t have the normal tools of language and that kind of plot.

As for being unlikable, it’s very hard for me. I like the audience to like me. If they’re not going to like me, I’d like them to understand me. I had to really look at that. I didn’t really even know how much I really needed that. Yeah, people are going to really dislike this woman and not understand her, and I gotta keep standing up for her. I’m her advocate.

HBO: One of the great scenes in “Gladys” is at the diner, where Laurie and Patti are eating, wearing “normal” clothes and talking. Even when Patti gives permission, why do you think Laurie never speaks?

Amy Brenneman: I don’t think Laurie trusts Patti…at all. Laurie just doesn’t trust what’s going on. Laurie’s membership in the G.R. is a commitment that Laurie has made to herself, so Laurie will decide when she wants to break it. As that scene progresses, Patti gets more and more passionate and unhinged, and I think that makes Laurie take a step back even more.

HBO: That seems like the smart way to go. Back away…right?

Amy Brenneman: Laurie doesn’t trust what’s going on. At the end of the episode, Laurie does recommit herself to the G.R., but she’s not recommitting herself to Patti. Laurie is off on her own, she knows why she’s there. Patti is no longer my mentor – Laurie thinks she’s a Loony Tune.

HBO: Do you think Meg’s “I’m ready now” declaration helped propel Laurie to go confront Rev. Jamison with the whistle?

Amy Brenneman: Laurie goes back to the house with Patti because that seems like the best option at the time. Seeing Meg commit at this time, when Laurie is on the fence, it’s very disturbing. It’s like, “Holy shit, what did I do?” At the same time, Laurie doesn’t want to leave her alone with Patti, who is also a weird presence now. What Rev. Matt is offering – that you can feel sad – really appeals to me as Amy Brenneman, but Laurie doesn’t trust him or organized religion. That moment of blowing that whistle is like her saying: “Everybody needs to shut the eff up! And stop having opinions. Patti you sit over there, and Rev. Matt you sit over there.” One thing that Damon and I talked rather explicitly about is that the tentativeness that Laurie’s had up until this moment – one foot in, what foot out – for that moment, at least, she’s saying that she’s all in. But she’s all in on her own terms. It’s a powerful moment.

HBO: Does Laurie trust anyone?

Amy Brenneman: Well, not as an authority. Laurie is certainly extremely connected to her children. The Tom relationship is more off-screen at this point, but that’s the reason she can’t be a better G.R. Laurie’s heart cannot help but feel open to her kids. And to Kevin. Laurie doesn’t want to be his wife anymore, but they were a real family that got blown apart. Laurie trusts that and wishes she didn’t feel that way. That’s really the arc of the first five episodes for Laurie.

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HBO: What do you imagine as Laurie’s life during the three years after the Sudden Departure that viewers have not seen?

Amy Brenneman: Damon and I fleshed out a pretty specific story. Without going too far into it because – who knows? – maybe it’ll be scripted someday, the big interesting thing to remember is that Laurie has only been in the G.R. for two months when the show starts. So there are two and a half years after the Departure where Laurie hung in as wife and a mother and a professional woman.

What I picture is that in the immediate aftermath, Laurie was very much like Kevin and was hanging in. She didn’t lose anyone from her family – the opposite of Nora. But as time went on Laurie is nothing if not very sensitive and porous person, it became really inappropriate to say, “Oh, my family is okay.” It’s like, wait a minute, this entire Earth is now different. If I get my little solo episode, that’s how I imagine it. You will see little reasons about why Laurie made the big choice to be in the G.R., but you still don’t see the moment, which I think the audience is going to want to see. I get asked that every day: Why is Laurie in the G.R.? There’s definitely an accumulation of things, for sure.

HBO: In your imagination of the situation, does Laurie have the “Don’t forget me” lighter that Jill gave her? Was she able to grab it?

Amy Brenneman: Such a good question. Honestly, here’s what I think: She desperately wanted to grab it, and she couldn’t reach it. She really wants it. In that moment of trying to show-off to Meg by throwing away the lighter – “Here’s what a G.R. does,” she was basically saying – Laurie really lost something that she secretly really wants.

HBO: In “Gladys,” Laurie finally gets to wear something other than white clothing. How was that as a change of pace?

Amy Brenneman: That was a really interesting situation. I don’t know if every actor went through this, but certainly for the G.R., everything was labored over. Even that outfit from the breakfast with Patti, it’s not really what Laurie would wear – it’s what Patti laid out for her. It was kind of like, “Geez, Patti, this shirt is kind of a little weird, but okay, you bought it for me.” This is the lens Patti applies to Laurie.

HBO: Anything you want to add about “Gladys”?

Amy Brenneman: No, but I will add that this begins the process that I like to call: Ann Dowd taking over the series. Patti just gets better and better and better and hijacks us all along the way.