Director Michelle MacLaren Breaks Down Character Moments From 'Cairo'

A veteran of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, director Michelle MacLaren is no stranger to suspense. Most recently, MacLaren brought her expertise to "Cairo," an episode of The Leftovers she calls "a big turning point and a challenging dramatic piece." The acclaimed director connected with WatchingTheLeftovers.com to discuss her take on the hour's main characters, and how she integrated her interpretation into the episode's aesthetic.

MacLaren goes into greater detail about five notable shots from "Cairo."

Jill Garvey
Amy regales the Frost twins with the details about her dinner at the Garvey house, while Jill lies on the grass.

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"I like the idea that as this scene begins, you don’t know where Jill is right away. She's lost in her own world and thoughts. You get this feeling that the world's kind of coming down on her – all the pressures and the chaos of everything of going on. Obviously her friends' conversation filters through, but she feels like a lost soul to me in that shot."

 Laurie Garvey
While watching the van be unloaded, Laurie taps her fingers around her cigarette.

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"This shot is really what you call teamwork – it's a great cameraman who catches that moment, and an actress with great instincts. Amy [Brenneman] and I talked about the scene: Laurie likes sitting in Patti's chair. She likes being the leader who has been given this environment. What Amy is trying to convey is that while Laurie is devoid of emotion, there's this little thing that shows that she's affected by what's going on. She might not be consciously showing excitement – but her hand is.

Amy is amazing at those subtle moments. At the end where Jill walks into the house and Laurie sees her, it's such an 'Oh my God' moment – she's a mother looking at her child and it is the last thing that she expected to happen. Of course she's going to react to this, it's got to be affecting her in some way, but she's not showing the emotion. That's a really tricky thing for an actress to play."

Dean

"This is my own personal interpretation, but at one point I wondered: Is Dean real or is Dean Kevin's subconscious? I played it as if Dean is absolutely real – but I did something in the blocking to address my question very subtly. There's a moment in the cabin where Dean is still by the door. After a cut to another scene, Dean is sitting on the couch. You never see him cross the room. Even though the scene is almost continuous in time, Dean is suddenly in a different position. He easily could have walked over there off-camera, or he could have just appeared there."

Patti Levin
During Patti and Kevin's final conversation, the camera focuses on their faces.

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"Kevin has the opportunity to get some truth out of her. So much is revealed, and you really want to feel that you're in the room with those people – in their heads – and feel the emotion. There are certain times when you get super close and it makes you feel the intimacy of that moment. Those performances were so great.

I do think that Patti has decided that whatever way it's going to go down, she's not leaving that cabin alive. We may not understand why at first, but she's already come to terms with that. There's a certain peace that's over her, and then of course her suicide comes as a shock to Kevin."

Kevin Garvey
As Kevin interrogates Patti, he is framed through a shard of glass.

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"I wanted to have the pane of glass to create distortion for the viewer – to construct a feeling of how uncomfortable the situation is. The fact that a shard of glass is pointing at Patti is a bonus.

In that whole final arc, I wanted Kevin to have this realization of what he's been doing and the extent of his involvement in these violent acts. It was really important to me to see Kevin take this journey; to watch this man who has been such a leader, who's been trying to hold it all together, have his life start to fall apart around him and be so vulnerable."

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"That image is heartbreaking and a contradiction of everything that's gone on between them. Kevin throws all the other conflicts away and he embraces her. He could have been a jerk and just stand there and watch her die, but that's not who he is. It speaks so much to his character. He didn't want her to die. It's a very vulnerable, heartbreaking position."