The woman behind Mapleton's "ambassador of grief" talks about Nora's tendency for self-punishment, the appeal of Kevin Garvey, and leaving herself open to hope.
HBO: We learn in Episode 3 that Nora was orphaned as a child. Did that contribute to her need to define herself through loss?
Carrie Coon: I didn’t know about that until I got the script for Episode 3, so in Episodes 1 and 2 I didn't have that sense of Nora's childhood loss. Certainly she's a statistical anomaly – she's lost everyone except her brother. I was reading the book Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala; her family disappeared in the tsunami. The only way I could try and relate to those circumstances was to go through other material because you want to do that sense of loss justice. I guess Nora's childhood loss does contribute to her destiny to be the ambassador of grief in her town and the world.
HBO: Were you surprised by Nora's hiring of Angel and what she wanted her for?
Carrie Coon: Completely shocked. Damon [Lindelof, series co-creator] and I did talk about it a little bit so I could understand it. I think it's the only way for Nora to feel anything. She's really numbed out from what she's experienced so she has to go to extremes to feel sensation in any way. We always find a way to the thing that's going to simulate or soothe us in the way we need, and this is a very extreme soothing behavior.
HBO: Given that Nora's brother is a man of the cloth, why not turn to him for comfort?
Carrie Coon: I'm from a family with five kids in it and my father almost became a Catholic priest. And my mother never went to church but she's the best Christian I know. My siblings have all chosen different paths to or away from their spirituality. So I find that duality in a family interesting, but not odd. She saw her parents get burned alive – how do you justify a god that's creating this kind of chaos in your life? So she's deeply angry and not going to turn to the church for comfort, and therefore, not to her brother.
HBO: You referred to Nora as an "ambassador of grief." Is maintaining this nobility her driving force as she makes her way around town?
Carrie Coon: I think she’s developed some rituals to justify getting out of bed in the morning. I suspect she didn’t get out of bed for a very long time but when she finally did, she had to come up with these soothing rituals to get her through the day. And there's also something slightly punishing about everything she does. That's money she's wasting on food that's being wasted.
HBO: Not to mention she has a job that forces her to remember Oct. 14.
Carrie Coon: In a way, there's also something about that that has to do with her taking her power back. Nora was put through three of these interviews, and I suspect the person that conducted them left something to be desired. So I could see her job as a punishment but also a sign of her strength that she doesn't want anyone to experience them with the kind of hackneyed lack of compassion that perhaps she did. She knows better than anyone what it feels like and she's determined to make it a humane experience. And subconsciously, I'm sure she’s hoping some kind of pattern is revealed to bring closure, which of course, no one has at this point.
HBO: One bright spot for Nora is her blossoming relationship with Kevin Garvey. What draws them together?
Carrie Coon: I think it was Justin who said, "They're the darkest people in this place and it's like, 'Oh I see you over there.'" There's an immediate affinity. I love that they're just immediately very honest with each other, this, "I'm just going to tell you exactly where I am in this moment and you have to deal with it. I'm not going to be ashamed.” I think they both carry a lot of guilt and a lot of shame but they're able to be compassionate with each other and, for some reason, know it's a safe space.
HBO: By inviting Kevin to Miami, did Nora anticipate how terrible the convention would be?
Carrie Coon: I think that's the most shocking thing– that she's actually going to this conference. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. But I can see her wanting to get out of the town for a while. And Nora expects to be a royalty at the conference; she expects for people to know who she is. So it's the beginning of the breakdown of the identity she has created for herself having to do with her grief. And therefore, once that gets taken away from her, she has to really face up to who she is and who she's going to be once her grief is taken away.
HBO: Does her anonymity make her a target for Wayne?
Carrie Coon: I think she's been knocked off her game. There's a strength to Nora's grief fortress. It's kind of impenetrable: This is who I am. And everybody knows it. Her behavioral patterns are very predictable. The ways people respond to her are predictable. This is the first time in three years it's different. And I do think that's the only way she'd be vulnerable to Holy Wayne. There's no way she would be willing to follow that man unless her identity had been taken away already.
HBO: At the conference, Nora encounters Loved Ones. Is this something she would consider purchasing?
Carrie Coon: No way. I think she think that's horse shit. There's no way to replace the people that she lost. She's intrigued because she's in an odd place when they're revealed to her and it's been a long night, but she's very skeptical.
HBO: Why does she direct her fury at Patrick Johansen?
Carrie Coon: I think she's hit this low point where she's not even able hang on to even her grace or dignity. If she's going to be stripped bare, she's going to let the pretenses drop too. This is a world where pretending doesn't work anymore. That's part of what the Guilty Remnant is showing people: Pretending is not real, what happened is real. And Nora has been pretending: "This is how I bear this; I bear this with grace and dignity. I walk through the world in this way." People admire for it but she hates herself for being able to continue it. So all that self-loathing gets revealed in the bar.
HBO: What do you think is going through her mind as Wayne's hugging the pain away?
Carrie Coon: I think it's very much a physical release. I don't think she's been physically touched in so long that the release of pressure is huge. She can exhale the tension of pain and self-loathing. But it's also only the first step – she's not cured. But it's going to give her respite and space for a little bit of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, and forgiveness for Doug for the things she understands about him now.
HBO: Is she letting hope in as Wayne suggests?
Carrie Coon: She's tiptoeing into the possibility that there's some healing in the future. And that's a very painful possibility for her to consider. If it turns out to be not true, then that's it, she's done.
For more on "Guest," read the interview with writer Kath Lingenfelter.