Justin Theroux on Wish-Fulfillment and the One Secret That's "Just a Bridge Too Far"

The actor who plays Kevin Garvey talks about the dangers of getting everything that you want—and the reality of his new constant companion.

What was the initial draw of The Leftovers and the role of Kevin Garvey?

I thought the [pilot] script was fantastic. It was such a fast, blistering read and the subject matter was emotional. Kevin got to fire arrows in a lot of different directions, and I really liked that. The role also seemed challenging, but I had no idea what was to come. I still love playing this character. I've done other things that are two hours long that I can't wait to get out of, so to have done 20 episodes of something that's so challenging and to find myself still asking to do more really says something about the writing.

How do you prepare to take on the role, given how emotionally-charged it is?

I'm always just trying to serve whatever the scene is, and that's it. Sometimes that scene is getting out of a car and knocking on a door, and sometimes that scene is holding a woman [Patti Levin] that's bleeding to death in a cabin. [Laughs].

Smartly, I never asked [series creator] Damon [Lindelof] what's coming next or to plot out the season for me. I'm as close to being a viewer as possible that way. The script arrives shortly before we shoot it, I get to play it very quickly in the ten or 12 days that we shoot it, and then I get the next one. It’s a marathon, for sure, but it's just really fun.

Kevin is shocked that the cop lets him go after digging up Patti's corpse. She asks him if he wants to blow his life up—he says no, but is that entirely true?

Not to be too dramatic, but Kevin's always a hair's breadth away from the idea of suicide. I don't think it's something he ever consciously considers because he loves his family so much, but—and I've only thought about it academically in retrospect—it's probably the thought that could pop into his head at any moment and make his life that much more dangerous.

Kevin accepts Lily and Nora into this new family on the spot, but is this truly what he wants?

Whenever you wish for anything, you're projecting a desire on something. If you get your wish, it's almost always very different from what you imagined. When I was in my mid-twenties, single, and I adopted my first puppy, I had this vision of a man and his dog. But she and I didn't bond that first year; she was just eating everything, chewing things up, and wouldn't come when called. I had had this Steinbeck-ian Travels with Charley idea of what it was going to be like to have a dog. Eventually, we learned to like each other in a way that was deeper.

This is to say that anecdotally, this may be along the lines of where Kevin's mind is at. I think he wants this family existentially, but he also has huge walls to scale before he can even see to the other side, and be the great man he thinks he is.

With all that in mind, what do you think his expectations of Miracle are?

It's like Kevin's been living in a world without oxygen, and he thinks he's going into this oxygenated room where he'll finally be able to breathe easy and change his life.  But he brings his problems with him. He wants a fresh start, but as anyone past the age of twenty probably knows, there's no such thing as a fresh start.

Does Kevin think that Patti won't exist in Miracle?

She's a physical being in the first season, and in the second, what is she? Is she an angel? Is he a schizophrenic? Damon believes Patti showed up in short order after Kevin got the baby. Kevin thinks that he'll lose Patti just by moving to Miracle, or that he can relax enough that his brain will reboot itself and she'll disappear. Unfortunately, it's just the opposite.

Though Kevin seems to believe Patti's all in his head, things get physical at the new house.

I can't remember how we shot it, but there was a lot of attention paid to, "Can they touch?" —which is an interesting question. It could be Kevin smashing his own head, or her smashing his head, or a suicidal instinct taking over. It could be any of the above. But it doesn't really matter whether she can touch him or not. It's more about, can he shut her up? Or should he start listening to her?

What does Kevin make of waking up in the drained lake?

Kevin's now implicated in Evie's disappearance—just by proximity. There's no way he can go to the police and say, "I just happened to be trying to kill myself when I saw [the girls'] car." He keeps finding himself in these situations where the stone is rolling too fast down the hill and he can't stop it, so he has to make evasive maneuvers to keep his life on track.

Is he afraid he had a hand in the girls' disappearance?

I think so, yeah. It's like a blackout drunk who wakes up in the morning and goes, "Are we cool?"

It's similar to what happened with Patti last season.

Yeah, all of a sudden he wakes up in a cabin with a person tied to a chair. I just love that Kevin mostly exists in this completely grounded reality, but if you step three degrees to the left or right, he exists in this dream logic.

Why won't Kevin tell Nora about Patti?

Because he's afraid of losing her.

But she was okay with him secretly burying Patti…

…and getting shot in the chest by prostitutes, sure. I think this is just a bridge too far. He's seen the reaction people have had to his father, and there's nothing worse than feeling sane and being told you're crazy. Also, does he tell Nora? His daughter? His neighbors? Where does it end? Once you admit to the problem, you can't unring that bell. Like living with any secret, the burden lies only with the secret keeper. That's why secrets are a horrible thing to keep, because inevitably, they metastasize into something much more explosive.