The actor discusses the reverend's unbreakable spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Matt offers himself up to the stocks at the end of this episode. Why does he feel that it's his "turn”?
I think the reason he does it is more about the people in the encampment. He looks at these people and sees a marked lack of kindness, and he understands instinctively that an act of kindness in this place would teach them a lesson.
What was it like to film that scene?
I've not seen the final cut, but it was very exciting to film because we tried to do it in one shot. The discussion, him stripping down and going up the ladder and into the stocks all in one take. I know Nicole [Kassell, the director of "No Room at the Inn"] was excited because we were doing something quite dramatic and challenging. Doing this scene felt like a bold choice, and not the easy option. I think that's what The Leftovers is all about. It's not an easy show or predictable or comfortable. You really get caught up in achieving the whole product, really, which is the beauty of working on this show. We are a team, and I just love it. I feel very fortunate to have such a great part and such a great director and such great writers.
Can you tell me a little bit about the "oar scene” in the encampment?
I got to work with Brett Butler, who plays the woman telling me to hit the man, and that was really special for me. She's a fantastic actress and has become a very close friend. In this scene, Matt's desperate. He puts God aside there. You see the naked humanity of Matt as he tries to protect and save his wife. I think this brutal act also informs why he puts himself into the stocks. I think that's very much in his mind when he makes his decision, that he beat another human being, that he joined the "rat race."
We start to see some cracks with him in this episode. Early on with Mary, and again here, with the oar.
I really try not to get too intellectual about Matt—I try not to judge him. I just do the things that he does, and only occasionally do I understand why he does them, but that's true of my own life. But he was trying to save his wife's life when he hit that man with the paddle, and he knew that the man wouldn't die. But he also understood that his wife and his child would die, so he made a pragmatic decision. A decision I think we'd all make.
Oh yeah, I would have cracked a lot sooner.
You'd have beat the shit out of him, wouldn't you? [Laughs.]
Speaking of always being the better man, what do you think Matt made of the car accident that killed his and Mary's attacker?
So much happens to him in this episode, doesn't it? That's a tough question to answer. Certainly Matt takes no pleasure in it because he sees all human beings in all their depravity, so when that man breaks Matt's hand and steals his paraplegic wife's wristband, Matt still manages to see him as poor, faulted humanity. But I don't think Matt takes pleasure in his death, or believes in an avenging God. Matt is a complex man and understands that sometimes life throws things up.
Is it that understanding or his faith that allows Matt to persist despite all he's put up against?
Well, you can say that it's his faith, but throughout this episode, Matt is responsible for two lives. It's important that we remember that Mary is pregnant and helpless. There are two lives in his hands so he just reacts to each new situation. I cannot imagine any man or woman just simply giving up and crawling into a hole. I think if Matt was suffering these things for himself, then he'd give up, but he's suffering these things for his wife and his unborn child—it's not just about him anymore. It's entirely primal the way he reacts, the way he keeps finding faith. That child will die and probably his wife with it, so he's got to keep going. It's not even heroic—it's pragmatic.