On June 7, the cast and creators of The Leftovers took a break from filming Season 2—now in production near Austin—to gather for a panel discussion at the Austin Television Festival. Writer and co-creator Damon Lindelof, director and executive producer Mimi Leder and three cast members—Ann Dowd, Christopher Eccleston and Carrie Coon—looked back on their experience shooting the show’s first season with moderator and Nerdist staff writer Ben Blacker.
The discussion largely revolved around how and why the creators and actors got involved with the series in the first place. The talent detailed six big reasons why they were lured to bring The Leftovers to life.
1. An Unanswered Mystery
In telling how The Leftovers came to screen, Lindelof recalls being struck by the source material, Tom Perrotta’s novel—specifically the central mystery of the Sudden Departure. "What was brilliant about the way that Tom wrote it was that it was very clear from maybe 10 pages in that you're not going to get an answer to this mystery," Lindelof said. "There was something fundamentally very liberating about that for me. I love the idea of living in a world of mystery."
2. A Different Way to Use Dogs
Lindelof recalled his first meeting with Perrotta. The pair discussed a book scene where Nora—played in the series by Carrie Coon—sees a stray dog in Mapleton. "There's a very oblique reference that the dogs may have gone crazy on October 14 and were having this feral existence in the woods," Lindelof explained. "I was like, 'I want to do the dog show. What's going on with the dogs?'"
Part of the allure was how different the tone was from Lindelof's previous project, Lost. "The first scene in Lost, this guy wakes up in the woods and he's very disoriented. This dog comes running up to him," Lindelof recalled. "People love dogs. Dogs are great. Everything's going to be OK." No so on The Leftovers, as Lindelof explained: "Right out of the gate, we kill the dog—because the dogs are dangerous. They've gone crazy, and that's what's happening to people."
3. An Apocalyptic Obsession
"I was so always deeply terrified of the apocalypse," Carrie Coon, the woman behind Nora Durst revealed. "It's such a part of the fiber of my being that when a show addressing my deepest fears of apocalypse and abandonment came along I was like, 'Oh yeah. My wheelhouse!'" Coon found acting on the show cathartic. "The writing is strong enough that it allows you to embrace those things… It's a matter of opening into your fear and being not afraid to show it."
4. Room for Growth
Lindelof and Christopher Eccleston, who plays Matt Jamison, remembered their first lunch together to chat about the preacher character’s path. Lindelof was struck by Eccleston's strong take on the character, particularly his thoughts for how Matt would approach religion after the seemingly random Sudden Departure. (Eccleston's thought was: "He'd double down.") Eccleston remembers being immediately drawn to the character: "I thought it was really interesting that Tom dropped this character in right at the center of the argument but then didn't use him that much—there was scope for him to develop."
5. An Admirable Trip
The actor behind Patti Levin, Ann Dowd, admitted that she did not connect to the script at first. "I'm kind of a kitchen sink kind of gal. I want to be able to touch it and identify it," Dowd said. Eventually, she had an epiphany about Patti: "I thought, ‘Wow, she doesn't talk; she's suffered tremendously and she doesn't give a sh*t. I admired that. That was the appeal for me: her trip and the fact that she's arrived at a place of strength and solidarity."
6. A Challenge
The difficult material was exciting to Dowd. The actor admitted that she's "felt the panic rise up… The terrain is difficult. Who are they? Who are they going?" Dowd compared "the depth of this material and the intensity of the writing" to her experiences in theater.
Coon concurred that the tough material was also a draw: "As a woman, I feel that I'm rarely asked to do anything challenging," Coon lamented. "I'm just asked to recycle the same tropes over and over again." Coon noted Nora is a departure from those typical conventions: "It was such a privilege to get this opportunity."
Season 2 of The Leftovers is now in production near Austin.