The Leftovers Creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta Talk Season 3

The creative duo discusses the inspiration behind Australia and evolving from “an adaptation to a transformation.”

HBO: What mindsight should fans have when approaching the final season?
Tom Perrotta: This is a very conscious effort to end the show on our terms. The season is about endings in a cosmic and a personal sense.
Damon Lindelof: There are different kinds of shows on HBO. Some shows are massive phenomena like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. Other shows have less widespread appeal, but are nonetheless just as important. It was our ambition, particularly as we ended the show, to become an HBO legacy show. So when people talk about the great shows of HBO—whether it’s The Wire or Enlightened—these shows have gained greater appreciation as the years have passed. As Tom said, we’re just really excited we got to end it on our own terms. We feel like we got some very special episodes of television.
HBO: What was the initial conversation around Season 3?
Damon Lindelof: I feel like we already knew we were going to Australia. It was something we started setting up in the second season and would openly joking about: “Oh, when does everybody goes to Australia?” That idea was on the table. It was Tom who suggested we jump forward in time to the seven-year point from the initial Departure, because of all the research he had done when he wrote The Abstinence Teacher—about the rapture if there was a seven-year period of tribulation. And wouldn’t that be a good timeframe to bookend the series? We took those two nuggets of story and combined them with a couple of other things I’d been thinking about and went from there. One of the things we talked about was, “What is the very last scene of the show?”
HBO: What was the enticement of Australia?

Tom Perrotta: I wrote The Leftovers novel and set it in an area very familiar to Damon and I, because we both grew up in New Jersey. Damon had a gut feeling he wanted to see the show in a bigger context and was drawn to Austin, Texas. Then Australia started out as little jokes and glimmers in the room—and then slowly became a reality that started to feel like the characters’ destiny. I feel like I was along for the ride and it was one of the great pleasures of doing the show—a completely unexpected pleasure to see our characters and story transported to a completely unfamiliar, exotic place. 

Damon Lindelof: Even when we were writing the second season, it felt like Australia was calling out to us. The second season worked out so well in terms of the fundamental excitement of picking up the stakes and moving the environment of the show: It allowed us to introduce new characters, but more importantly, give some specificity to this place that was Miracle, Texas. Australia is not as specific. We shot in many different areas of Australia, but it felt like it had an entirely different energy that was very much in-line with telling a story about the world potentially ending.

HBO: Any particular influences when it came to writing the Australian story? 

Damon Lindelof: [Writer, executive producer] Tom Spezialy suggested that I rewatch the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock. There were other strange, amazing pieces of Australian cinema released during the mid- to late- 1970s; a Peter Weir film called The Last Wave and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout. They’re charged with this weird, supernatural aura, although they’re not distinctly supernatural. They felt very Leftovers-y to us. 

HBO: Was Australia the north star for crafting the rest of the season?
Tom Perrotta: It was actually a different approach than we had taken in the past. We were very interested in inciting incidents that followed the story to where it led in some degree, at least in Season 2. In this case, we tried to figure out that last scene and timeframe. From there, we were able to move in a fairly straight line. 
HBO: How does it feel to watch this baby of yours grow up and wrap up?  

Tom Perrotta: For me, it’s a really remarkably experience. I feel like this show has increasingly become this independent entity. Obviously the book was the seed for the show, but the series has grown into this force that I never anticipated. Originally, I thought of it as an adaptation, but now I see it as transformation. I think Damon deserves credit. It’s been a revelatory experience. It’s interesting to stand on the other end to see just how far we’ve come. I didn’t know this show would take us into the place that is has. It’s really been a mind-expanding experience.
Damon Lindelof: First, I’m deeply touched by what Tom just said. It’s interesting to hear the show described as a baby because that’s what it feels like. In spite of what your intentions were, it starts to have its own identity. That, to me, has been the most exciting part. I really do feel like the collaboration began with me and Tom adapting his book and writing the pilot and not knowing if it was going to even get made. By the end of the third season, we had worked with three different crews of incredible people from New York to Austin to Australia. The writers room basically changed and shifted every year. I think by the time we got to the end, there were 20 different writers we collaborated with along the way. Phenomenal actors from both the beginning to the end. It’s hard for me to grasp how far we came in 28 episodes.
HBO: What’s the most interesting development you didn’t foresee?
Damon Lindelof: That the show could have a sense of humor. Granted, it’s a strange sense of humor. But when we first began, I thought there is no place for humor in this world. These people have lost so much. But every time we tried something funny, it worked. I’m amazed by some of the things we did in the second and third season, just in terms of how much bandwidth there was for this quirky humor. It was present in the novel and I thought it wouldn’t work on the screen. But I could never have been more wrong.
Tom Perrotta: For me, Kevin Garvey himself has been the big surprise. In the book, Kevin is a nice guy who is just trying to get everyone back to some normalcy. He became a darker figure in Season 1. In Season 2, he became someone who went to a very extreme place. In his own mind, there was a break and a possible suicide event; he had the ability to move through the realm of the living and the dead. Justin Theroux has done a remarkable job of going wherever we asked him to go. Things he wouldn’t have possibly imagined from what we saw when we handed him the script for the pilot.
HBO: What song would you guys suggest people listen to, to get in the mood for Season 3?
Damon Lindelof: We use this The Beach Boys song, “Don’t Worry Baby” for the first promo. That album, Pet Sounds has this beautiful sound to it and, they are singing about surfing and having a great time. But there is also something a little bit creepy about it, and when we put it to Leftovers’ imagery, it told the story. If you want to get in the mood, listen to Pet Sounds because it’s one of the greatest albums ever recorded in the history of music. Even if you’re not a Beach Boys fan. It’s an amazing album. 

Stream Season 3 of The Leftovers starting April 16 at 9 pm on HBO NOW and HBO GO.