Justin Theroux on the “Other World,” Love Stories, and Kevin Finding His Way Home

The actor behind Kevin Garvey discusses becoming an international assassin once more, his reaction the finale, and the promise made to him by co-creator Damon Lindelof. 

HBO: What has been the biggest takeaway from working on The Leftovers?

Justin Theroux: I didn’t have anything beyond the first pilot script, and I said to Damon [Lindelof], “My fear of doing a television show is that I’ll get bored, or I’ll end up playing the same thing from week to week.” It was a completely unfounded suspicion, and Damon gave me his full assurances that the last thing I’d be was bored. He was completely and 1000 percent accurate. I don’t think any project has stretched me more than this. I was able to play numerous, multi-faceted sides all within one character. I loved playing Kevin it was one of the most challenging things I ever did, but also one of the most rewarding. 

HBO: Were there any scenes you read and thought, “I don’t know how I am going to do that”?
Justin Theroux: The karaoke scene is famously known as one I was not pleased about, but it became a fun scene in that episode [“International Assassin”]. Anytime I have to do a highly-charged emotional scenes, I’m always intimidated in a healthy way. If you don’t feel great about one you go, “Well I tried,” but if you do feel good, you go, “I’m glad I did that.”  That happened in varying degrees throughout the series.
HBO: Even before the Departure, has Kevin always felt a little out of place in the world?
Justin Theroux: I think so. The larger question is: What is he searching for? He’s not like some of the other characters searching for meaning or someone he lost, instead he keeps losing the one thing that I think is the most important to him — his family. His family is constantly in a state of either having been fractured or getting fractured, and putting pieces back together. In the end, that is his overall arc. 

HBO: What is so appealing about the “International Assassin” world?

Justin Theroux: It’s the one place Kevin can exercise some control — even though it’s a wildly unhinged place, he came back feeling a certain amount of empowerment from having been there. That doesn’t necessarily translate into fixing his family, but I think that’s why he edges death with the plastic bag. He’s not suicidal, and yet everything he does sort of hints that he is. So in this season, when people are dallying with his messianic qualities, Kevin’s finally able to say, “Well f**k it. If I die I die, if I don’t I don’t. I’ll deliver whatever messages you want. If it brings you some kind of meaning or closure, then I’m happy to do it for you.”

HBO: Were you excited to return to that place?

Justin Theroux: I was. It’s a good bookend. I don’t think any of us wanted to do another international assassin episode just for the sake of doing one, but then the writers struck upon the idea that Kevin needs to go there to fix himself. There’s other reasons about delivering messages, but it really is about Kevin literally killing his shadow-self. He’s going back for himself unwittingly, and has the wonderful Ann Dowd [Patti Levin] to shepherd him through that process.

 HBO: What is so unique about Patti’s relationship with Kevin?

Justin Theroux: She can get under his skin in a way other characters can’t. Ann Dowd and I often talked about their relationship as some sort of a love story. They’ve been each other's’ guides at different times, particularly in the first “International Assassin” episode where there’s that beautiful piece of storytelling with Patti embodied by a little girl, ostensibly her inner child, and we see the abuse she suffered under her husband. In Season 3’s international assassin episode, Patti’s basically summoned by Kevin in order to help him  — literally and figuratively — cut out this dark side of himself that’s sort of ruined his life. She also helps him to nuke the place.

HBO: In the same episode, Kevin reads aloud a romance novel to his shadow self and Patti. What about it finally strikes a nerve?

Justin Theroux: I think Damon genuinely believes this entire series is, to a certain extent at its heart, a love story and a family story. We’ve seen now in all three seasons each finale ends with Kevin arriving home; it’s always a different version of home than he expects, but it is home and a safe space. When Patti says, “Skip to the end,” she’s basically saying — you’re going to have built this prison for yourself. You’re going to be alone and at sea. As Kevin’s reading, he does the arithmetic and says “Oh my God, now I really do want to go home and I know what I have to do.”

HBO: Why doesn’t Kevin ever relent from his search for Nora?

Justin Theroux: When Kevin and Nora first got together, they made that cardinal mistake of thinking they could communicate and sustain a relationship over their mutual damage — but she had an enormously tragic story that she used as a crutch, and he had his own emotional foibles to lean on. They ended up creating back doors for each other that they could exit whenever they wanted. 

In the finale, Kevin had repaired something in himself to the point where he thought he could go back to her a stronger person. He knew she was the one for him; they were two penguins, and he wanted her back. It’s that simple to a certain extent.

HBO: What was your reaction to Nora’s final monologue?

Justin Theroux: In reading it, you immediately go, “Oh my God.” The easy thing to do would be to call Damon and say, “Did she really go there or is she lying?” But we all discussed it, and came to the conclusion that you could read it both ways: this place does exist, or it’s fanciful storytelling on Nora’s part. I came down on the side of it’s not true and Kevin doesn’t even care — he’s just so happy to be sitting across the table from her.

HBO: What would you like fans to take away from the finale?

Justin Theroux: I hope fans take away whatever they brought to it. Some people are enormously invested — and I hope they have the same feeling I had, which was a sharp pang in my heart, a deep love for this couple, and the belief that life will go on for them from a more-realized place. I was enormously gratified by the way we punctuated the show.
Watch every episode of The Leftovers on HBO.

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