The Leftovers’ director and executive producer talks filming the Season 3 premiere, the opening scene, and getting the most out of Australia.
HBO: What is Season 3 about?
Mimi Leder: It’s fair to say that Season 3 is about the stories we tell ourselves, and the season encompasses all the “end of the world” narratives we have floating around. It’s about how we are all looking for a story that gives meaning to our lives, some degree of peace, and even happiness. Our characters are in search of that.
HBO: What did you think when you first read the opening of this season?
Mimi Leder: I loved it. In the show, we never name this group [from the opening] or actually say what year it is, but, in the 1840s there was a group called the Millerites who believed in the Rapture and the departure. They were like a precursor to our Guilty Remnant. They gave their belongings away; they believed they were going to be taken, and ultimately they were not. They were the “leftovers” of their time.
I directed the cavewoman sequence [which opened the Season 2 premiere], and I was absolutely fascinated with telling the story without words. How do you convey all the emotions of these characters through pictures? It was quite a challenge. I think the song we chose [“I Wish We’d All Been Ready”] was very appropriate to helping tell that story. But in the same way I thought about the cave woman sequence, I had to consider for the Season 3 open: How are we going to do this and keep it real? We cast it right, with beautiful actors, and we found the location where our brilliant production designer John Paino could build our little village, in the You Yangs [mountain range] outside of Melbourne. Our costumes by Rudy Mance were as authentic as could be. It was very challenging to shoot in the weather. It was rainy, muddy, and everything was completely authentic. You couldn’t help but feel what they were feeling.
HBO: Has the storyline or changes of location over the series influenced your filming style?
Mimi Leder: I came on in the middle of the first season and filmed the show the way I thought it needed to be filmed. The first season felt very claustrophobic—you never knew where you were. It was tighter. So when we started the second season, I wanted to bring more color to the show; to open the canvas and scope. I wanted to bring more hope to the show, and colors to this place called Miracle. I think there was a real irony to doing that. And then, when we knew we were going to do a story about end of the world narratives—Australia is pretty much as far as you could go to talk about the end of the world.
Going to Australia for the first time and seeing it through our characters’ eyes was quite breathtaking. The Outback was so vast. You look at it and you think of nothingness, but it’s not true. What you think is nothingness, is so full of life and it really fulfilled everything we were there for.
HBO: Did you feel like you needed to take advantage of the space in your shots?
Mimi Leder: I felt we needed to do these big, vast shots to show how isolating it was. There’s nothing there except these sheep and hills and some magic. It just felt like the right place to be. We had to open up our scope and then get back to our intimate shots—nothing more powerful than that.
HBO: Did you have a favorite episode from the season?
Mimi Leder: I love all the episodes. The ones I particularly directed were all very gratifying—I shot the Season 3 opener, Episode 3, and the finale. But every single episode was hard, emotional and absolutely beautifully-written. We brought all the past directors back; they all knew the show and understood it.
HBO: What was your favorite thing about working on The Leftovers?
Mimi Leder: There’s no one favorite thing. I loved exploring the themes of loss and the narratives we tell ourselves. I was very gifted and spoiled for life after working with [series creators] Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, and working with the brilliant, brave, stunning actor, Justin Theroux [Kevin Garvey] who went deep into his soul and gave it everything he could. The whole cast gave everything; we all gave everything.
Everybody was deeply immersed in the storytelling, and we all felt very grateful that we’d been given this gift to tell this story. I will miss it; I already miss it. It will be one of those memories that stays with me for life, because it’s really taught me to be more open and, on a personal level: To have no fear. I’ve loved everything about it. Cold, rain, mud and all.