Amy Brenneman talks to Awards Daily TV about “Certified,” her Laurie Garvey-dedicated episode of HBO’s critically acclaimed The Leftovers.
Spoilers follow for those who have not seen Sunday’s episode of The Leftovers, “Certified.”
Amy Brenneman’s The Leftovers character arc as Laurie Garvey spans the gamut of human emotions. In Season 1, Laurie largely abandoned words as she joined the Guilty Remanent. Season 2 saw her reconnecting with family and ex-husband Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux). Season 3, however, sees Brenneman’s Laurie in a happier state. Married to Kevin Carroll’s John Murphy, Laurie’s unexpected and much-welcomed happiness gives Brenneman new notes to play as an actor.
“Certified” highlights the best of Amy Brenneman’s considerable skills as an actress. She gives an electric performance as she flashes back to a pre-Guilty Remanent Laurie and potentially says goodbye to her love and life-long friend Kevin. I talked to Brenneman about the pleasures of exploring new sides to Laurie, her working relationship with show runner Damon Lindelof, and what she’ll take away from The Leftovers.
When you started Season 3, were you surprised that Laurie was married to and working with John Murphy?
Yeah! [Laughs] You never know what goes on off-screen with The Leftovers. I was delighted for a million reasons. Kevin Carroll is an old friend of mine. I was super excited to work with him. To have her be romantic and sexual and happy and, at the same time, have a great relationship with Kevin (Theroux). In Season 3, arguably everybody begins seemingly as happy as we can. I was excited to see what that looked like on Laurie.
Yes, it even resonated in Episode 5 when Laurie gets on that sex cruise, and she’s totally game for the experience.
Yeah! I think, yes, Leftovers we’re in this heightened, crazy reality, but then in the human reality, she’s got this super cute new husband in a new marriage where they’re getting it on all the time. And then they’re on this free sex boat! [Laughs] I loved tapping into the non-judgmental part of Laurie because she’s often so strident and bossy.
I was a little surprised she was the person behind the scenes of John’s business. Was that just an extension of her therapist background?
Sure. I think Laurie’s super smart about knowing that she lives in a culture where people put more stock in the afterlife than in psychotherapy. So, if that’s what they’re doing and that’s what people are going to buy into, then she’ll use some of the trappings of that. It’s all toward the same idea which is soothing people to this emotional release. People will get there however they’ll get there. This whole shredding of the money thing is like Laurie knows people don’t take things seriously unless there’s a monetary exchange. John feels that taking the money makes him complicit in it, so Laurie encourages him to take the money to make it good for the people and then encourages him to do whatever he wants with it.
With “Certified,” you’re again working with Carl Franklin of Season 2’s” Off Ramp.” Was this by design?
Yes, they hook us up with the same folks, which I love.
At the beginning of the episode, we flash-back to a pre-Guilty Remanent Laurie as she attempts suicide. What’s going through her mind as she’s lying on that couch?
Well, one of the most pleasurable artistic moments of my life was 3 to 4 years ago when, after the read-through of the pilot episode of The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof and I walked through Central Park for 2 to 3 hours, and we spun Laurie. We made her up. [Given her profession], people would come to her moments after the Departure, she would say the things she’s always said. The things that worked before of “this is trauma” or “this is grief” and give out some anti-depressants. But I thought there must have been a moment where, as we’ve said, the words become sand in her mouth. She’s dealing with an unprecedented event of which she has no experience. No one does. I always thought of that moment in the Bergman movie Persona where she just stops.
So it’s really interesting after all these years, I thought we were past that moment, but then I was thrilled because it’s The Leftovers. Yay, we get to go back in time! [Laughs] We get to do whatever we want to do. So that has been in my psyche and body for a long time. I think taking the pills is her way of saying, “I don’t want to do damage to anybody.” I don’t think it comes from a place of clinical depression or despair. I think taking the pills comes from not wanting to do any damage to anybody. To her core, she’s in a helping profession, and she’s afraid of making the problems worse. She gets to a point where she didn’t want to talk because nothing that comes from her mouth would be helpful.
So what brings her back from suicide?
I don’t think her suicidal tendency was that strong to be honest. It was a little half-assed that way. I think her life force is still there.
Flashing forward to Australia, if I’d described the “last supper” scene to you without giving you the script, what Biblical character would you have thought Laurie would represent herself as?
Hmm… I don’t know my apostles as well as I should. I think there’s a certain mob mentality that was growing and was literally was going to kill her beloved ex-husband and friend. So, I think she’s absolutely saying “No” to the mob mentality. I don’t think the Judas thing is quite equivalent because it’s not like she turns him over to any other entity. It’s more like she needs to stop the madness. [Giving the dinner attendees the sleeping pills] is the only way. When things are heightened and there’s a lot of fear, hysteria is right around the corner. I think Laurie, at that point, sees a lot of that impulse and projection onto Kevin as pretty hysterical. She wants to talk to him, and that’s the only way she knows how to do it.
You mention “mob mentality.” Do you think she draws parallels between the Garvey’s quest to stop the apocalypse and her experience with the Guilty Remanent?
Yeah, in a very broad sense, sure. I think the Guilty Remanent is very negative. I think Laurie recognizes that all of these people seem to need something form Kevin, but they are more open-hearted. They’re grieving. That part of this particular group draws Laurie’s sympathies. They’re heartbroken. The Guilty Remanent are heartbroken too, but they’re covering it up with a lot of bravura.
The end of “Certified” brings us this touching scene between Laurie and Jill. What was it like filming that scene?
It was extraordinary because, and I don’t want to put Laurie in a cliched maternal box, but arguably her entire maternal impulse was to reconcile with her children and to make sure they’re ok. It’s an overwhelming feeling in the positive sense in the midst of joking about the end of the world. [Her kids] are so healthy and so happy. It’s like Emily in Our Town. She’s observing it and experiencing it at the same time.
You’re closing the book on The Leftovers. Looking back over three seasons, what will you take away from the series? What will linger with you?
Well, in a lot of ways, it’s like my fantasy TV series. I studied [comparative religion] in college. It’s where my heart goes. I look at society and individuals and myself in terms of spiritual studies. What does mercy look like? What does Heaven look like? I’m a dreamer, and I’m interested in dreams and psyche. I love the way that, in a very non-pedantic way, Damon splashes in these waters that you don’t ever get to splash around in. The word that always comes up for me is “surrender.” I always laugh with Damon that, in other series, you question the words that often come from characters’ mouths, “My character wouldn’t say this.” I told Damon, “Laurie says whatever you write for her.” I literally lived for Damon and Laurie. I absolutely surrendered to living inside Damon Lindelof’s head, and it’s rewarded me a lot.
The Leftovers airs on HBO Sunday nights at 9pm ET and wraps June 4.