[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Leftovers. Read at your own risk.]
Amy Brenneman may play a silent character on HBO's The Leftovers, but the five-time Emmy nominee has plenty to say about her character, Guilty Remnant member Laurie Garvey.
On Sunday's episode, Laurie and the rest of the G.R. grapples with the fact that someone brutally stoned fellow cult member Gladys (Marceline Hugot) to death. After Laurie has a panic attack, Patti (Ann Dowd) takes Laurie on a road trip, where she tries to quell what she perceives to be Laurie's wavering commitment to the cause by allowing her to not behave like a G.R. member for one day.
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Although Laurie refuses the offer, it remains unclear if Patti has gotten through to Laurie until they return home. When Rev. Matt (Christopher Eccleston) stands in front of the G.R.'s house and encourages the members to grieve Gladys' loss , Laurie grabs a whistle — provided by Laurie's police chief husband Kevin (Justin Theroux) to protect the G.R. from future attacks — and blows on it mercilessly until Rev. Matt backs down.
So, has Laurie fully recommitted to the G.R. or is she perhaps playing a longer game with Patti? TVGuide.com chatted with Brenneman about that, playing a silent character, and why Laurie joined the cult in the first place. Plus: How did Meg (Liv Tyler) impact Laurie's decision?
Did you have any reservations about taking a role that didn't allow you to speak or was that part of the appeal?
Amy Brenneman: Both. We artists are weird people. We like to be scared, so all of the above. It's funny because I was in the mix of developing a TV thing for myself, and I thought, "Well, of course she'll be witty and urbane and sort of neurotic." I laughed with [co-creator Damon Lindelof] because when this job came along, it's like, "Yeah, we don't want to see that. We want to see something brand-new." It's like he took away my tools in my toolbox, but I was really excited about it. There was no template for it and that's always really interesting for me. I gathered different references and silent movie stuff. I was a dancer in a former life, so I felt comfortable expressing in that way, but the particular makeup of who Laurie is was, we sort of had to come up with her together.
We've only learned about Laurie in pieces. In recent weeks, we learned that Kevin isn't Tom's real father, that Kevin had been unfaithful, and that Laurie has only been in the Guilty Remnant for about six months. Why do you think Laurie finally joined?
Brenneman: I think it was a combination of all those things. I really hung in there for about two-and-a-half years, and I can imagine the different forces that would create an unraveling to the point that the GR became the best option. There are [more] little bread crumbs along the way that you will find out. But I don't think there's any single reason, and that was something that Damon articulated very clearly. He said, "I don't want it to be like, 'Oh, Kevin's cheated and therefore she makes this big, bold choice.'" You don't make that choice for that reason. You kick your husband out maybe. But I think that it was a lot of different things that were working on her.
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Did the Sudden Departure change her or perhaps just make the other problems that already existed in her life more clear?
Brenneman: She believes that the Sudden Departure is a real game-changer. Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book, is pretty explicit that he wrote it in part as a response to 9/11 and the choices that people make whether to return to life as normal. For some, it was like, "OK, let's go back to the malls and cling to what we know and don't let this thing affect us." And then there were the people that said, "No, no, no. That thing changed us and should change us." Laurie looked at Kevin, who's somebody who's trying to keep things together, and I think she believes at a certain point, "What are we trying to keep together, exactly? Maybe if we stopped the madness, we got off the hamster wheel, we all worked together and stopped reacting to one another, maybe we'll know what the next thing to do is." On the very simplest level, she decides to stop speaking because all the words are now meaningless. I really think she's a hero for that.
But of course in this episode, it's clear not everyone views the Guilty Remnant so favorably. How does Laurie feel when she sees what's happened to Gladys?
Brenneman: I think she's devastated. The G.R. may be annoying, but we are not a violent culture. So it's not like we struck somebody and we got struck back. The idea that people could loathe us so much to kill this woman in such a heinous way blows her mind. I think that's what the panic attack is about. And also leading up to this, I've been struggling with the commitments and struggling with truly detaching from my family. I'm kind of on shaky ground anyway and then this heinous act happens and I just think it pushes me over. That's when Patti realizes she's got to do her own Patti-style intervention.
What does Laurie make of that conversation? Why doesn't she give in and speak when Patti offers her the chance?
Brenneman: I think she absolutely mistrusts Patti and she can't believe it's not going to come back to wound her. I don't think she knows what's going on. She thinks we are all individuals and we're doing this thing for our own individual reasons, but she can't believe it's not going to bite me in the ass.
Is Patti threatening Laurie by comparing Laurie to Gladys? Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but there's some hints in the episode that there is a lot more to Gladys' death than what we know at this point.
Brenneman: No, I don't think you're reading too much in, but I don't know if it's a threat. I think that what I got from that moment is that Patti's extremely imbalanced. I think that within the G.R. there are these different points of view, different factions. I think Laurie has always believed that it's a non-violent group and that's part of the power of it. I think there's definitely a group, and Patti is one of them, who believes in that martyrdom culture, believes in violent acts to make your point. I think all of that on an instinctual level comes through in the scene.
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So why can't Laurie just walk away?
Brenneman: The part that [I] was sort of struggling [with] is at the very end when Chris Eccleston is outside and saying, "Come and grieve." Me, Amy Brenneman, was like, "That's so sweet the way he does that. Why do I blow the whistle? Why don't I go with him?" But I think that Laurie mistrusts everybody at this point. Rev. Matt is also a nut. You think Laurie's going to trust organized religion at this point? No way. Rev. Jamison's offer, that doesn't feel safe either.
Is that act also a sign of Laurie recommitting to the G.R.?
Brenneman: Yes, I think she's recommitting in her way. I think the touchstone is everybody just needs to shut the f--- up. Everybody's got to stop talking about what's best for everybody else. Everybody's got to stop talking for a while because we're in this brave new world and all of the opinions and all of the things that we used to do may or may not be applicable anymore. It's a rich moment. But yes, I think it is a recommitment.
Is Laurie's decision to recommit influenced by her seeing Meg fully ready to commit as well?
Brenneman: It's interesting. When I did that scene and I came in, it was hard. It was almost like, "Oh, don't commit to this." Partly the reason I stay, I think, is because I'm kind of of the opinion that I don't know where this thing is going. I don't totally trust Patti, but I don't want to leave Meg behind. So, it's dovetailed into a lot of reasons that I stay. Damon had always described the [Meg-and-Laurie] story line as a little bit A Star Is Born.She starts out tentative, but then actually gets more Jihadist and enthusiastic than me. So it's sort of, "Be careful what you wish for," and like, "Oh, my God, she's really committed." But I can't leave her here.
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Patti smiles when Laurie blows the whistle. Does she think she has won Laurie back over? How will the distrust between them play itself out?
Brenneman: I think maybe there's going to be some leadership jockeying. Nobody deputized Patti. It's like there was this vacuum and she's this charismatic person. So nobody elected her.
But is challenging Patti a surefire way to end up like Gladys?
Brenneman: I don't think it's a suicide wish exactly. ... It's more like, "I'm here for my own reasons, and Patti, you can't define why I'm here. Rev. Matt, you can't define why I'm here." It's really this kind of individuation. I'm going in with my eyes open this time, and I'm not so fragile. I think that was the main thrust of the episode: "From this moment on, I'm not quite as shaky and fragile." And I think that's true in what we see to come.She tries to be a different person. That's her instinct, and whether or not she can pull that off, that's why you watch. But it is a different quality.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO. Catch up on previous episodes here.