Tonight on YouTube, The Leftovers stars Justin Theroux and Ann Dowd reunited for a panel on the HBO series, as part of the “ATX TV…from the Couch” confab, reflecting on what it was that made the project so special to them.
Initially, in the conversation, the pair of acclaimed actors reflected vaguely on the way in which the series resonates with the world we’re living in today. “It almost looks like nonfiction now, in a weird way,” Theroux said.
Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, the supernatural drama picks up three years after the “Sudden Departure,” a mysterious event resulting in the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. Centered on police chief Kevin Garvey (Theroux) and his family, the series watches as a group of people in a small New York community attempt to press on with their lives, in the aftermath of inexplicable tragedy.
To Dowd, part of what made The Leftovers so special was its singularly thoughtful examination of grief. With over 100,000 dead in America as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as violence and unrest throughout the nation, the series’ approach to grief still resonates powerfully. “I always thought the reason people had a hard time watching it, those that didn’t watch, was because [of its confrontation of grief.] It was like, ‘No, no—not going there,’” Dowd recalled. “I always just wanted to say, ‘Stay a little longer.’”
For the most part, tonight’s panel was an examination of multiple kinds of love—the love that existed between the actors’ Leftovers characters, and that emerged between the actors themselves during production.
Receiving an Emmy nomination for her turn in the series, Dowd starred as Patti Levin, a leader within the Guilty Remnant—one of a number of cults that emerged, following the Departure, known for its white-clothed, chain-smoking members. An antagonist to Theroux’s police chief throughout Season 1, Patti seemed like the last person on Earth who would become his friend. But after Patti died in the first season, she’d appear to Kevin in visions, resulting in an unusual and ever-evolving relationship dynamic.
“We both independently came to the conclusion that this is a love story between these two, and I still feel that way. And I don’t mean a romantic love,” Theroux said. “It’s like two souls being joined and fused together.”
Coming onto The Leftovers, neither actor knew the other. The deeply personal relationship they now share developed over time. “It was a slow creep because our storylines weren’t really in alignment [early on],” Theroux said, “and half the time, you didn’t speak in our scenes together.”
But sure enough, Theroux and Dowd struck up a powerful friendship which remains in place today. “To this day, you’re the one I call and think of. Whenever I tank, I think of you, and I find my way through. And that, to me, is life-changing,” Dowd said. “That’s what was extraordinary about The Leftovers: It traveled well beyond the story that we saw.”
During the panel, Dowd recalled one particularly vivid memory from her time shooting with Theroux in Australia, in which she was having an intense panic attack and the actor came to her aid. “It was fierce. I was staying with Justin, thank god, and you knew immediately. It’s the kind where you think, ‘Oh my God, this is the end of my life. What do I do?’” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been with you.”
Given that the ATX Television Festival typically takes place each year in Austin, the actors also made a point of acknowledging another form of love—their love for the city that became their home during production on Season 2. “It’s almost like you have to agree that you’re going to love it before you even get there, and I was fully prepared to hate it,” Theroux joked. “[But] we were lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time there. I have many, many times, over the quarantine, thought about our time there, and I miss it so much.
“There was one night where we were shooting, and there was a huge storm coming. We jumped in my car and raced back to my place—it was like 5 in the morning—poured ourselves a deep cocktail, and then watched those storms roll in and crash on Austin,” Theroux added. “It was one of the happiest moments we spent there, of which there were many. It felt biblical.”
While there were certainly challenges in shooting The Leftovers, Theroux remembers it as the rare project he was truly “ecstatic” to work on, up until the very end. “I’m very grateful to you and Damon and the directors. I didn’t ever have that experience of, ‘Oh f*ck, I just need to get through this.’ And by the way, we weren’t exactly Game of Thrones either, catching fire,” the actor said. “But when we had those really tough weeks, it was always like, ‘I don’t care if four people see this thing. It’s good, and I’m proud of it.’”
Based on an acclaimed novel of the same name by Perrotta, The Leftovers aired for three seasons, between 2014 and 2017. Critically acclaimed during its run, the series has gone on to garner a cult following, and is still considered by some to be among the greatest television shows of all time. Starring alongside Theroux and Dowd in the HBO series were such acclaimed thesps as Christopher Eccleston, Amy Brenneman, Liv Tyler, Margaret Qualley, Chris Zylka, Regina King and Carrie Coon, among others.
Streaming online between Friday, June 5th and Sunday, June 7th, “ATX TV… from the Couch!” is the first virtual iteration of the ATX Television Festival. The festival moved online, after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered countless film and television events held around the world.