'The Leftovers': Regina King on Going Head-to-Head with Carrie Coon

"Suppressing feelings is a common ground for them," said the actress of the two stars of the HBO drama.
Courtesy of HBO
Regina King in 'The Leftovers'

This Sunday's episode of The Leftovers pits Regina King and Carrie Coon against one another. The two stars of the HBO drama find that their characters don’t get along as well as they may have hoped.

As Erika Murphy, King wrestles with loss for the first time after her daughter mysteriously disappears in the first episode of the second season. If anyone can relate, it’s Coon’s character, Nora Durst, whose two children were taken during the Departure.

But instead, the hourlong installment was more or less a cage match that saw Nora and Erika's shared experience of losing children turned into a competition for who has endured the most pain.

"These two women have more in common than they would have thought," King told The Hollywood Reporter of the complicated relationship between her and Coon’s characters. "Suppressing feelings is a common ground for them."

The series from Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta explores a world in which two percent of the world’s population has inexplicably vanished in a Rapture-like event. When early in the drama’s sophomore run another peculiar earthquake-like event sees three girls go missing, the question of a second Departure lingers in the town of Miracle, Texas (named for the fact that it was spared from the first mass disappearance.)

Ahead of season two’s sixth episode "Lens," THR caught up with King to discuss joining the series one season in, why she thinks Nora threw the first rock and how she rationalizes her husband's [Kevin Carroll] bad behavior.

What was it like to come into the show the second season? Were you a fan or did you have to go back and binge it?

I had to go and catch up. Before I met with Damon and Tom, I read the script to the second season. And to be quite honest, it lived on it’s own. It’s such a great script, that first episode. And I’d only see one or two episodes when I had actually met with them. So I went back and actually watched the rest of them after that. Because the first season was the book from beginning to end, this second season is almost a bit of a new world in a way. Although I am the new kid at school, it’s kind of like we are all the new kids at school. Like we’re all our first year in high school right now and Carrie, Justin, Ann [Dowd], Chris [Eccleston] and Amy just went to the same middle school.

Do you get much advance notice from anyone that you’re going to be featured more predominantly in an episode?

No, we didn’t know until it came. I mean, I think someone told us early on that there would be an episode that kind of features each of the characters, so you knew that was coming — you just didn’t know when or what it would be. 

This episode delves into Erika and Nora’s relationship, and it isn’t pretty.

Right? And these two women have more in common than they would have thought. Suppressing feelings is a common ground for them. Erika probably thought at some point early on when she first meet the Garveys that there was a possibility of having a new friend because she doesn’t really have any. It turns out that she still doesn’t have any by the end of episode six.

What do you think motivates Nora to throw the first rock through the Murphy’s window?

I think it’s kind of odd, but then again not really. Here’s this woman who has lost her entire family, and she’s a bit of a mystery. Even as sad and devastating as it is, my assumption is that Nora has recognized that there’s something kind of special about her and their situation. Then they move to Jarden and they move next door to this family, and now it seems as though their daughter has disappeared. So it’s like, now you’re taking a bit of my shine away (Laughs.)

And Nora makes a point to let Erika know a little bit about her history.

Yeah, there is that scene before where she tells her about the fact that she had two other kids. Erika is kind of like, "Whoa." It’s almost like she’s putting the winning card on the table. Like, "Boom, now handle that." I don’t think at that point Erica realizes that's what’s happening. And then that rock goes through the window, and she still has no idea. In that scene where they’re sitting on the couch, that’s when she realizes, "Is this broad really trying to make comparisons? Is that her way of saying f— you?" I think that all of that discovery is made within that moment. That’s why I think Nora threw the rock through our window first, but I’d be interested to see what Carrie thinks.

Erika didn’t want to have to answer the questions, but she lets Carrie to ask them. How come?

I think she was intrigued by her and she maybe felt safe with her. And I think she’s curious as to what her intention may be. She didn’t really have the full story as to what happened to her kids because Nora doesn’t really say. I think all those things were going in her mind. Like, "Maybe I’ll get some answers if I let this woman in."

Then the showdown happens. Who sets off who, do you think?

I think that Erika sets Nora off by sharing all of this history with her. But it’s more that it makes her feel uneasy. Just like a shy person comes off arrogant, a nervous person can go for the jugular in order to not deal with their own stuff. I think that’s what’s happening with Nora. Then in that quick moment, I just laid down my whole life and actually told her some things that I hadn’t told anyone else. She gave her information that could probably destroy her family even further. She’s thinking, "You attack my beliefs, you attack me life, my thoughts? How dare you."

Erika tells the story of the bird. Does she believe in such supernatural things?

I think yes, and I think she’s also terrified to think further into it, which that could be some of the reason why she doesn’t want to talk to the detective that keeps coming by.

She also reveals that she had plans to leave her husband, John. Why do you think that she’s unhappy in that relationship?

Well, because her husband is nuts. Simple answer. (Laughs.) No, I think it’s because she’s been living a lie for a very long time — the lie being that she probably should have left him a really long time ago. But being born and bred in a family that believes "You don’t leave your husband, you lift him up," that isn’t an option. They had grown apart quite some time ago and she just put on this front, especially for her children, that, "We’re happy!" They weren’t ever happy, but she is trying to convince her kids of that. Eventually, if you don’t get out of that type of pretending, you’ll go insane. I think the leaving is really to save herself.

We see her fixing up people that her husband beats up. Is she giving John a pass for that behavior?

She knows that her husband is in a lot of pain and she knows the source of that pain. When you know that about someone, you tend to be a little more accepting of bad behavior.

What do you think Erika believes happened to her daughter?

I think she really doesn’t know, and it’s terrifying to think one way or the other. But if she was going to lean toward one, it’s an easy pill to digest if her daughter was just abducted. Departed is just too much to handle. 

We also see Erika visit this older man with whom she has a severed relationship. Are you able to say who he is?

It was someone that was very close to her at some time. It will be revealed [in the next episode]. And what happened between them will be totally revealed, too. And it’s jacked up, too. You just really have no idea. Damon and Tom are about to continue just scalping people — just ripping your wigs back. (Laughs.)

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9 pm on HBO.

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