'The Leftovers': Amy Brenneman Dissects That Heartbreaking Twist

"It is such a beautiful, full transformation," the actress tells THR about filming the HBO drama's latest emotional episode.
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers through Sunday's episode of HBO's The Leftovers, "Certified."]

When Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) embarked on a quest across the world to Australia in order to bring Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) home, he made the trek knowing that his days were numbered. Little did he know the same could be said for one of his traveling companions.

The sixth episode of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta's final season of The Leftovers began in the past, with psychiatrist Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) in the post-Departure Mapleton days, sitting across from a patient — the same young mother who lost her son in the series' very first scene, played by Natalie Gold. Laurie, who was 16 weeks pregnant when she lost her own baby in the Departure, can't find the words to help her client. Instead, she ingests handfuls of pills, writes a suicide note, and waits for the moment to come. When she realizes she can't pull the proverbial trigger, Laurie pulls another trigger of sorts, vomits up all of the pills, and makes yet another drastic decision instead: she joins the Guilty Remnant.

It's a scene that was several years in the making, as Amy Brenneman tells The Hollywood Reporter, and it's a scene that's mirrored in the final moments of this episode, called "Certified." After spending time with all of her loved ones — whether it's final conversations with her new husband John (Kevin Carroll) or her old husband Kevin (Justin Theroux), or a phone call with her children from halfway across the world — Laurie decides to steal an idea from Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) and send herself off in spectacular scuba-diving style. 

Whether Laurie was successful in her suicide attempt remains to be seen, and even if she was, there's every possibility the character could return before The Leftovers ends — though time is running out, with only two episodes left. But from Brenneman's perspective, there are no two ways about it. "It's a goodbye," she says about Laurie's actions at the end of the episode.

Read on for her thoughts on Laurie's farewell episode, how the opening sequence was first formulated, her reflections on the series' earliest moments and more.

This was a heartbreaking episode to watch. What was it like for you to experience?

It was the second time I had a Laurie-centric episode, and you can't believe it. Honestly. The gratitude… it's incredible to see those kinds of brains and Damon focused on you and your character. It's really an incredible feeling. That's number one. One thing that was super gratifying is that Damon and I… I swear, we dreamed it up. How did she join the cult? What was the moment she joined them? We dreamed that scene up three years ago, or a long time ago. That was the backstory I always knew and worked off of. You never know if you're going to see these scenes rendered, or if it's just good back story to have. That was beautiful. I was like, "Oh my God! The Leftovers is so cool!" You get to go back in time and tell stories that maybe have been hanging. And then you know, it was honestly a bit of a trickier trajectory than my episode last year, and a lot of the character-centric episodes. They tend to be about a person wanting someone and they are incredibly tenacious and they have all of these things against them, and yet they persevere, and part of what we're watching is them battling all of these things. This episode, when I look at it, it was honestly a lot about Laurie listening. On the surface, it was a little bit more passive. And yet, she throws herself into the Melbourne Bay at the end. (Laughs.) So I had to back it up. There wasn't an obvious trigger, but obviously all of these conversations work on her in a way that she does what she does. 

That's fascinating that you and Damon were talking about the episode's opening scene for so long. When you finally got to act it out, was it a challenging scene — or in a way, did you already know what you needed to do, because you had lived with this moment for so long?

No, it was challenging. And this is where it's the cherry on top: I didn't know that [Laurie's patient] was going to be Natalie Gold. This is where The Leftovers is just unbelievable. The very first woman ever featured on the show. She did a little blip on the second season, too, and I had to tell her, "You sold our show, with that heartbreaking moment, and such a simple moment." They flew her all the way to Australia just for that moment. I didn't know it was going to be her. I think the challenge for me with Leftovers is honestly how much the emotions are at the surface and how much they aren't, you know? I try not to say too, too much when I'm acting, and also, Laurie's a therapist. Natalie is expressing all of these emotions, and it's where these things work. I don't know if other actors have that issue on this show, but I'll see it in [the editing room], too. There are weepy takes, and often with Laurie they will take the less weepy takes. It's really where this stuff lives. If you can cry about something, you're processing it. I think so much of what happens on The Leftovers, we don't know how to process a lot of what goes on. It's allowing it to be expressed as it is, if that makes sense.

We have certainly seen rage within Laurie before — when she ran over members of the Guilty Remnant last season, for example. There has always been a fire in Laurie, but I don't know that I ever sensed a suicidal tendency in her. That really surprised me. Was that something you always sensed within the character?

Do you mean the scene at the end?

Certainly that scene, but also the first scene of the episode.

It's funny, I sort of got this more after I saw it. I think they're two very different impulses. The first scene is really… what Damon and I talked about, years ago after the pilot, when we started cooking up that moment, knowing that Laurie was a pretty Type-A working mom, a recognizable character. It's not like she was a marginal, fringe, bipolar person. She was very in the world. So how does she go from that to [the Guilty Remnant]? I think Laurie, like a lot of us, had good advice for people. She was a therapist. She knows what to say. What we talked about is that a person in a helping profession is basically giving advice based on something that's happened, or a precedent. I think it's that moment where it's like, "Calm down, it's OK, here are some anti-anxiety meds." But Laurie is now going, "What the hell do I know? I don't know anything about this." I think it's really a matter of, "I don't want to do harm. I don't want to say the wrong thing. I realize I've been giving advice like I know what the f— is going on." I think that? I don't know it's that she's suicidal. I think it's more like, "Oh my god, I need to take myself out. I may do harm to people." And then it's like, with the Guilty Remnant, somewhere within her she doesn't want to leave her kids with a dead mom. I think the impulse at the end is quite different. There is so much talk about different realms of existence and who knows? Maybe I'm going to be with Kevin, where he's going. We're not in a binary life-death world. Laurie has been such a realist and a literal person, but obviously all of this stuff has worked on her.

There's the conversation at the dinner table about who each character represents, and Kevin Senior (Scott Glenn) tells Laurie she's a Doubting Thomas. Laurie then declares that she's a Judas, after she's drugged everybody. She has certainly been skeptical of the whole Book of Kevin idea in the past, but here she is, listening to everybody tell her what their plan is: "We're going to have your ex-husband kill himself so he can go talk to dead people." How does Laurie process that? Is there some sense of believing that this is actually a possibility?

No! No, no, no. It's all bullshit. No! (Laughs.) I think even more than that, the guy is having a psychotic break. He's afraid. He called me, right? It's sort of like people propping up Judy Garland because I got to get a movie done. It's like, the guy's unwell, and you're taking advantage of his vulnerability, and glomming your own stuff onto him. No, I don't think she ever believes. Now, here's her journey. And again, in the episode, there are three or four times where people say their cockamamie thing. (Laughs.) And they literally say to Laurie, "You're going to judge me. You're going to try to talk me out of it." And Laurie says, "No, I really think you have to do this." It's like my friend Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas: "If people need to do this stuff, then I'm going to love them, and I'm going to stop judging them." But the reason I drug those people is because I got to talk to Kevin. But when he says that this is something he needs to do? I can't win it. I don't think she ever believes it, but I'm not going to convince them, and I want the last expression on my face to be one of love, if this really is the last moment we have.

Why do you think Laurie does what she does at the end of the episode? Why do you feel she throws herself into the middle of the bay?

(Very long pause, then quietly.) I think her work is done, maybe? I don't know. Her work for herself, and her work for others. I don't entirely know. I mean, that call that is so heartbreaking… and as a mom, that was very easy for me to tap into. You hear your adult children in a happy space, and they're close. I guess on the one hand, that would keep you in the world. On another hand, it would be like… that is all. I lost my dad in October, and my brothers and I were there, and we all have kids, and it was like, this is all you do as a parent and as a human; you want to know that your people are OK. Once they're OK, you can go. (Pauses again.) I don't entirely know. 

Do you think it's open-ended, or are we supposed to read this as Laurie's goodbye?

It's a goodbye. And I do think in that way, it is such a beautiful, full transformation from this very hard and violent and enigmatic and judgmental, rage-y presence, to she softens. I do think that's kind of the person she would have wanted to be, weirdly. As a therapist, she thinks, "Oh, I'm a good listener and I help people, but in real life, I'm incredibly judgmental and bossy, and so mean to Kevin." (Laughs.) That marriage was horrible. So she's just repairing. I think for her, it's to a sense of completeness. But we also have to be careful not to put our non-departure world judgment on that. People are checking out different realms, pretty clearly. And maybe even Laurie, even though she's been judgmental of all of that, maybe something has opened up in her and she wants to check it out too.

It's not just Laurie who is saying goodbye. The Leftovers is saying goodbye as well. This is a show that has meant a lot to the people who have found it. Was it hard to let go of this series for you?

Yeah! It's so utterly unique. It's different from when I've said goodbye to other series. You're saying goodbye to regularity, and the same crew you've seen for six years. It's that kind of day-to-day experience. This is not that. I said to Liv Tyler at one point, "This must be like Lord of the Rings. Every once in a while, we get together for four months and make a chunk of this story." But there's no other show like it. You can tell how much I revel in these conversations. I remember with some of the other shows I've been on, I really want to go deep, and the showrunner looks at me blankly: "Just wear the skirt." (Laughs.) I always want to go super deep, and Damon will match me. You get to go so deep. To the point where it's deeper than me. When you ask me why did she do what she did? I don't entirely know. But I think that's part of this storytelling. It's abstract storytelling. There are characters and there's narrative, but it's also working like a Jackson Pollock. It's very much for the viewers' projection and what it elicits in them. That's a very unique thing in mainstream American media.

When the show began, Laurie had no voice. She's part of the Guilty Remnant, and therefore she's dialogue-free. Once Laurie's able to speak, how much did having a voice impact your discovery of Laurie's voice? Did it change anything about the character for you?

I mean, it was like, so easy. (Laughs.) Although it's so beautiful to have started with her that way. It's funny. I think maybe it was the fourth episode of the season, and I was doing a scene with Liv and Justin, and they were working out the script and the lines. And I remember… I love to dive in, I love being in conversations, and I found myself being uncharacteristically passive, because I didn't have any lines. And it was like, "Wow, this is what Laurie experiences. She's observing. She's not contributing." It was a really beautiful way into the character. The complete journey of that first season was that flashback episode ["The Garveys at their Best," which shows how the main characters experienced the Sudden Departure]. I think there are those in the universe of The Leftovers who are always marginal and unstable, but Laurie wasn't one of them. She was absolutely recognizable as a working bossy mom. That just killed me. All of the characters, seeing us before, that's still one of my [favorites], and the way it was placed right toward the end of that first season. That's why the beginning of this episode was so especially gratifying, [for answering] how did she get from there to there.

In that episode, we found out that Laurie lost her baby on the day of the Departure. How much has that fueled your work as this character?

That was interesting, because it's not something Damon knew early on. It was interesting because in episode six or seven of the first season, I was getting frustrated because I didn't really know why. I didn't want to be general grouchy, violent Laurie. Why is she this way? Why? I didn't know why and I was getting very frustrated. Sometimes writers will withhold things because they want to give out information the way they want to. And I felt, "What's happening? I'm annoyed. I want to know!" And Damon was saying, "I'm not keeping anything from you. I just don't want to say anything until we have decided what it is." I just remember being a little grouchy about it. (Laughs.) And then he finally said, "Yeah, I think we know where Laurie was during the Departure." He told me, and I was like, "Well, that's really great!" (Big laugh.) Literally, it was like, "OK, bye!" I had no idea that's what he was going to say. It was fuel for the rest of Laurie, do you know what I mean? Again, I never knew if she would ever tell Kevin. That was a beautiful surprise. And I loved the way it happened. They had been through so much. Often times, pregnancy or childbearing is treated in a very sentimental way in film and television, and I loved when I said that to Kevin: "Did you want another kid?" And he's like, "No," and I'm like, "Good, I didn't either!" (Laughs.) It was a tragedy, and you get that in that line: "I didn't say anything because I didn't want to, and then I didn't have to." But I loved how when it came out, it wasn't this heightened sentimental thing. It's just that they have been through so much. 

Where do you think they are at the end of things? There's clearly a lot of love still there, otherwise Laurie would not come all the way out to Australia to help Kevin. How do you feel they leave things?

Beautifully. I said to Damon at one point when we were shooting this episode, it's like Laurie is sitting with people on hospice, and she's on hospice. The whole world is on hospice.

"We're all gone," she says.

Right. "We're all gone." My father-in-law died of ALS three years ago, and he was on hospice for longer than we thought he would be. Anyone who has done it knows, the noise of the world falls away. It's pretty holy. I think that actually helped me, that image. We're not trying to solve problems. We're not trying to save ourselves. I'm not trying to convince you of anything. I'm just literally being with you. 

Do you think we have seen the last of Laurie, and if so, what do you think of how her story came to an end? Let us know in the comments, and keep following for more on the final season of The Leftovers.

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