Carrie Coon Chats With Damon Lindelof About 'The Leftovers' Impact: "I Had Journalists Weeping" (Q&A)
The 'Fargo' actress and TCA nominee talks with her HBO showrunner about their trippy drama's Emmys snub and why the show still resonates with viewers.
Carrie Coon made history when she landed a double nomination in the Television Critics Association Awards' individual achievement in drama category for her work in the third seasons of HBO's The Leftovers and FX's Fargo (for which she also earned an Emmy nom). Ahead of the Aug. 5 ceremony, Coon hopped on the phone with Leftovers showrunner Damon Lindelof for a chat about the recognition, the links between her two acclaimed characters and, naturally, Justin Theroux's looks.
LINDELOF So how are you, Carrie Coon?
COON I'm great. I just wrapped my day on Steven Spielberg’s movie, The Papers.
LINDELOF I haven’t heard of him. Is he a director?
COON Yeah, he’s untested but he seems to know what he’s doing.
LINDELOF And that experience is going well?
COON I keep saying it’s like a time capsule. It’s like everybody’s in this movie, Damon. I think there are over 103 speaking parts so if you watched this movie, you’ll know who was working in TV and film in the year 2017. And I’m one of them, yay!
LINDELOF I love all the of stars. Where are you [on the call sheet]? Are you in the high 80s at least?
COON I'm number 13 on the call sheet, which is actually not much further down from where I was on The Leftovers call sheet.
LINDELOF What! That’s not true.
COON You know I was number seven on Leftovers, Damon. Yes, because it was my first TV job.
LINDELOF You are number one in America’s hearts and that’s what matters.
COON I was an Emmy nominee and an Emmy snub.
LINDELOF Oh my God, I don’t think I am ready to talk about that yet.
COON No, we don’t have to. Let’s talk about something else.
LINDELOF What’s it like to be out there in the world now that The Leftovers is over?
COON I was texting shortly after the finale was given to journalists with Tom Perrotta [Lindelof's co-creator and the author of the novel that's the basis of the show] because he was so blown away initially by all the love letters we were getting from critics about the season, and then how overwhelmingly well the finale was received. I would say it was freaking him out a little bit how overwhelmingly positive the response was — and it wasn't any different for me. I am still getting so much Twitter feedback about it from people who are catching up on the show. They are writing me impassioned 140-character tweets about their feelings. I rarely get recognized and whenever I do, it has to do with The Leftovers because it came into someone's life at a particularly important time for them — if they were dealing with grief or loss or whatever tragedy — and they just caught it. And there is no rhyme or reason to the kind of person it is. It might be some little blonde in Lululemon, a 30-something Korean dad with his kid or an older 50-year-old white guy at a Cubs game. I never know who is going to be a Leftovers fan and that’s been really astonishing to me.
LINDELOF I think that Perrotta's reaction was similar to my own in terms of not quite knowing how to hold it all. As confident as we were with having seen it and being there, I would be lying if I didn’t say that there wasn't a feeling in the pit of my stomach or a voice coming from one of my shoulders saying, "They are not going get this," or, "Prepare yourself. There has been a lot of love up until now but when something ends, you just never know." Were you feeling ambivalence or were you pretty sanguine about it all?
COON I suppose it’s one of those things I know I don’t have any control over. And while yes, the feedback thus far has set me up to hope for a positive response for this finale, I think I felt similarly that any moment that machine can turn on you. I think we all know in the world we live in how quickly opinion is shifted. It is so impossible to predict, and I think I was really glad I had gone on to another job right away because that allowed me to move forward.
LINDELOF It was a struggle for me to watch Fargo this season because it was airing simultaneous with The Leftovers. The Leftovers was basically on for, like, one week before Fargo started. Although we completed that work months earlier, I wasn’t entirely ready to see you being someone entirely different, and it took me probably until the L.A. episode, which was early on in the season, to be like, "Oh, this is Gloria Burgle. This is not Carrie Coon playing Gloria Burgle." But other than the obvious question of, "What are the similarities between the characters which drew you to Fargo?" what I am most curious about is the transition for you having to come out of this really intense experience of having played Nora for almost four years of your life. Was it super freeing and liberating to suddenly put on a different pair of shoes? Or what were the challenges there?
COON Part of being an actor is the rhythm of the life of being an actor, and that involves coming together with a group of people, making something together that is intense and requires a lot of intimacy, and then walking away from it with the possibility that you will never see any of those people again. And that's the rhythm I have been living now for 10 years. So in some ways it was not unusual. If anything, it was not knowing if people were going to make the leap with me into something different that was airing at the same time. It was confusing and a little uncomfortable to see me operating in both capacities.
LINDELOF It is also super interesting because on Fargo, Ewan is playing two characters who, although they are related by blood, are entirely different beings. You were doing the same thing across two different shows. The idea that both of your characters [in Fargo and The Leftovers had a strange effect on the] technology around them has become a kind of cutesy reference point in interviews. They made [machines] break. They made things fail. My understanding is that you made this decision not to share with the Fargo folks, "Oh, I just did this!" Is that accurate?
COON It was funny because I had about five scripts before we started shooting, so [Fargo creator] Noah [Hawley] did make that decision well before he cast anyone in the part. But then when our writers were on set, I started to point out not only the technology but the other parallels: an episode that takes place partially in the airport, chasing buses, getting a divorce, having a big hug. I know that we actually did share a writer.
LINDELOF Yeah, Monica [Beletsky].
COON Of course, the technology thing is really obvious and I don't know why it's me. I can tell you that my father when I was a little girl thought that it happened all the time. I would sit down at the computer and it would stop working and he would say, "What did you do?" I would say, "I haven't touched it yet." And he was always saying he would sign me up for a study at a university about destructing technology.
LINDELOF I'll tell you why we did it. We use the word radiation, and when you hear the word it is scary. Nobody wants to be radioactive, nobody wants to be near anything that radiates — but there is another side to that word. I think you radiate. I don’t think in a toxic way. When I think about that word, it feels like it is about light and energy and maybe it does feel like it is a little bit dangerous, which is crazy actually talking to the real you and knowing the real you. But I think one of the things that Tom and I both responded to when we saw your audition is that all of those things were sort of inherent. I was like, "How can the world around her react to the fact that she’s radiating other than everybody just wearing sunglasses?" Which would have been weird. But it was, "Oh, I think she probably has an effect on technology." All I am saying is that you are the best kind of radiation.
COON When Terry Gross asks me what is the best compliment I have ever received, I might have to say that one.
LINDELOF So we are speaking on the occasion of your TCA nominations. The critics were a huge part of the story of The Leftovers in a way they traditionally aren't. And the writing about The Leftovers seemed to get super personal. There was the use of the "I" pronoun in writing about it that I'm not sure exists for other shows. Did that feel unique?
COON The reason I'm not surprised by it is because in the questions I have received about the show from either journalists or fans, there's never anything trite. I had journalists weeping when they explained to me about the very specific loss they've suffered and why the show resonates with them. It's brave, and we need personal voices and criticisms. It's kind of an amazing year though to have all these women nominated and then to have these people of color and no white actors and no white men. It's very interesting.
LINDELOF Yeah, that is amazing. What is even more amazing is that no white men have come forward to complain about it.
COON Donald Trump doesn't know about it. I am sure he would tweet about it if somebody told him.
LINDELOF Oh my God, please let Donald Trump live-tweet the TCA Awards. That would be awesome.
COON He doesn't have anything better to do. He is not doing much.
LINDELOF You are only partially kidding, but if we go down that road we will never get out of it. People have been asking, "Are you bummed out that the show didn't really get a lot of Emmy recognition?" Or it wasn't nominated for a TCA drama award, and these lenses of negativity. And I will say that we were always positioned as a dark horse and we were not the most watched show out there and we had to sort of find the show, so I understand all that stuff — but I will say as wonderful as it was to see you recognized for Fargo, it did irk me that you and Justin and [director] Mimi [Leder] were not recognized because of the work you did.
COON You and I know Justin is a great, theatrically trained actor. But he's also impossibly good-looking, so I think he is judged and suffers extra scrutiny. People don't expect him to be good.
LINDELOF Let's just stop and think for a second about how good-looking he is. (Pauses.)
COON OK, got it. So thankful for that experience. As a scene partner, he is totally present and utterly changeable. One of the scenes I'll never forget is the one where he comes to the door in the finale, and it's the first time they're talking. He was so charming. He was like a 1950s movie star, and I was genuinely rattled by his energy in that moment because it had such lightness of being. Justin is a funny guy — he's a comedian so he has that capacity. But there was something so loving. And we've, of course, seen versions of Kevin that were quite distraught, but that energy he brought that day was so charming and so unnerving.
LINDELOF He's like Jimmy Stewart.
COON He's totally a Jimmy Stewart. And Jimmy Stewart was special. He had a quirkiness about him. And Justin, although he is remarkably good-looking, has also this incredible sparkle of quirky humor in him that I've always loved.
LINDELOF He takes the job so seriously but he's got a really great sense of humor about himself. I think that there are other actors where with the sweatpants thing, as charming as it is to say, "You're well-endowed," I think for the show to start openly commenting and trolling him on the subject over and over again and for him to just text me and be like, "LOL. This is hilarious." A lot of actors take themselves very, very seriously, but I don't think any of you guys were like that.
COON Mimi has a sense of humor, too. She's also really focused and she knows what she wants, and she doesn't stop until she gets it. She's really deft at the pacing of an episode. She also doesn't over-direct. She doesn't come over and give you a paragraph on what she needs from you. It's a sentence, it's a word — and then she gets out of your face and you do it again.
LINDELOF People are sort of boggled by the fact that you and I never spoke about Nora's final monologue. We didn't really speak about it at all. We spoke about it as, "Oh, it happened," but not in terms of getting under the hood and understanding it better.
LINDELOF So Mimi and Tom and I have this thing called the "tone meeting" where we go through every scene and we say, "Here's what I'm going to do, do I have this right? How big does the goat need to be? How big of an emotional moment does this need to be?" So we get to the finale scene and there's a long, pregnant pause and Mimi says, "I think I know what this is." And I said, "OK, is there anything you want to ask me?" And she says, "No, but if Carrie asks me what I think about it, what should I say in terms of how truthful, how honest, how literal are we supposed to take this?" And then I open my mouth to respond and Mimi cut me off and said, "You know what, Carrie will know what to do." I just wanted to share that story with you because, lo and behold, you knew what to do. Thank God we never had to talk about it because I couldn't imagine a more perfect execution of that final scene. And I've been told your Twitter bio is, "I'll never tell." And I'm just curious if that's what you're referring to?
COON Yes, that and Fargo because Fargo ends ambiguously as well.
LINDELOF But you told me that in Fargo, you guys shot an ending where all these people come running through the door and then they arrest David Thewlis.
COON You're lying.
LINDELOF What? No, that's what you told me. And then Noah just decided to edit it out because he wanted to be artful.
LINDELOF No, you said that. That's true. I'm sticking to my story and now you have to decide whether or not you want to believe me. Last question: If you win [the TCA Award], will you demand two trophies? Because I just feel like that's fair.
COON I would never do that — I'm from the Midwest. I only recently wrapped my head around having more than one sports bra.
LINDELOF I have five sports bras, if you want to borrow them.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.