'The Leftovers' Set Visit: Behind the Scenes of HBO's Existential Drama

Ben Sklar
'The Leftovers'

THR heads to Texas to visit the season-three set as the series — recently honored with a Peabody and six Critics' Choice nominations (with a best actress win for Carrie Coon) — shoots a few "miracle" happy moments before production moves abroad to Australia.

Daylight is fading at the historic courthouse square in Lockhart, Texas, a little more than 30 miles southeast of Austin. It's a small town chock-full of cowboy charm, where neighbors swing by — some just to say hi, some to invite you over to their backyard barbecue or, in the case of 420 W. Prairie Lea St. on this particular Friday evening in May, to get a sniff of the 135 cast and crewmembers stationed there as they begin to film the third and final season of HBO's The Leftovers, which, as of now, has no set airdate.

The season commences with an unusually lighthearted moment for this existential drama: a surprise birthday party for Chris Zylka's character, Tom Garvey. It's the first time many of the show's title characters have been gathered in the same scene — let alone given the opportunity to act like one big happy family — several years after the unexplained sudden departure of 2 percent of the world's population. "You would think they are a functioning ensemble," says co-creator and showrunner Damon Lindelof, "but the reality is that they are almost never in the same room at the same time — and certainly never celebrating."

It makes sense that the on-set vibe of this day mirrors this episode's happier-than-usual reunion; after several months apart, the cast is reuniting in real life, too, and tomorrow everyone is heading to a favorite Austin venue for a private late-night shindig. "We learned that you can't keep it dark all the time," says Justin Theroux, who portrays one of the show's most mentally unstable characters. (In the previous two seasons, fans have witnessed his Kevin Garvey shoot at a pack of dogs, murder a chain-smoking cult leader, be terrorized by the ghost of said cult leader, and die and come back to life — twice.) "The first season we [tried to] stay in the zone — we were also trying to find the tone of the show. [But we] realized that's really not tenable. You have to kind of goof around and laugh, and when you get the fun scenes like this, you relish them."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.