Monday, December 21, 2015

The Leftovers Podcast: The Living Reminders Chats with Series Co Creator/ Showrunner Damon Lindelof

Transcribed by: Denise Stewart and Missy Ortiz
The Living Reminders Episode 37
December 20, 2015

Hosts Mary and Blake chat with Damon Lindelof, the co-creator/ co executive producer/ showrunner of The Leftovers.  In this episode you'll learn all about: why Blake and Mary should be in the GR, how The Leftovers came to be, Damon's response to all the "Lefties," what a day in the life of Damon Lindelof looks like, how writers are selected for the show, a christmas elf pitch, what season 3 definitely won't be,  how he keeps track of everything he thinks of for the show, not doing "crazy" for "crazy's sake," why Kevin's sanity is important, plus he gives a sneak peak into what could be a very intriguing portion of the third and final season and much more!

The Living Reminders: Joining us today is Damon Lindelof - a television writer, showrunner, producer, and film screenwriter whose work includes Crossing Jordan, Nash Bridges, Wasteland, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Cowboys & Aliens, Prometheus, Tomorrowland, and a little known tv show you may have heard of called LOST. Lindelof’s writing has literally redefined how people not only watch TV, but how we discuss it as well -  and has also helped give birth to this current golden age of television in which we find ourselves today.  But now we all know him as the co creator/ executive producer and showrunner of our favorite television show on HBO - The Leftovers. Damon, thank you so much for joining us on The Living Reminders today.

Damon Lindelof:  It is an honor to be here. I hope you guys are dressed in white and smoking cigarettes.   I'm imagining you that way.

TLR: Dammit he found us out!  First off Damon congrats on a fantastic season two of The Leftovers that many people are calling one of televisions best seasons ever.

DL:  I think that was my Mom.

TLR: More importantly, We are so incredibly happy that you are getting to do a season three.  So  we just wanted to congratulate you on that too.  It's like you know the holiday gifts came early for you.  I mean people love your show and you get to have a season three.  That's pretty great for you and for all of us.

DL:  Thanks.  All this kindness is making it much harder for me to imagine you in your GR get ups though I have to say.  You're a splinter group of the GR that goes around saying nice things to people.  Might be more  effective to be honest with you.  But I'll take it.  Thank you, on behalf of everybody who kills themselves to try to make this show special.  Thanks.  It really say it's a team effort all the time, cause that's what we're supposed to say, but I've never been in an environment more where the collaboration really was responsible for making something special.  The show surprises me mostly because I get to receive your love.  But there are so many others who are responsible for making The Leftovers what it is.  So I have to give them a huge shout out.  I will call them one by one when we finish this podcast to pass along your warm wishes.

TLR:  Well thank you.  That'd be great and I know a lot of the fans united on social media with #RenewTheLeftovers.  And dressed up in white and smoked cigarettes and had them run in New York.  A lot of us were so happy and proud to make that happen and give the support. It was a really cool, organic thing for the fans to do. It was one of those things  where people just really wanted to show their appreciation. Even though it may be a really small niche audience, they're really ardent fans.

DL:  As someone who has lobbied for bubble shows that are on the verge of cancellation to be picked up on multiple occasions over the years, it was highly gratifying to be on the receiving end of that kind of love.  I was actually flying to New York at the time that it was happening.  My wife and I took off at 10 in the morning LA time and landed around 7 pm New York time.  So it had all happened while we were  in the air.  So I was like, "Oh man. I wish I'd flown out a day earlier," cause I totally would have gone down  and thanked them personally.  Then HBO probably would have thought I was behind it.

TLR:  Maybe it would have been a good or bad thing.  I'm not sure.  Going back a bit, how did you learn personally about The Leftovers?  What was your first experience with it?  And what made you choose The Leftovers as your first show post Lost?  Like what specifically interested you?

DL:  A couple of things sort of happened simultaneously, but in the spirit of storytelling, the brain tends to reorganize events for maximum impact.  But, my memory of it is the first-I've been a Perrotta fan, a Tom Perrotta fan, for quite some time-and whenever he writes a book, I read it.  And I was reading the New York Times book reviews-which I do so that I can pretend that I've read books that I actually haven't read-and Stephen King wrote a review of The Leftovers.  And he, Stephen King, has had a huge-he's my favorite author-he's had a huge impact on me wanting to be a writer and I just worshiped at the altar of him.  And here he was writing a review of a Perrotta book, and he was describing it as the best episode of The Twilight Zone that had never been made.  And so I read three paragraphs of the review, and it started to get into spoiler territory and I was like, "I need to get this book immediately. This sounds amazing."  It just talked about the premise of the Departure and everything else. And I just felt that flutter in my stomach that we feel when we hear and idea that is captivating or exciting to us.

The next day I was flying to London, and I bought the book in the airport and started reading it.  And then passed out on the plane and slept the rest of the way.  And when I arrived in London, Michael Ellenberg-who is an executive at HBO who I had worked on Prometheus with-he emailed me "had you read The Leftovers?"  So it felt like all these things were kind of starting to align in terms of like, you can always read the tea leaves any way you like, but the universe was sort of saying this is going to be something special.  And then I read the book over the course of the next two days and I was deeply moved by it.  And it was sort of about all the themes that I am really interested in and it told the story in only the way that Tom can which was he scaled down this massive idea onto a very small, intimate scale.  And I'd been kind of binge watching Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, kind of  the Jason Katims shows that I had missed over the six years that I was making Lost.  And it was sort just kind of hit the sweet spot and so I emailed Ellenberg back and I was like this is the most amazing thing ever.  And he said HBO owns it.  Is it something you'd be interested in?  And the rest is history.

TLR:  What is a typical day in the life of Damon when you're working on the show?  So take me from beginning to the end.  What was it like for you?

DL: Oh good God.  I don't think that there is any typical day on The Leftovers.  It really works in phases in terms of depending on where we are in the year.  The first part of designing a season of the show is probably the most fun that I have. Where we just basically...there is a series of informal conversations between Tom Perrotta and I.  And in this past season Tom Spezialy who came on as an executive producer as well before we actually started formally staffing the show.  Jackie Hoyt who was a writer/producer who was on season one who is coming over to season two. So I would have these kind of informal conversations with them about some of the ideas that would become the building blocks of season two.

But then we hired the staff and we all got in a room together and started talking about what we were going to do.  And that lasted for about three to four solid weeks of just pure world-building, story-telling, what is the town of Jardin like? What's going to happen when Kevin and Nora and Jill and the baby arrive?  How did Matt and Mary get there? Who are the Murphy's?  Why is there a guy walking around sacrificing goats?  And interspersed in all those conversations this guy, Reza Aslan, who wrote this amazing book called Zealot that I had read between seasons, it turned out that he was a big fan of the first season of the show. So we brought him in almost as our resident religious scholar.  And he started talking about not just organized religion in terms of Christianity, and Islam, and Judaism, and Hinduism, but also the history of religion itself-proto religion, like how did religion start? And he started talking about early indigenous peoples and cave paintings and spirit animals and all that kind of stuff.  And so we really started at the literal beginning and I was like "we should do some of that!"  So it all kind of swirled into this amazing  blender that resulted in the second season of the show.

A typical day during that period was, we would get into the writer's room around ten in the morning and go until six at night and then go and get a really good night's sleep and then start it over. And so that's kind of like phase one. And then phase two is once we've gotten approvals from HBO, then we start to bring in the production elements of the show.  And so Mimi Leder, who is every bit as much of a showrunner as I am because she runs the show in Texas and ran the show in New York for the back half of the first season, she gets folded into-OK here's now what we want to do.  How do we make this? How do we realize it?  And then she and her team, Gene Kelly we brought on this year an amazing producer and then John Paino who is a production designer who is responsible for really just the look of the show. Those were key hires for season two.

And then those three basically kind of went off and it was their job to find and build Jarden, while we as writers started continuing the process of actually writing the scripts of the season and then as we started to write, we had to start casting.  I had a meeting with Regina(King) I knew instantly that I wanted her to be Erika, but we had a very talented casting director Vickie Thomas started bringing in choices for John and Michael and Evie, and so the casting wheels started up and that started consuming a lot of time. And then the production wheels started up so Mimi started doing show-and-tells as to like, here's what it would look like if Jardin was in Louisiana. Here's what it would look like if it was in northern Florida.  Here's what it would look like if it was in Texas.  And they did a lot of location scouting and took a lot of photos.  So now our days are starting to be consumed by not just the creative but also the production.

And then the final, well not the final wheel, the next wheel is actually the writing.  So now we start breaking the stories as writers.  Here's what episode one is going to be, and we sit in the room and we talk in great length and details of what that is going to be.  And so that ten to six period is still in the writer's room, but prior to ten and after six these other conversations are happening revolving around the production of the show, and then I'm actually starting to write these scripts. I partner on every script of The Leftovers with one of the other writers so we co-write these things.  And so the writing started kind of absorbing my evenings.  And then the actual production of the show starts in Texas.  We actually started making the show.

So now I actually start traveling down to Texas.  I would go for three days every two weeks.  So I'd spend one full week in LA, and then the following Wednesday I would go down to Texas and stay there til Saturday, and then come back and repeat the process so that I could be available to Mimi and the actors.  And then the way that the episodes are directed is I go down and I do this thing called "toning" the scripts where I sit down with the director and we go from page one to page 55, or however many pages it is, and just talk about like here's what it is we're going for, this is the way I envision this; I'm now available for you to ask questions; this is what the episode is thematically about; this is what the characters are experiencing, etc.  And then the directors just go off and do their thing, because I'm not a set guy.

I don't like to breathe down anyone's neck.  I surround myself with incredibly talented individuals and then I let them do their work.  And so we were enormously blessed this year to just have amazing directors on the show.  I feel kind of the less I was in Texas the better.  And so now the show is in production, and we're making it and then once we wrap the first episode, now I start editing.  And then that's the final cog to fall into place. And by then an average day in my life kind of starts with me rolling into the office somewhere between 9:00-9:30 am and most nights leaving at like 10 pm and catching up with my wife then back to work.

TLR: So one of the things that really peaked my interest when you were talking about it was a couple of things. First is the picking your staff and then picking the directors.  How do you pick your staff? Like you famously brought on Nick Cuse and Patrick Somerville and we had a fan favorite, our favorite, was Kath Lingenfelter last year.  Do you pick certain people? Do you have a tree of certain people that you like to choose from? How does that go down?

DL: Well, it's an imperfect science. I mean ultimately the process starts with agents submit writers to the show.  And so you just get stacks and stacks of scripts of potential candidates.  And that stack is curated by Warner Brothers and HBO who produce the show.  So they have writers that they've worked with that they think would be a good match for the culture of the show.  Not just in terms of what the show is about, but also they know me, and they know how I work. So they'll say, "I think you'll get along really well with this person."  So I'll read those scripts, and so my first response is to somebody's writing before I even lay eyes upon them as a human being.

And then when I respond to the writing, then we schedule an actual meeting with that person, and I sit down with them and hang out with them for an hour. And we talk about them just as like here's who I am, and why I write and the kind of things that interest me as a writer.  And then we talk about the show, and I get a sense of   what aspects of the show they connect to. But mostly it's like what's crazy about it is you're committing to someone based on an hour long meeting.  And you're saying "OK you're coming onto this staff and I'm going to really depend on you right out of the gate."  So it's like a first date, it's a gut instinct. Do I enjoy spending time with this person? And then I guess for me it's different in every case, because when you're building a writing staff,  you're trying to build complimentary forces.

And so, if you've already got a writer who's like "I'm really interested in the kind of supernatural elements of the show, or the religious elements of the show, and what the show is saying about religion and faith and hucksterism and the parts of the show that I really gravitate to are Holy Wayne, and Kevin's dad hearing voices and all that stuff."  You're like, "OK, cool we need that." But then you can't hire five writers who are all interested in that part of the show, because then you'll have no balance, and the show will tip.  So you're like, "OK I've already hired someone who's interested in that stuff, now I want to hire someone who's basically like, 'I'm just like really interested in Nora.  I'm interested in how she's processing her loss.  I'm interested in her job at the DSD.  'Guest' was my favorite episode last year and here's why, etc., etc.'"  So you just try to kind of find complimentary forces that are going to bounce off of each other well.

Then you try to the best of your ability to build some diversity in the room.  And that ranges from the age of someone, to the color of their skin, to their gender, to their religious beliefs.  I feel like if the entire room consisted of atheists, we'd be in trouble. So you kind of stack the deck with believers and non-believers.  So my hope is like-it's a lot like jury selection.  I'm selecting a jury that I think is going to come to the most fair verdict, but know that it's going to take a while to get there.

Another element of it is like I really want to hire people who aren't particularly impressed by me.  That's not too hard to find, but I think that someone can be a fan of the show, but if they don't want to take me on, if they're afraid to say, "That's a pretty stupid idea, Damon."  Then it's not going to work out on the show.  I need people who...the show comes first and I want the writer's room to be a safe place.  Granted I am the de facto head writer, but for me I do my best work when I feel like we're all buddies.  I don't want to feel like I'm anyone's boss.  So I need to hire people who are kind of like can hang out with me.  And treat me the same as they would treat anybody else.  And also are a little bit dark.  I mean I'm drawn to people who are a little bit F'd up. And a little bit angry and a little bit sad, all the things that the show is and what I am.  It's hard for me to hang  out with genuinely happy people, because they make me feel bad about not being happier myself.

TLR:  So you and your writers, you obviously are famous for having things be a little bit ambiguous which is what the show is and what it needs to be.  But a lot of people are trying to find answers to certain things like why did Nora push the tea cup off the table? Why did the dogs leave? Or  things like that, specific things.  But what I want to know from you is, what is the broadest question in the terms of life that you think the viewers should be asking about your show?  What are the things that are important to you that you think the viewers should be focusing on?

DL:  I don't want to tell anybody how to watch the show or what to focus on.  I mean I think that that's the beautiful thing about this show and about the content of the show.  And maybe in many ways limits the show to tapping into a wider audience because it doesn't tell you what the rules are in a way that other television shows that are much more comforting do.  I mean if you're watching a cop show or a lawyer show or a doctor show, you kind of know exactly what you've signed up for.  And I like that The Leftovers doesn't do that.

But I think that it's pretty clear not just from The Leftovers but the storytelling that I'm attracted to, you know, going back to Lost and before is, I'm just really interested in this idea that we are given this life, we're given life, and we're not given a rule book.  There are people who are writing rule books, many different, conflicting rule books as to what we're supposed to do with that life, but none of them can guarantee that their way is the right way. So we're all trying to try to figure it out on our own.  And I think that storytelling that's sort of simulates that same experience is really attractive to me.

So, you mentioned Nora tipping the cup over in season one. Is the audience supposed to be thinking why did she do that?  Yea, if that's what you want to fixate on, I'm not gonna tell you not to. Like we have an intention as storytellers as to why she did that and Carrie Coon has an intention as an actress in terms of why she did it. And Jill and Aimee who watch her do it are fascinated by the fact that she did it. But I think that we live in a world where people behave in really, really strange ways all of the time.  And we're scratching our heads and it's hard for us to make sense of it.  And I don't want to go to a dark place, but we live in a world where really bad things happen.  Like what happened in Paris or what happened in San Bernadino and those things don't make sense to me. They just don't.  And I don't want to live in a world where I go, "I get that.  I get why someone takes a machine gun and walks into a concert where people show up to listen to music and just starts shooting.  Indiscriminately murdering people."   Like I don't get it. But it still happens.

And ultimately it happens because people are, I believe, they're confused, or they're angry, or they're scared.  And this isn't me sympathizing or empathizing with people who commit horrific acts, but I do feel like that energy is an energy that The Leftovers taps into and it makes people uncomfortable, but it's one that I am very interested in as a writer.  So everything that I want to say in terms of how the show should be watched is basically said in the new theme song.  Iris Dement put it much more poetically and musically than I ever could.  But it's a very blatant instruction as each episode starts too on how to watch the show. Because if you don't follow those instructions, I think the show is going to make you slightly pissed off.

TLR: Well speaking of the theme song, you've talked a lot about subverting people's expectations, and you've succeeded in a lot of ways this year, be it the cave woman, or international assassin, singular point of views throughout the season or fluent point of views in the finale, and even the new song with the opening credits. Is it fair to say that you have a direction for season three that none of us are prepared for like what happens in season two?

DL: That's an awful big gauntlet to throw down. What I'll say in terms in my preliminary instincts about season three, and we have to put those seeds in the ground and watch them grow and subject those ideas to the same process by which season two came to light because again, it was a much different process than season one because we had Tom's book that we were adapting, and so there was this text that we could either conform to or aberate from but now, kind of the sky's the limit. The thing I don't want to do is be gimmicky. The minute that the audience is like, "Oh, this show has to surprise me. It takes huge risks." At a certain point taking huge risks, isn't risky anymore because the audience expects you to take them and then they're not really risks anymore. So I feel like we want to build a story that is mentally satisfying and watchable, but it has the same basic ingredients that any episode or successful episode of The Leftovers to demonstrate which is that you get inside the heads of these characters, and you really care about them and invest in them. That's all I'm really striving for. I'm over simplifying a vastly complex thing, but "International Assassin" is an episode that made a lot of waves, and we were really proud of when we finally cracked it. But the part of the episode that I am most gratified by is how emotional it is. Given the fact that it's just ridiculously absurd. If you just say, "Here's a log-line for this episode... but if you can also generate a real emotional reaction and really understand Kevin better and Patti better, and what their relationship was better in that absurdus construct. Then the show is firing on all cylinders cause I don't want to just do crazy for crazy sake.

TLR: So, when you wrote "International Assassin," did you know that you struck gold or were you terrified that people just wouldn't get it?

DL: If you ask anyone who knows me, I don't have the "struck gold gene". I don't just sit back and be like, "Wait til they get a load of this!" There's always a more overriding sense of fear dominating it. But I have gotten to a place where I'm like, if I feel like something is working, and I feel like it's good, the audience tends to agree with me. If I feel like something isn't working or we made profound mistakes, the audience tends to agree with me about that too. I was kind of feeling like there's a system by which we as writers came up with the idea for "International Assassin,"  and then we pitched it to Mimi, and then the actors read the script and HBO read the script, so it had gone through enough people's opinion spectrums for me to get a sense of like, "Okay this works." But at the same time, we wrote that script before the audience had even seen the second or third episode of the show. So, I had no idea how anybody was going to respond to anything. I think the real terror was with the cave woman, where I was sort of like, this is going to be the litmus test for the entire season. If the audience goes with us after that first ten minutes of the season, then we're going to have a very wide swath of stuff that we can get away with. But if they say, "What the hell was that!? Those pretentious bastards! I am never ever watching The Leftovers again!" Then "International Assassin" would have been a complete and utter disaster. So, we got some validation on the premiere as we were writing "International Assassin." So I felt like the audience wants us to be a little bit crazy. As long as we earn it, we'll be okay.

TLR: So why is Purgatory in The Leftovers a hotel, and why do you feel like it was necessary to revisit it in the finale for Kevin?

DL: Oh man. Implicit in your question is me confirming that the hotel is Purgatory. I feel like the less said about that, the better. I think that "International Assassin" is an episode that will be ultimately, I know that people are curious about it and I don't want to be stand-offish, but the more that I talk about it, the less interesting the episode is. All I can say is, we went to great lengths and barked up a number of incorrect trees before we arrived at the conclusions that we did. Especially because "International Assassin" is the beginning of something, is the beginning of the story thread that is going to continue into the third season and the ultimate ending of the show. I feel like the less that I talk about it, the better. I think that the more interesting question to be asking is, "What does Kevin think that was?" (laughs) Because he's not aware that he's on a television show and that the audience is speculating. If you went through the experience that Kevin went through, what's your take away from it? That feels like it's very rich both territory for character and story.

TLR: Well then let me ask you in this way've dealt a lot with this kind of world or this kind of scenario in your writing. We all know the flash-sideways in Lost and obviously the hotel in The Leftovers. So what about that story telling is compelling to you?

DL: I think that the short answer to the question is pretty simple which is, I'm really interested in what happens to people when they die. Not just as a purely religious pursuit but also a scientific pursuit, and a philosophical pursuit which is your answer to that question. What do you think is going to happen to you when you die? Is really going to govern the way that you live.

So, it's not that I'm morbidly obsessed with death, but I think a show like Six Feet Under, I loved it so much and it was so fascinating to me that it really dealt with the issue of fundamental mortality. But I think that The Leftovers is more interested in the spiritual ramifications of that question because Tom set up an idea-the meta idea of the show being The Sudden Departure. It's a big death metaphor. It's loss. So we had a definition for death which is, oh, we know what that is, and if somebody dies, we know what to do. We bury their body and we have a funeral and everybody has different ways of doing it, all different cultures. But there's a process sort of attached to it, and there was no process attached to The Sudden Departure. Like, "What do we call this? Are we ever going to see these people again? Where did they go? Did they go anywhere?" So, it just became completely and totally fascinating to me, especially knowing that the show is never going to answer that question. How people would react and so the idea of an "afterlife" feels like it's very much in tune with The Leftovers.

I think the people grafted the afterlife idea onto Lost right out the gate because it was in the DNA of the show that characters started articulating very early on. "We all died in that plane crash and this is an opportunity to start over with a clean slate." They were speaking metaphorically of course, but the audience was using the purgatory word very, very early on before the show itself even started to float those ideas. I think the reason for that is that we're very curious as human beings. Everybody's curious. I have yet to meet a person who's like, "I'm not curious about what happens when you die. I'm not even curious about it." Some people, there are a lot of people that I run into are 100% certain that they know what happens to them when they die, but none of those people tend to agree with one another. That's pretty fascinating to me. It's sort of the one question that I feel like we will never have an answer to, and so it's pretty cool to write stories about.

TLR: And it's pretty cool to podcast about, let me tell you. As you can tell, I'm a very upbeat happy person. People keep telling me that I'm like a Christmas elf because I'm just so chipper and happy and talking about this show and talking about death or what I might think happens after I die, or all these kind of different questions that you've had within your writing has been awesome! It's just been so fun to not only watch but then to imagine on our own. So I want to thank you and all of the writers.

DL: Well, I really appreciate that, and I'll pass that on and you should know that if I were writing a show about Christmas elves they would be, complaining about the hours and how they aren't appreciated and that they're kind of scared of Santa. But most importantly that they kind of don't really know what to do for the ten months of the year between January and Thanksgiving. It's nice that, particularly because we are in the season, you've found a bright side of elfdom, I think that it could probably be a lonely experience. And I don't like the cold either.

TLR: Well, we live in Rhode Island so we are usually covered in white, cold stuff.

DL: Then, you'd be a good elf.

TLR: I know, I know. I've got it somewhere within me. Well, speaking of this Christmas elves' pitch, everyone pitches ideas in the writing room I imagine, some serious and some not. So what was your favorite joke pitch that ended up becoming serious and making its way into the show?

DL: I don't know if there was ever like a joke pitch but there are many pitches that start out ridiculous. Then suddenly become, "Well there's something really, really interesting there." "International Assassin" was one of those pitches and then when we talked about when we were breaking the finale, and we were talking about the idea that Kevin was going to be killed again...he's gonna be shot by John Murphy and he was gonna return to this space...everybody loved that idea but then we were like, "How does he get out?!" We made it so hard for him to get out the first time. We committed an entire episode to it, now we've kind of gotta do like a bite size version of "International Assassin" in like seven minutes. It shouldn't be easy for him to get out, and it needs to be emotional too, or else we risk undoing everything that episode 8 did for us. Then Perrotta without really..I mean it's not like we were puzzling over this for hours like we're almost right out of the gate...Perrotta just says, "He should sing his way out. There should be a bunch of drunk people down at the bar doing karaoke and Kevin has to get up there and sing." And we all kind of looked at him like, "That's the stupidest thing that I've ever heard!" Then like right on the heels of "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard...that's the greatest thing that I've ever heard." Then we were doing it, and then the next two hours became everybody pitching what song should Kevin be singing and listening to those songs. Haley, our writer's assistant would pull them up for us. Haley was the one who was like it has to be "Like a Prayer", Madonna's "Like a Prayer." We all completely and totally locked in on that idea, and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately we couldn't clear it. "Homeward Bound" was the runner up and I can't imagine it having been anything other than that now. That was certainly an instance of, "You're not serious. I hope you are serious, because that's great."

TLR: I want to know how you keep track of all your thoughts, if you're just walking around. I was at Panera the other day and I said, "How does Damon come up with ideas and then make sure he doesn't forget them?" Do you have like an app? Or do you have like a little notebook, because I assume they must come to you in the most funny places. 

DL: I love that you were thinking of that at Panera and you wanted to know what was happening at Panera.  This podcast brought you by Panera. (all laugh) I very rarely write things down, or record audio. My feeling is that if it is an idea that is worthy, it will stick. I've never had a circumstance where I'm like, "Oh my God I had the greatest idea this morning, and I just can't remember it." If that's true, then it was not as great as I thought it was in the time that I was having it. When I have an idea that infects me, it just doesn't leave my brain and become like, "Oh my God I can't wait to get this out of my head." For The Leftovers, there's very rarely time when I'm not engaging in the show in some way or able to articulate to someone else..."Oh I just had this really cool idea." So, I very rarely write down or jot down ideas. I feel like my brain is good at retaining the ideas that are worth retaining and it is good at deleting the ideas that are worth deleting.

TLR: So in season one, Kevin's sleepwalking became a serious issue by season's end, and since he couldn't account for the missing time, and his actions during it. In season two, battled both sleepwalking and Patti in a metaphysical kind of form. So do you feel the show operates at its best with Kevin fighting for his sanity and do you see that trend continuing in season three? 

DL: Again, season three is still very nascent and I don't want to say this is what it's going to be or this is what it's not gonna be. What I will say is, I'm not particularly interested in continuing to revisit the "Is Kevin crazy?" idea. In terms of, unless we can find a different permutation of it, I feel like we really explored that idea in depth, this season and next season, especially because it's the final season of the series....trying to find something new, that is not new but just for the arbitrary sake of being new, but it's the next step in the evolution in that idea.

I think "Am I crazy?" was the "Where is my mind?" was the question of this season, quite literally, I mean I beat people about this. "Do you get it? Well, just play the song again!" Now, moving into the next year, I'd be much more interested in writing the Kevin who's decided that he is not crazy. Or that he is crazy and that he acts accordingly.

I kind of feel like in episode 7, Laurie presents him with the two doors. She's like behind door number one is...You're psychotic! There is no Patti.  And you have some very serious emotional issues, and you need to institutionalize yourself and get on medication immediately. Behind door number two is Virgil, who says that you are possessed by a dark entity, and you need to rid yourself of it by dying. So, Kevin makes the decision.  And I would rather follow that Kevin through the remainder of the series. The decisive, "I'm deciding that I'm not crazy."  This isn't to say that he isn't.
But for him to be continuing to question his own sanity-I think both as a writer and certainly my understanding of what the audience would want-it's kind of like watching The Incredible Hulk where you just want Banner to get over like, dude you're the Hulk, like just be the Hulk. We know you're never going to find a cure, because I don't wanna watch the show where you're cured of being the Hulk. First off, you have to change the name. But I kind of feel that the more interesting show at this point is that...we're no longer, we're done with...the sleepwalking was a manifestation of Kevin's inability to come to terms with all of the trauma that he was dealing with both prior to the departure and post departure. His unwillingness to acknowledge that this massive life-changing event, a spiritual event had occurred resulting in the loss of 140 million individuals. He just didn't even want to acknowledge it. Now, he's acknowledging it, and I feel like as a reward, he doesn't have to sleepwalk and have weird, off-butting dream sequences anymore. We're passed that.

TLR: Well we want to thank you so incredibly much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule. This was an absolute delight to have you on and to be able to talk about all these questions that have been burning in our minds for so long. Thank you so much Damon. 

DL: It's my pleasure guys, thanks again for all your loving attention to the show and to everybody who listens to the podcast. I know that, again, as creators and as showrunners or what have you, we're supposed to say well we just do it for the fans, and we love the fans. But, and that's true when people say it, but in my a FAN, of TV and movies, and books, and comics, and all that stuff, that's the community who's validation and appreciation means the most to me. So I'm just enormously grateful, and I really feel like we got a third season of the show, because of the support of people like yourselves and people who listen to podcasts and really go deep on the show. There's so much stuff out there to consume your time, and now so much great stuff, so the fact that people take the time to even watch The Leftovers let alone, listen to a podcast about it, or make a podcast about it, it's just like the greatest thing ever so I speak for the entire team behind the show when I express my gratitude.

A special thank you to Brian Davids of the FILM SCHLUBS podcast for helping to make this interview possible

If you enjoyed this interview, check out our other great interviews we've had with:

Do you want more chat about The Leftovers? Get your fix by listening to The Living Reminders Podcast with detailed show discussion and amazing interviews with cast, crew, writers and directors of The Leftovers on HBO.


  1. Thank you so much for transcribing the interview! I couldn't get to the audio when the podcast went live yesterday. Thanks to you, I read it then listened to it on my drive to work today. It's awesome! Well done, Mary and Blake! And thank you, Missy and Denise.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. You are so welcome, Ashley! So glad you were able to enjoy it both ways! Mary and Blake had a great interview, and Missy was awesome to work with!
    What info did you find most interesting?

    1. It's like picking your favorite child...
      But I liked how he told, in his own words, how he fell into The Leftovers and decided to make a go of it and how he pieces together his "dream team" for a show.

    2. I kind of liked how he talked about their schedule. It's amazing to me how time consuming the production one hour of TV is!

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