Post Mortems

The Leftovers: Carrie Coon on Nora's 'Worst Nightmare Coming True'

The Leftovers Recap

Miracle’s utopian facade took a major hit in Sunday’s The Leftovers when a spate of disappearances raised the specter of a second, albeit small-scale, Sudden Departure. Kevin was briefly among the missing, sending Nora into an emotional, history-is-repeating-itself tailspin and giving Carrie Coon her most intense showcase of Season 2. Although Kevin eventually turned up, the mental damage for Nora was done.

Below, Coon dissects the hour’s gut-wrenching opening sequence, reveals why that aggressive Kevin-Nora big was “complicated” for her, and previews the ticking time bomb that is Kevin’s other woman Patti.

TVLINE | The idea that a second departure claimed Kevin is pretty much Nora’s worst nightmare come true.
You’re right. In that moment, it’s her worst nightmare coming true. She’s been primed. Her instincts are telling her that everything is not what it seems, even though she is trying very hard to pretend that Miracle is a safe place. The alarm bells were already ringing and then the earthquake happens. And, of course, we saw that meeting with the MIT men saying everyone is preparing for it to happen again. That seed was planted and then, like Jack and the Beanstalk, it just explodes.

TVLINE | She passes out from the intensity of it all — did she reach her breaking point in that moment?
Yes. Our bodies respond viscerally, sometimes before our minds catch up to the circumstances. Her body just shut down… I can’t imagine what it would be like to be re-traumatized like that. Can you imagine if you were in a school shooting, and you watched all your friends get killed, and then you were in another school shooting? That’s why The Leftovers is so powerful. Even though [the show’s] circumstances are somewhat supernatural, the actual impact of that event is not supernatural. It’s quite real. And quite traumatic.

TVLINE | I loved how Nora hesitated before asking the operator, “Did it happen again.” It’s almost like she’s so afraid of the answer that she struggles to form the words to the question. Is that an accurate read?
When [I’m] working on a visceral, dramatic moment like that I’m thinking much less about what I’m doing. There’s nothing calculated about it. I’m just responding to what’s happening around me. Quite frankly, when one of those takes is over, I don’t really remember exactly what I’ve done. I wasn’t thinking as an actor as much as I was trying to be present in that moment, and whatever comes out comes out. We probably did that phone call seven or eight times.

Yeah, it’s a strange thing. There’s something cathartic about doing a scene like that. And the nature of catharsis is release. So when you have to [repeat it], you have to bottle everything back up and then do it again, which is really unnatural. It’s very counterintuitive. The challenges are always mitigated by what’s going on around you. For example, because our crew and our directors are so fantastic, they’re being quiet and they’re staying in that head space with me. It’s all about the environment you’re in.

TVLINE | How do you approach a big emotional day like this? Are you like, “Oh, s–t, today is ‘Meltdown Day.”
[Laughs] Yes! If you know you have those pages coming up you’re like, “OK, tomorrow’s a big one.” For me the most important thing is making sure I give myself enough time before the day starts to not feel rushed, to just be able sit and be quiet so that I can respond in the moment. And then when you have to repeat it and you’re on your 10th take sometimes you do push-ups to get your heart-rate up. [Laughs]

TVLINE | Nora sees Kevin, realizes he wasn’t taken, and hugs him rather intensely. That was quite a hug. 
I don’t come from a family of huggers. I come from a not-very-affectionate family, so hugging is complicated for me. [Laughs] Oftentimes, Damon [Lindelof] is very explicit in the scripts about the emotional content of a particular beat. If you were to look at the script, you would see that he says, “Kevin comes through the door. Nora goes to him and hugs him very fiercely. And then she turns and walks out.” So much of what we’re doing as actors is suggested by Damon. So I have to give a lot of credit to our writers for making some of those specific choices for us that we then get to live in.

TVLINE | Then she’s like, “Get the f— away from me.” 
[Laughs] She’s pissed! I think back to a time wheb we couldn’t find my little brother for a while and it’s all panic-panic-panic. And then he shows up and the first thing you feel is overwhelming relief and love, and then the second thing is, “You motherf—er.” [Laughs]

TVLINE | Is Nora going to continue to keep a bit of an emotional distance from Kevin now to avoid getting hurt like that again?
Coming to Miracle was an effort for them to be safe. And in order for Nora to start over, she’s going to need to feel that stability. And, clearly, Kevin is not capable of providing that stability. And that’s going to cause some tension. Also, Kevin and Nora’s relationship started from this very honest place, where they say, “This is everything about me — can you handle it?” And we reiterate that in this season’s second episode. And Kevin’s really not being honest with her right now about what’s going on with him. So, in some ways, he has violated the code on which their relationship is founded. And that’s destabilizing. And, inevitably, there’s going to be friction because the promise is not being kept.

TVLINE | How pissed is she going to be when she finds out he’s been keeping Patti’s “return” a secret from her?
Oh, man. [Laughs] That’s a really big violation. They don’t really know each other that well, so, in some ways, the only leg they have to stand on is this choice to be honest with each other. Once that goes away, what is left for these two people?

TVLINE | I love the scene between Nora and Jill. What is it about Jill that Nora feels drawn to?
Jill proves that she has wisdom beyond her years in that scene when she says to Nora, “Well, wherever you go, there you are.” I think it was really smart of Damon and the writers to give that line to Jill, because she is dignified and thoughtful in that moment, and more than just a teenager in a television show. And Margaret [Quealley] brings this disarming quirkiness to [the role]. It’s important for Nora to have boundaries in terms of her authority, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have mutual respect. And I love that the writers chose to not create friction between them. The more obvious choice would be to have the stepmom and the stepdaughter not getting along. And the choice of them respecting each other and choosing this life together, tenuously but with a kind of generosity, is actually much more real and interesting. And I’m grateful for it.