Turns out Erika Murphy is one helluva desperate housewife.
Sunday’s episode of HBO’s The Leftovers put the spotlight on Regina King‘s enigmatic (and hearing impaired!) alter ego and a number of surprises quickly followed. The biggest twist: Before her daughter evaporated into thin air, Erika was planning to abandon her entire family.
The revelation occurred during a tense tête-à-tête between Erika and Nora that yielded breathtaking performances from both King and co-star Carrie Coon.
In the following Q&A, Emmy-winner King takes us behind the scenes of this week’s Erika-centric outing, with special focus on that epic (and aforementioned) two-hander with Coon.
TVLINE | This was such a big episode for you and your character. When you get a script like this, what’s the percentage breakdown of fear vs. excitement?
[Laughs] Definitely more excitement than fear. You always want to do a great job, and that desire is heightened when you get an episode like this. Because there’s a lot of dialogue. The one scene with me and Carrie was eight pages long. So there’s a bit of, “Whoa. I better eat my Wheaties that day.” You want to make sure that you are mentally present for every moment.
TVLINE | We learned a lot about Erika in this episode. What revelation surprised you the most?
That she was planning to leave her family.
TVLINE | I also found that surprising. Was it challenging to wrap your head around the fact that Erika would walk away from her kids?
It absolutely was. When I first read it I was like, “No! I’ve got to talk to Damon [Lindelof]. This is not who she is.” But then I realized that this was an opportunity to play a person who does exist [in the real world]. I’ve met men and children who have been in situations where their wife or mother left them and it always made me wonder, “How could she do that? Where does that come from?” So it gave me the opportunity to tackle something I’ve never explored before.
TVLINE | Talk to me about Erika’s big emotional breakdown at the fundraiser. You really went for it. What was it like to be so emotionally raw in front of what looked like hundreds of actors?
Right before we started shooting that moment a little bit of anxiety [crept up]. As humans we can so easily put ourselves in our own mental booby traps, so I had to just let that go. If a person is losing it like Erika did in that scene, you [forget] that anyone else is even in the room. You just lose it. So that’s how I approached it. This woman has been holding onto this [pain] ever since her daughter went missing, and it was an explosion — a champagne cork popping. And there’s no stopping the overflow.
TVLINE | The scene between you and Carrie where Nora goes over the questionnaire with Erika was easily one of my favorite TV moments of the year.
Oh, wow. Thank you so much. Now, you know how amazing it feels that you’re saying that in November. [Laughs]
TVLINE | How long did it take to shoot it? Did you and Carrie discuss it beforehand?
Surprisingly, not that long. And Carrie and I didn’t feel like we needed to talk about the scene, because it was so much about these two women revealing things to each other, challenging each other, feeling vulnerable, trying to put on fronts… We both felt like discussing it ahead of time would weaken it. Also, we were so excited to have the opportunity to do that scene together. When I watched the first season of The Leftovers one of things I wanted more than anything was to have the opportunity to have a good scene with Carrie Coon. I fell in love with her in Season 1. So the fact that I wished for that and then got an eight-page scene with her was amazing.
TVLINE | Did you learn anything about each other while doing the scene?
I had never met Carrie before. I only knew her as an actress. While doing the scene, I learned that she approaches her art in a very similar way as me, which is, “The better my performance, the better your performance, so I’m going to give you 100 percent off camera.” So to go into [a scene like this] not knowing what a person’s approach is — are they a selfish actor or not? — and then to find out that they’re not was just amazing. We were like two little girls in a candy store. Between set-ups we were cracking jokes and being silly.
TVLINE | Erika and Nora seem to have a lot in common, and could benefit from have each other’s shoulder to lean on. Why do you think there’s so much antagonism between them?
Sometimes it’s really painful to see yourself in someone else, because you might see something you don’t like.