Damon Lindelof reveals details about his new HBO drama 'The Leftovers'
Damon Lindelof returns to the world of television this summer with a novel concept — literally and figuratively. The Lost co-creator is adapting Tom Perrotta’s 2011 bestseller The Leftovers into an HBO drama series (starring Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler, and Amy Brenneman, among others) that follows the residents of New York town three years after a rapture-like event whisked away 140 million people across the globe. Pick up a copy of EW’s 2014 Preview Issue to steal a glance at a script page from the first episode, which is directed by Peter Berg (who is also an executive producer on the show). Below, Lindelof reveals more to EW about this highly anticipated disappearing act.
On his decision to make another TV show and what attracted him to The Leftovers
“When Lost was ending, the two questions were: ‘What are your feelings about the ending of Lost?’ And ‘What’s next?’ The way I was answering the ‘What’s next?’ question was, ‘I don’t really want to think about it right now — I just want to enjoy this process,’ but the truth was ‘I don’t know if I can ever do another television show again because I’m so terrified that it’ll be just so much less than Lost,’ and I didn’t quite know any classy way of articulating that idea…. I went off into movie-ville with no real strong feelings about whether or not I was going to do TV again. I’m fairly monogamous when it comes to whatever project I’m working on, so I spent a year working on Prometheus and nothing else and then I spent a year working on Star Trek: Into Darkness. And then I was reading The New York Times Book Review — which is the way that I pretend to read books; I read the reviews of the books and then I can articulately pretend like I’ve read them — and Stephen King wrote a review of The Leftovers, which he described as the best episode of The Twilight Zone that had never been shot. I was a Perotta fan. I read Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher and just on the premise alone [of The Leftovers]. I was completely and totally engaged by this idea. I ran and got the book immediately and I got maybe 50 pages in before I decided: This should be a television show and I need to collaborate with Tom [Perrotta, who is an exec producer and co-wrote the pilot with Lindelof] on that show. It took a year for things to sort themselves out but there was never any doubt as to like, ‘Should this be my next project?’ It was love at first sight.”
On the show’s set-up
“You’ve got this big, crazy, supernatural — potentially spiritual — idea that informs every episode of the show that we’ll ever make, which is that this thing happened, this sudden departure of 140 million people which depending on what side of it you’re on, could be the Rapture. There could be some yet-as-undetermined scientific explanation for it, but still it’s miraculous. The traditional way of telling this story is you’re in immediate aftermath of this event. It’s all that anyone can talk about. Dropping into these people’s lives three years later and saying ‘This is the moment in which they get back to their lives as they were or they decide that they can’t get back to their lives as they were,’ that’s a much more interesting idea. So all decisions that the characters are making is informed by a supernatural idea, but the show is not presenting ongoing supernatural phenomena. You’re not looking at the sky seeing dragons like you are in Game of Thrones. Mulder and Scully are are not showing up and knocking on doors. But this idea of the elephant in the room of the Departure informs everything that’s happening on this show, and I felt that that was a fairly unique thing that I hadn’t really seen before on TV.
On his initial meeting with HBO for the series
“In the first meeting that I had with HBO, when I was trying to woo them in to letting me come aboard because they already owned the material, they said, ‘How do you see this show, tonally?’ I said, ‘If Lost and Friday Night Lights had a baby and then that baby was severely neglected, that would be The Leftovers.’”
On the vibe of the series
“This is going to be a show about sudden and abrupt loss and more importantly, what will at least in its initial presentation seem to be one that you can’t receive closure from. If someone dies, that’s a horrible thing and they must be mourned. But in this instance, you don’t even know if you’re supposed to mourn who’s been departed because they could be walking through your door tomorrow, or you could be zapped up or down or sideways to wherever they are. So this lack of understanding as to what just occurred is the most pervasive feeling, not just in the moment that it happens but certainly three years later when the story starts.”
On what to expect from Kevin Garvey, the town’s chief of police (Theroux)
“It’s somewhat of an ensemble drama but at the hub of all these characters is Kevin Garvey. There’s that old, classic mythological construct of the sheriff of the town as the guy who’s going to keep order in a world that is basically on the brink of chaos. That’s the jumping-off point for him. But there’s a lot more nuance to that, and we have no desire to do what we would call traditional cop stories. They are a little bit more old-school sheriff stories, like Gary Cooper in High Noon, where it’s not about watching him do the job of the sheriff but the fact that he is the one that everyone is looking to to solve a very large problem just puts this tremendous pressure on him that is enormously dramatic to watch. Especially because he’s kind of coming apart at the seams just like everybody else is but he’s not allowed to show it.”
On how deep this ensemble drama will go
“What we’re striving to do in Mapleton in a lot of ways is what The Simpsons did for Springfield which is people who have a line or two lines or are just extras in a scene can become credibly prominent sources later on in unexpected ways. There’s no such thing as an extra on The Leftovers.”
On if Lindelof already knows how his version of The Leftovers will end
“The answer is yes, but I think that there is a fair amount of hubris in planning too far ahead, because we don’t know if anyone’s going to watch the show or if there’s going to be a second season of the show. If the first season works and we like it and the audience likes it — and most of all, HBO likes it — then it will be time to start having conversations about how long this story should be, and in parentheses I would put: Not as long as you’d think. I don’t want to go into this with the attitude of we’re just going to keep writing this show until we don’t want to write it anymore. Particularly with a premise like this one, I really do feel that it should be finite. What that means exactly is a conversation for another day, but everybody involved agrees with that idea creatively. It’s not a show that can go on for many, many, many years.”
On his disappearance from Twitter
“I will always love her, but Twitter and I were just too much alike to sustain a long-term relationship. As such, we both decided it was time for us to see other people.”