Was having the star of the campy ’80s sitcom Perfect Strangers playing himself on The Leftovers in a crucial dramatic role too weird for even The Leftovers?
Don’t be ridiculous! Mark Linn-Baker nailed his key scene in Sunday’s episode, where Baker tries to sell Nora (Carrie Coon) — and the audience — on the existence of a machine that can teleport people to the same location where victims of the Sudden Departure vanished.
Of course, fans know that Baker has been a bit of a running gag in the show, including the throwaway revelation in season 2 that Baker faked his departure.
Explains showrunner Damon Lindelof: “I had just seen the movie The Fly with Jeff Goldblum and I was like, ‘What if there was — whether we actually ever show this thing or not — what if someone tells Nora that Jeff Goldblum has basically built this device that she can get into which would transport her to be with her kids again?’ Nora would be very reluctant to believe that this thing is true – it sounds like it’s a con. And can we present that idea to her through a non-traditional source — like Mark Linn-Baker, a perfect stranger — and make it seem like it’s a legitimate thing. So ultimately, the reason we go to Australia is not Kevin but Nora — you would expect that it would be Kevin because his father is down there. So he’s actually going to Australia because he’s a part of her mission as opposed to the other way around.”
And the Baker of it all?
“We’re always tickled by the idea of taking an idea that feels silly and ridiculous when it’s first pitched and we all laugh and then we look at each other, and we go, ‘Okay, but what if we actually did that?'” he says. “And in the case of Mark-Linn Baker, it felt again like something that the show had been setting up even as a running gag over the first couple of seasons. But comedy comes in threes, it’s a trilogy. What if Mark Linn-Baker is off having his show that we’re not watching, where is he on his journey and could that potentially collide with our show?”
Then came the decision to cast Linn-Baker, and taking a chance on having an actor not known for his dramatic work deliver a monologue that’s a crucial turning point in the final season.
“I really believed that acting in comedy is harder than drama, and most actors will basically say this thing,” Lindelof says. “But I was like, ‘Well, Mark Linn-Baker is a pretty great comedic actor, but I haven’t really seen a lot of his dramatic work, I’ll bet you he’s amazing.’ And we rolled the dice and basically pitched him, saying, ‘We want you to come back to the show, but it’s not going to be just a little cameo this time you’re going to have really not just carry this scene with Carrie Coon where you’re going to be doing almost all the talking. But you’re basically putting forth this massive idea that is going to be what drives her to Australia and all throughout the season. So, no pressure but are you up for it?’ And he just completely and totally embraced it. I feel like he did phenomenal work. I was nervous about the idea up till that point, but once I saw what he did, he emotionally grounded it. His idea was to basically infect Nora with this idea and he accomplished that more than I could ever hope for.”
The Leftovers airs Sunday nights on HBO.