“You’re 1 for 2,” Jimmy Kimmel joked Sunday night, sitting alongside The Leftovers and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof at the Paramount Theater. Following a screening of the Leftovers series finale in front of a packed house, the series’ creative team and stars joined Kimmel for a celebratory, irreverent conversation reflecting on a series that grew its fan base over the course of its run.
Along with Lindelof, panelists included series co-creator Tom Perrotta, stars Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Scott Glenn and Kevin Carroll, executive producer/director Mimi Leder and executive producer/writer Tom Spezialy.
The Leftovers was often a somber show—meditating on themes of grief, trauma, loss and faith—and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house on Sunday as Kevin and Nora arrived at an unexpected moment of resolution. But with Kimmel on hand, the panel that followed played like a sitcom, or a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, with Kimmel rapid-firing a joke a minute to the delight of both the audience and those onstage.
Based on Perrotta’s 2011 novel, the first season of The Leftovers centered on “The Sudden Departure,” a shocking global event in which two percent of the world’s population disappeared without a trace, and those characters—the “leftovers” of the show’s title—who remained behind, grappling with questions of why this happened and how to move forward with their lives. Whether they personally have seen a loved one depart or not, throughout the series’ three seasons, loss is everywhere, with any and all faith in the world or a higher power put into question.
During the light and breezy panel—without too much reflection on the experience of ending a long-running series—Lindelof reflected back on the genesis of the project, and what he found so moving about Perrotta’s novel.
“I read Tom’s book, and I was on an airplane when I finished it, oddly enough. I was sobbing, as I often do on airplanes,” the co-creator joked. “I’m told it’s an elevation thing.” Having to ‘sing for his supper’ to make the collaboration with Perrotta happen, Lindelof went to the writer with the question of where the two percent went—a question that was not resolved in the novel. “Tom said, ‘I never thought about that,'” Lindelof explained. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a relief to be working on something where you don’t have to answer any mysteries.”
While the series would depart from Perrotta’s novel following the close of Season 1, the writer was heavily involved throughout the series’ run—something that was important to Lindelof. “I think it’s really important to honor the people who start these series,” he said.
There was plenty of blue humor, and plenty of one-off questions throughout the evening, courtesy of Kimmel—for example, who decided that Justin Theroux’s Kevin Jr. would be shirtless so often throughout the series (“America decided,” Lindelof quipped)—though much of the discussion centered around the co-creators, and the consistent level of ambition and risk-taking on display in all 28 episodes.
Kimmel noted that one Season 3 episode begins with the theme song for Perfect Strangers—the 1980s sitcom—leaving the late-night host disoriented, thinking there was something wrong with his sound system. And there was more: Perfect Strangers star Mark Linn-Baker would ultimately appear in the series’ third season.
“The good thing about risks is, I think if we were making Game of Thrones, we’d be much more risk-averse, because a gazillion people watch that show. I think the last numbers I had were that 89 people watch The Leftovers,” Lindelof joked.
“And they’re all here,” Kimmel added.
“The risks became exciting to us, not because we were trying to get viewers, but I always talked about this idea of being up on the tightrope. It’s just more exciting to watch when there’s no safety net,” Lindelof continued. “It’s not like you want the person to fall off and break their neck, but that would be more satisfying than them landing in the net.”
Incorporating the actors, the conversation turned at multiple points to the initial casting process for the series’ leads, particularly with regard to Theroux and Amy Brenneman, the therapist-turned-Guilty-Remnant-member who remains silent throughout most of the first season.
Noting Theroux’s versatility in his previous roles—moving effortlessly between dramas like Mulholland Drive and balls-to-the-wall comedies—Lindelof admitted to being intimidated by the actor, initially, not only because of his additional prowess as a writer, but because of the sheer power of his physical appearance.
“Justin was willing to read [for the part], which is kind of a big deal,” Lindelof explained.
“Especially because Justin actually can’t read,” Kimmel snarked.
“He auditioned for the part twice, and I believed him to be a fantastic actor, but I couldn’t get past how good looking he was. I’m being honest—just don’t look directly at him,” the co-creator joked. “Between [former HBO Drama Head] Michael Ellenberg and my wife Heidi [Hugeman], they were like, ‘You can’t discriminate against him just because he’s fabulously good looking.’ And he was just so phenomenal, so we pulled the trigger on him, and thank god he said yes.”
Among a broad range of questions, Kimmel subsequently asked if the show’s creators and writers think that any characters in the show—so often operating in morally gray territory—are truly evil, to which they responded, “No.”
“Let’s just say I’m keeping this in the context of TV,” Lindelof added. “The outside world, there are absolutely real, evil people.”
“Any names come to mind?” Kimmel said, bating Lindelof to go into Trump territory.
The co-creator gleefully and forcefully engaged. “Let’s keep it apolitical, for now. Apparently, people get into lots of trouble,” he began. “[Trump] wouldn’t last in the Guilty Remnant for long, because he can’t keep his f**king mouth shut.”
“You just lost the co-hosting gig on New Years Eve on CBS,” Kimmel deadpanned, referencing comedian Kathy Griffin’s recent, controversial piece of “art”—involving a decapitated Trump—and subsequent takedown, by CNN and the Twitter community.
While The Leftovers series finale left the viewer with many unresolved questions, some answers were given by Lindelof, who was explicit about his approach to storytelling—to not play around with the viewer and use ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake.
So, with the revelation of Kevin Jr.’s heart condition in the finale, is the police chief immortal?
“He destroyed the space that he could go to when he dies,” Lindelof explained. “Kevin tells himself, ‘We need to destroy this place, so I can never come back here again, because it represents an escape for him from dealing with the real world.’ Because who wouldn’t want to go to a place where you get to be an international assassin, and the President of the United States?”
Later in the panel, the series’ stars weighed in on the props they took from the set of the series: Brenneman took the “Don’t Forget Me” lighter, given to Laurie by her daughter; Coon, the bike she rode in Ireland. “I was like, ‘If I’m going to be naked, I want that bike,'” she joked, with reference to the series finale.
Said Kimmel: “Now everyone on Game of Thrones has to get a bike.”
On a more serious note, while taking audience questions, Lindelof weighed in on the prevalence of religion and faith as thematic elements seen in television these days.
“There is a great tradition of television—The Sopranos is one of the shows that comes to mind that took on religious and spiritual ideas in a nontraditional way, but ultimately, I think what’s interesting, and unfortunate, is that the majority of television and movies is basically generated by people who live on the coasts, or people who live in cities,” he explained. “That isn’t to say that there aren’t incredible filmmakers and storytellers between the coasts, but there’s this idea of, we can’t talk about religion. That idea doesn’t exist in the middle of our country.”
“We want to talk about and explore this idea of spirituality, we want to understand why we’re on the planet, we want to understand how we’re supposed to interrelate with each other, and we want to know what happens when we die,” the co-creator continued.”We self-define as agnostics and atheists, and so all of those coping mechanisms are basically shut down for us, and we have to explore those ideas in our art, because it makes it a little less radioactive than talking about them without the intermediary. We have to launder it.”
To view segments of Kimmel’s conversation with the stars and creators of The Leftovers—presented by Deadline—take a look at the clips above and below.
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