After three years as Nora Cursed on HBO’s The Leftovers, Carrie Coon departed this year in powerful fashion, to start a run on Fargo. Having worked with two of the most notable showrunners in television between these two series, Coon considers herself “spoiled rotten,” finding equal excitement in the disparate processes of Lindelof and Fargo‘s Noah Hawley.
Speaking with Deadline, Coon discusses how she felt shooting her final scenes with her Leftovers castmates, the experience of filming in a new location, with a new crew each season, and satisfaction to be found in unanswered questions.
What were your thoughts upon reading the final batch of scripts for The Leftovers?
They’re pretty reasonable up until the end, and then I just thought, “Oh, no,” [laughs]. Obviously, the pace of the show is so different in Season 3 because we had eight episodes to wrap it up, so I think I was firstly struck by that—by the fact that a character-driven show suddenly felt very plot-driven but in a very necessary way.
Then, of course, I felt the tremendous responsibility of [series finale] The Book of Nora, when I finally got it, because I did not know. I heard some hints on set about what was going to happen, but Damon and I never got to have a conversation before I read the script. I never talked to him about how it was going to end.
I was incredibly gratified to be part of an ending of something that has been very important in my life. To have Nora become such a critical part of the ending was very satisfying to me, and an honor, really.
How much did Damon convey to you over the years, in terms of backstory? The series often leaves a lot between the lines.
Damon and I rarely spoke about scripts, all three years. There were probably about two times that I reached out to Damon to say, “I need a little help with this, this doesn’t make sense to me.” I guess I attribute that to the fact that Damon appeared to have a very intuitive understanding of Nora, and of course, by the end of Season 3, I’m the other person in the world who has an intuitive understanding of Nora, having played her.
By and large, the decisions they made always felt very organic to her character development. In some ways, I can only concern myself with the things that matter for creating my performance, so the fact that the physicists don’t let me through the machine, it doesn’t matter why. What matters is that they didn’t.
Because of the way the show is, you can’t latch onto the things you don’t know; you just have to keep moving forward, which became even more critical in Season 3.
With all she’s gone through, Nora has a real anger and bitterness to her, which is fascinating to watch, but also very human.
Yes, it is, isn’t it? When you see that scene with Regina [King] in Season 2, Nora will not allow anyone else to claim the territory she occupies. Only she understands that loss, and she doesn’t allow it to belong to anyone else.
Even though Regina has lost her daughter, like Regina says, she got to bury someone. So Nora is possessive of her damage. She becomes very myopic about the truth. Hence, this obsession with debunking charlatans. She’s determined to debunk Holy Wayne, and then she finds herself giving herself over to it, because of course, it’s not real. The truth is so relative.
There’s my perception, there’s your perception and then there’s what actually happened, and those three things never are going to line up, right? I thought that was such an interesting thing that they chose for her, that she becomes this obsessive. She becomes this governor of truth in a way that’s really kind of annoying.
And then when she has the speech about the beach ball, she is the guy in the stadium smooshing the beach ball. She doesn’t allow people to take comfort in their own story; she wants to take the story away from them.
That’s actually not a very generous position to take with other people. [laughs] She’s kind of incapable of that because she’s got a lot of stuff to exorcise from herself. That rage is real.
The Leftovers has moved to a new location each season, which makes for a dynamic show, but also seems to evoke a sense of dislocation—the longing for stability the characters feel.
Absolutely. It’s almost like being in a cult; we’ve been sort of brainwashed to experience these sudden changes in our lives, because of Damon Lindelof pulling strings behind the scenes. [laughs] But if you go back and look, I think as far back as Season 1, they were already sprinkling notions of going down under.
There’s something about Australia that feels prehistoric. There’s a very present indigenous culture that still exists there, with all of the struggles commensurate with that. It’s so critical to the spiritual conversation that the show is having.
It’s very stimulating to go to a new place, and of course, you have a new crew. We had a new crew every year, so it almost feels like a new show, because I was starting over—my life, my relationships, everything started over again.
What is it like to go into a series’ final scenes, knowing that these are the final moments you will share with your longtime co-stars?
I think the best example of that is my scene with Chris Eccleston. Chris’s work was finishing up when we did that scene, and he was going to go back to the UK. It’s so beautiful when the circumstances of your life line up with the circumstances of the scene that you’re in. They always talk in Stanislavski about substitution. You have the gift of this lovely language that Damon Lindelof has given you, but you’re really saying goodbye.
It was a very satisfying way to say goodbye to Chris Eccleston, knowing I may not see him for a very long time, and having so thoroughly enjoyed being with him for three years. It was the same with Justin [Theroux], and ultimately, at the end, we shot me going into that machine last. I was alone in Australia, naked, without any of my castmates, and that’s how I said goodbye to Nora Durst. And then I went out and partied with the Australians, as the only cast member [laughs]—they kept me out all night.
It felt very ritualistic all season, the way we were saying goodbye, and moving forward to the next thing. It felt like a funereal ritual that I was going through the whole time.
What was your favorite scene from Season 3?
One of my favorites is the scene at the door when Kevin finally comes to Nora’s house. He’s so charming, and she has no idea what the hell he’s up to. She’s completely thrown, and we don’t see Nora get thrown by other people very often. She’s often thrown by her own grief, but she’s pretty good at keeping it together when facing a threat from another person, so it’s so wonderful to see her thrown so off-kilter by such a charming, light version of Kevin.
At the dance, we see it happening again, and it was so hard for me—as the actor, who was so delighting in Justin—to not want to smile and laugh. It was really hard not to give in, which is of course what you want when you’re doing a scene.
Then, of course, the final scene, that felt like a lot of work, but you approach it like a play. You know your lines, and then you try to be present. When you have a scene partner as wonderful as Justin, you know he’ll be there. I knew he would be there for me. In some ways, the trick of that moment is just to get through it at least one time, so that you know you can.
To you, is there a satisfaction in a series with questions that remain unanswered, or unanswerable?
I think the reason that I was attracted to this project is that I am very comfortable with ambiguity, and one of the things I’ve always loved about The Leftovers is that it feels the way my life feels. We don’t have control over many things. We’re always grasping for it, but in reality, we don’t have a lot of control.
There’s a lot of ambiguity in life, and so often, our art is very neatly wrapped up at the end, when our lives never feel that way. I didn’t care for the questions to be answered; I knew they wouldn’t be, really.
Of course, the big question is whether or not Nora was telling the truth. Our crew was split about 50/50, and I’ll never say what I think. I think that robs the viewers of their own experience.
Were you a fan of Fargo before starting work on that series? Gloria Burgle has a fairly unique journey through the world of the series.
Yes, most definitely. I’m very flattered by the fact that they’ve taken Gloria in such a different direction. There’s no reason to continue to engage with that trope of the female sheriff if you’re not going to shift it in some way, and Noah’s really good about making sure that those characters are differentiated from season to season.
Of course, as all of the women who have acted on Fargo know, he also creates characters that are fully realized, and as actors, frankly, you don’t always encounter that. So when I knew there was a possibility of doing Fargo with Noah, I would have said yes, no matter what the part was.
My husband and I had watched Seasons 1 and 2. I had thought initially, “What a terrible idea to make a series out of the movie. Who could possibly pull this off?” And then we found ourselves really delighting in it.
Having worked with two of the most remarkable creators in television, what kind of comparisons can be drawn between Damon Lindelof and Noah Hawley?
The one thing that’s different is that in a Noah Hawley production, the story seems to be more defined earlier. You get scripts earlier, and you know where the show is going. In a Damon Lindelof project, Damon is tuning into his actors and getting interested in what they’re doing, and perhaps taking the story in another direction, based on what he’s observing.
I think both opportunities are equally valid and satisfying. Of course, they’re both towering intellects, they have bold imaginations, and they of course completely spoil you for work, because I have such high expectations for a television project now. [laughs] I feel spoiled rotten.
I keep joking that the next Feud series will be the Damon Lindelof/Noah Hawley feud, which is very friendly, but very real. They just keep pushing boundaries, and frankly, I don’t want to work any other way.