It’s a new season, with a new tone, in a new location — and everyone involved with “The Leftovers,” the provocative HBO series about fear and loathing in what may (or may not) be a post-Rapture world, seemed to be feeling good Saturday evening at the season two premiere in Austin, Texas, the new home base for the drama, at the historic Paramount Theater. “The Leftovers” star and newlywed Justin Theroux walked the red carpet with bride Jennifer Aniston for the first time together since their wedding in August.
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: “The Leftovers” pivots on an epochal event known as The Sudden Departure, the mysterious disappearance of two percent of the world’s population. Three years after the mass vanishing, the good citizens of Mapleton, N.Y. (along with quite a few not-so-good ones) spend much of their time grieving for lost ones, coping with aftereffects of the phenomenon, and/or trying to figure out just what the hell happened.
Take two: Former Mapleton police chief Kevin Garvey (Theroux) and his newly formed makeshift family — relocate to Jarden, a Texas town that has been rechristened Miracle because no one there disappeared during The Sudden Departure.
“It’s a new chapter,” executive producer and director Mimi Leder told Variety on the red carpet. “Last season was about loss. This season is about love and faith. And a new beginning. But it can’t always be perfect. We always hope that for a new beginning. But that’s not always the case.”
Theroux sees the change of location as an echo of the attitude that informs classic movie western plots: Anytime you want to reinvent yourself, you just toss your belongings into your saddlebags and ride somewhere over the distant horizon. “Everyone would love to think that at a certain point, they could just pack the kids into the car, and throw a lit matchbook into the house, and go somewhere and start over,” Theroux said. “But in this case, I think it’s still to be determined whether Kevin is running toward something that’s more hopeful, or running away from something that he’s terrified of.”
Much of the season two premiere is devoted to introducing new characters in Miracle, with particular emphasis on the Murphys, a family that includes Kevin Carroll and recent Emmy winner Regina King as the parents of siblings played by Jovan Adepo and Jasmin Savoy Brown.
“We wanted to kind of create the feeling of the Garveys being on someone else’s TV show,” said series co-creator and executive producer Damon Lindelof. “To make them feel like they were the new family moving in. And I felt like, through the perspective of the storytelling, who’s going to feel like the new family on the block? If we started with the Garveys moving into Miracle, it would feel like the Murphys were just the new family that they lived next door to.”
Naturally, the Murphys have their own unique secrets. Just as naturally, neither Lindelof nor fellow executive producer Tom Perrotta (on whose novel “The Leftovers” is based) have informed the actors playing the Murphys just what those secrets might be.
“You just have to trust the writers,” said King. “I mean, if you’ve watched anything that Damon has done, you know you’re in good hands. There are moments when you’re kind of concerned whether the choices you’re making as an actor are going to connect with whatever is going to come. But you just have to erase that from your mind, and figure the directors have talked to Damon, and know to keep the tone [consistent]. So it’s exciting.”
And despite the relocation — it’s still “The Leftovers.”
“We have not gone out of our way to be different,” stressed Christopher Eccleston, who’s returning for a second stint as Matt Jamison, the Episcopal reverend who suffered a serious crisis of faith after a Departure-triggered auto mishap left his wife Mary (Janel Moloney) paralyzed. “We’re aware of how people reacted to season one — it polarized people. People either loved it or hated it. But we weren’t going to be shaped by that. We’ve remained true to these characters, while taking them into a new environment.
“Of course,” Eccleston added with a chuckle, “the funny thing is, I learned just yesterday that Matt Jamison was not going to be in season one, even though he’s a character in the novel. They considered him too minor. It was my interest that made Damon reassess the character.”
Lindelof smiled when told of Eccleston’s claim — and immediately confirmed it. “In the book,” he said, “Matt Jamison is not really a major character in any significant way. He is not Nora Durst’s brother. And he has in fact fallen away from his faith.” But when he met with the actor in London, “Christopher and I had this very interesting conversation about the existence of God, and atheism, and being a father — just a very intense get-to-know-you meeting. And he said to me: ‘This guy Matt — I just feel like there’s a lot more to him.’ And I understood that if we were going to ask Chris to play him, it would require him coming to and living in the States for a while, and that would be a big deal. So we would have to put a lot more meat on the bone.
“But I just walked out of that meeting totally inspired. And I figure that if you’re a writer working on a TV show, you want to cast actors who inspire you.”
The season two premiere of “The Leftovers” airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on HBO.
(Pictured: Jovan Adepo, Justin Theroux, Jennifer Aniston and Margaret Qualley at “The Leftovers” season two premiere party in Austin, Texas)