Carrie Coon had just come off filming David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” when she was charged with shooting an episode of HBO’s “The Leftovers” entirely focused on her character, Nora, whose husband and two children vanished inexplicably in a phenomenon known as the Sudden Departure. At one point, Nora finds herself in the middle of a sex-and-drug-fueled hotel room orgy and makes out with a creepy, corpse-like mannequin manufactured to give mourners something to bury and achieve some sort of closure. Which, as Nora knows all too well, they never do. In another pivotal sequence, Nora “gives” her pain over to Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), a messianic figure to his cult-like followers. Shooting that scene was an exhausting and heady process that required numerous takes. Ultimately, Coon tells Variety, it was one of her most gratifying moments as an actor.

‘The Leftovers,’ HBO
Season 1 ep. 6, “Guest”
Written by Damon Lindelof & Kath Lingenfelter; Directed by Carl Franklin

CARRIE COON: “I got really sick at the beginning of the episode. We were shooting in a hotel in New York City and in-between takes they would have to put an apple box out for me to sit on because I was so deliriously ill. But often you’ll hear actors say they do their best work when they’re sick — you sort of get out of your own way, you’re too tired to be self-conscious — so I’m actually really glad and thankful for it.

“In that orgy scene in the hotel, it was like I was sleeping, it felt like a dream I was having, it felt really surreal. Billy (Magnussen), who plays Marcus, was so generous, and Carl Franklin, our director, was so relaxed. He’s so trusting and so chill that it didn’t ever feel overwhelming. You always felt that he believed you were going to get there, so that was really wild. And, of course, the extras were certainly having a great time because they got to roll around and do drugs.

“As far as the Holy Wayne scene goes, the nature of catharsis is such that you have a catharsis and then you feel better, so to have that kind of catharsis between eight and 12 times — it feels impossible. But I have to say, your body sort of takes care of you, and if you breathe into it, the emotion can come over and over again. The most important part of that scenario is the crew, because you have to hold that space in-between (takes) and the crew and actors I was working with were so extraordinary about staying really focused.

“Of course, it always helps when your fellow actor, in this case Paterson Joseph, is being really present with you. Part of the weird mystery of acting is that there is something about it that is elusive, and as an actor you can’t overthink that moment too much. You have to stay breathing and be as present as you can be. I’m grateful that Paterson was there and that the viewer got to experience the scene as being so real. Because when you’re inside it, it’s really hard to tell what it looks like and how it’s going to turn out. Of course, when they cut (the episode), they made us all look really good.

“And we had such good writing. So often, the writing for women doesn’t ask us to do much. It’s so gratifying to have a show that actually asks challenging things of me as an actor.”