‘The Leftovers’: Justin Theroux on Kevin’s Sanity, Crisis of Faith, and the ‘Gratifying’ Finale (SPOILERS)

The Leftovers HBO Season 3
Courtesy of HBO

Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the premiere of season three of “The Leftovers,” titled “The Book of Kevin.”

In playing Kevin Garvey, Jr., Justin Theroux hasn’t had it easy. He’s been poisoned, drowned, shot, and forced to belt out karaoke (charmingly as it was) to save his life. Season three doesn’t promise to be any easier on our hero: Kevin hasn’t been able to shake that death-wish problem, so that secret box hidden in the closet holds a plastic bag and some tape.

Here, Theroux breaks down just what that habit of Kevin’s might mean, how he feels about his friends declaring him the Chosen One — and what’s ahead for the series finale. “It’s so demented, but it’s our show,” he says.

How did you react when you found out Kevin might be the second coming of Jesus?

(Laughs.) I think I reacted the same way Kevin reacted: “Yeah, it’s not the truth.” It’s like whenever people project anything onto you, it’s not a good feeling. I’ve always considered my character if not heavily atheist, slightly agnostic so I think he thinks it’s all kind of nonsense, religion in general. So yeah, I thought it was just a funny thing. I think one of the things the show plays on is people projecting things onto other people. You can put meaning on anything – for the first season, I was putting meaning on a deer half the time and the fact that they endow him with this meaning is insane but in their minds, they have facts to back it up: “you were killed a couple times, you were resurrected” so in that sense, you can cobble together some sort of parable around him. I think he thought it was hogwash.

What is Kevin’s overall state of mind going into this season?

I think he’s more settled. There’s been a time jump. Even he’s rid himself of one demon, other demons materialized. Not in the same sense as Patti. He still grapples with once you’ve lost your marbles once, you live in a state of panic of losing them again. That plastic bag stuff is him trying to inject a sort of emotion that he can’t get from the highs with Patti. He’s more settled but he’s still searching for the quick fix of emotional highs. He’s a little bored at the top. He’s wanting something bigger to deal with than the Jarden police force. (Executive producer) Damon’s (Lindelof) very good at throwing crowbars at him.

Do you think he’s suicidal?

I don’t think it’s a suicidal impulse. He’s more trying to connect with the feelings he felt in the previous seasons. I can only equate it to what a cutter does, where they want to feel something deeply again. I think he’s kind of hit that stasis where he’s “now I’m in control of the town,” rides his horse, has his meetings at the police station and I think he wants to feel things deeply again. Even his marriage is kind of pedestrian.

Yes, he and Nora have gone back to their old jobs.

Yeah. They had that thing which all relationships go through where you can become roommate-y or pedestrian. I think it can, in that sense, he wants to feel things deeply again and that’s why he puts the bag on his head. It’s up for interpretation. It’s human behaviors which are endlessly fascinating.

How do you approach a role when the character’s sanity is often in question?

I don’t know about you but I oftentimes question my own sanity. I’m half-joking. Have you ever had those moments of exquisite discomfort or self-doubt and you turn up the volume knob on that and that’s what you play. It’s a space where you don’t think you belong or you’re having an anxiety attack. It’s an out of body experience. So essentially, you’re playing for the most part fear. All that is is trying to contain that fear and put it back in the box. Anyone’s who’s been deeply afraid of a situation can relate to it, I think.

What did you see as the greatest risk of the role and the greatest reward?

The reward was getting to play him and flex and stretch and do things that I had never done before as an actor. The risk, at times it felt a little bit like a trapeze act, I still have a really strong comfortable net right under me, knowing it was Damon and Tom (Perrotta) and (director) Mimi (Leder), and those people were in charge. I never felt like I was out on a limb because I thought the writing was so strong, production value and the team they assembled was so strong. I never felt like I was in danger. I was in good hands.

Was it hard to say goodbye to the show?

It’s not that hard to say goodbye actually. That’s not betraying any deep love for the show. When we first signed up for the show, Damon was very clear: there’s absolutely no way the show is going to go any more than 3 or 4 seasons. We knew that from that outset. He was like, it’s not going to take that long to tell the story we want to tell. I think he was still formulating what that was going to be once we were done with season 1. It’s not a show you want to be, what’s season 4 going to look like? Or season 5? It would become a terrible show if we started writing into the unknown. And trying to keep it on the air just for the sake of keeping it on the air. We could have easily ended at season 2. But we were all in agreement it was just better to do a nice three-season box set and put it on the shelf. It’s bittersweet. It’s sad to say goodbye to all the people I love working with but not sad in the sense of we wouldn’t want to be doing the show if it started to grind.

Does it reach a satisfying conclusion for you?

Yes, for me absolutely. I read the last episode and was very pleased. I thought it was a beautiful way to punctuate the whole series. I’m sure it will be up for debate, but I was very happy with the way it went down. It throws a lot of questions out but Damon was like, look, things are just not going to get answered. We don’t get answers in our own lives. There are strange and anomalous things. There’s no payoff at the end of every month of our lives. What was the big secret with that? There’s just more dawning realizations.

Were there any questions you wanted answered by the end of the series, and did they get answered?

I mean, the big question, where does everyone go – I’d given up on getting that answer a long time ago when Damon told me before we shot the pilot that’s not getting answered. I feel like the wrap up of this show – I think they really spiked the landing. I couldn’t, even after reading the seventh episode, I was like “how the hell do we have one more hour of this?” and sure enough, the script rolled in and that was perfect. It felt perfect to me. I found it enormously gratifying, that ending.

Because you are a hyphenate, did any of your writer spidey senses kick in?

No! Because this is totally different writing than the writing I can do. Damon’s brain has, I’m sure, a far higher I.Q. than I do. He has a much larger headspace for these themes. I would read them and go, “This is perfect” and then they’d send maybe a couple changes and I’d wonder “why change this?” and they’d make it better. The scripts were so perfect.

On the lighter side, did it ever amuse you that your abs became such a sensation?

(Laughs) I don’t know! I haven’t been following my abs Twitter feed.