EXCLUSIVE: Why Justin Theroux Won't Take Any Credit for 'The Leftovers'
By Stacy Lambe
"It wouldn't be the end of the world if [creator Damon Lindelof] did kill me," Justin Theroux tells ET about the fate of his character, Kevin Garvery, Jr., on HBO's The Leftovers, which is his first starring role on a TV series since The District nearly 15 years prior. Of course, he’s made a name for himself as both an actor and screenwriter since then.
Theroux is so nonchalant about it, that he said when the episode, "A Most Powerful Adversary," aired, it might have caused more panic among fans, who were left wondering at the time if the show just killed of its main character, not to mention, it's A-list star.
But it’s also just his vibe.
When talking on the phone about his work on the HBO drama -- based on Tom Perrotta’s novel about the inexplicable disappearance of two percent of the world’s population and its aftermath, with season two receiving critical acclaim for its original storytelling -- the 44-year-old is just so-matter-of-fact about the whole experience.
Theroux is not interested in knowing what it all means, a common reaction to Lindelof-led shows (see: Lost). "My job is to be a part of the cuckoo clock," he says, preferring to follow the David Lynch philosophy of not explaining too much. "I try and ask the really bare bones questions," which he says helps him get from A to B in certain scenes.
In fact, the show itself will never answer the question of why before it wraps up in season three, instead asking fans to embrace the world it’s set in. "[Once they did,] I think it became a more enjoyable experience," Theroux says.
When you tell him that his cry face is contagious and makes you cry, he not only laughs it off, but he doesn’t take credit for it. "I'm glad I could help you do that," Theroux says. "To me, it's the masterful building of the house of cards that Damon is so good at, that when you place that last card on top of it, everyone just takes a deep breath."
As for his proudest moments onscreen this season, he deflects, praising the entire team instead. "I'm proud of the writing on the show, I'm proud of the showrunning, I'm proud of our DPs, I'm proud of our cast. Because I don't think anyone can take full credit for making what is pretty powerful 10 hours of television," Theroux says.
Even after the series won a Peabody Award, the actor told The Hollywood Reporter, "I just know how hard Damon [Lindelof] and Tom [Perrotta and Tom Spezialy] work on our show."
But that doesn't take away from his standout performance. While reliably great throughout the season, the episode, "International Assassin," and direct follow-up to Kevin's would-be death, saw Theroux deliver his best yet. Plunged into the realm of the undead, Kevin is tasked with assassinating Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) -- a cult leader normally, but a presidential nominee in this world -- in order to escape purgatory.
Waking up naked in a hotel bathtub, Kevin is quickly transformed into a James Bond-like character as he fights with a bellhop. The sequence itself resulted in a few injuries -- just some of the many he's suffered filming the series -- that shut down production. "They used that take," Theroux says of the scene where the attacker puts a gun to Kevin's head, which resulted in a broken nose and 10 stitches. "The crew was ecstatic, because we wrapped [shooting] at a nice, reasonable hour for everyone to go to the bar. They were all toasting me that Friday night."
Eventually, Kevin is able to successfully kill Patti, but not before she can bare her own truth of how she came to be. This time, a character was dead, just not Theroux's, who returns home. "It was sort of a double blow," he says, "to know that she was not going to be be around after that and I was not going to get to work with her, at least in this capacity, in future episodes. So, that really stung."
However, Theroux says that filming their final scene together was "a heavenly experience." "I was so excited to see what she was going to do with it," he says, referring to Dowd's final monologue. "Of course, she spiked it. So, it was a very easy scene to act in because she's giving you everything you want. My job was not to f**k it up."
But if pushed on it, Theroux probably wouldn't even take credit for that.