Justin Theroux on ‘The Leftovers’ Exquisitely Painful Second Season

“It’s fun that it’s not my life! But there is something cathartic about playing it,” actor says of his embattled character Kevin Garvey

Justin Theroux The Leftovers

Many have praised the second season of “The Leftovers” as a major departure from the bleak, apocalyptic vibe of the series’ first — but if anyone was still paying for past sins in the second round, it was Justin Theroux‘s embattled police chief Kevin Garvey.

At the top of the season, Garvey and girlfriend Nora (Carrie Coon) flee their native Mapleton, N.Y. for the warm waters of Jardin, Texas, a town that suffered no loss in an event that saw 2 percent of the global population vanished into thin air.

With a new baby and Garvey’s teenage daughter in tow, the move has all the makings of a fresh start in a seemingly safe place, but this is showrunner Damon Linedlof and HBO we’re dealing with. Things don’t go better in Texas.

Garvey is haunted with visions of a former neighbor and doomsday cult leader Patti Levin (Ann Dowd), who committed suicide in his presence at the end of Season 1. She’s ruthlessly antagonistic as she perches on Garvey’s shoulder, watching him spiral into madness.

In Season 2 alone, Theroux’s character survived a suicide attempt (cinderblock tied to his ankle and a quick dip in a local lake, which is drained thanks to an earthquake that spares his life), two near-death experiences trapped in purgatory, a mason jar full of poison followed by a burial in a shallow grave, a bullet that rips clear through his stomach and a wicked case of sleepwalking.

TheWrap caught up with Theroux to talk about Kevin’s difficult year, redemption and the only fate worse than the rapture — karaoke in public.

Kevin’s had a really rough couple of months. As an actor, is this fun or do you sort of emote in step with the character?

It’s fun that it’s not my life! But there is something cathartic about playing it. You can exorcise some things, and — ‘enjoy’ t is not the right word, but there’s something about hitting all those notes.

The finale has the amazing build up from the episode before [the 2015 WGA nominee “International Assassin”], where Kevin finally rids himself of Patti. He sends her to her death but she’s represented as a little girl, sort of her own inner child.

That day — it was a really fun day, and it was an excruciating day. I love her character so much, and it also coincides with loving Ann Dowd so much. But when I read the script I was shocked because it looked to me like she was dead for good. Like, ‘Does this mean I don’t get to act with Ann again?’

On a much different level it was just very hard. It was the end of her story arc, which was one of the show’s best. I hope it registers, the heartbreak of having to guide someone to their death.

Is there any inner-peace to be had for Kevin? What’s going to make him happy?

I don’t think there’s such a thing. There are periods of respite or happiness and Kevin suffers an extraordinary amount of unhappiness, but he’s still looking for relief. I like these characters because they mimic ourselves. It’s  meaning of life type stuff. ‘What do I want? Why do I do anything I do?’ That’s what I related to, it’s not an easy answer. there’s no — there is no happy ending. Life ends in death and that’s not happy for anyone. The question is, “What do you do while you’re here?”

Kevin is not solving the problems of global warming. He’s really just trying to reattach the limbs that have fallen off of his family: his son, his ex-wife, his daughter, his girlfriend, his baby. But he’s completely unable to attempt any of that because he’s so burdened.

There’s a really heartbreaking karaoke scene in the finale. Kevin is shot in the stomach and returns to the sort-of purgatory place and has to sing to return to the land of the living. You sing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.”

That was an exquisitely painful sequence to film. I think Damon knew exactly what he was doing there.  I hate public speaking. I don’t sing and I wouldn’t ever willingly sing to or for anyone. And to do it under a spotlight of any kind and do it in front of strangers? From an acting standpoint, what you do is connect to the music and the sentiment and then everything falls into place.

There’s a sentiment that this season is stronger, or has a much different energy. Do you agree? 

I think the problems people had with the first season was the shock and grief [of the departure]. And we had to walk through that to get to our second season for the dawning of the sun, or the peak of it. We explored themes like hope and spirituality and purpose.

 Justin Theroux is currently filming the big screen adaptation of the thriller ‘The Girl on The Train,” and serves as screenwriter for the forthcoming “Zoolander 2.”