When fans tuned into "The Leftovers" Season 2 premiere, it was like watching a completely new show. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) and Jill (Margaret Qualley) were nowhere to be found, at least until the episode's closing minutes. Instead, viewers were introduced to a new family in a new town, far away from Mapleton. The head of that family is John Murphy, played by veteran theater actor Kevin Carroll. John is a complicated man. He is a skeptic in a town of believers (Miracle, Texas, lost no one to the Sudden Departure), he is a fireman who starts fires (when someone threatens the peace in Miracle), and he is a loving father with a dark past (he spent over six years in prison).
Kevin Carroll spoke with International Business Times about the complex role, working for executive producer Damon Lindelof's ("Lost") vision, and the wild audition process that brought him to the show. Read the full interview below:
International Business Times: How did this role come to you and what information were you given about John Murphy -- Damon Lindelof plays things notoriously close to the chest -- going into the show?
Kevin Carroll: It was one of those pockets of time when as an actor you're lucky to have three or four auditions in a week and here I just so happened to have three that day. In classic Damon Lindelof fashion, you don't get a lot of information about the world or who these characters are, there's just this scene between these two people. You know they are these guys, but you don't have a lot of information. Now, the other two auditions I had that day, everything was cool, but the writing in this -- I just thought, "How interesting!" I took a stab at it because I had been dealing with some family stuff and working in a lot of theater, so I wasn't real tuned in to cable television at the time, I actually didn't know it was already on for a year. I thought it was a pilot. I just knew the writing had me curious and I was interested.
I went to audition with [casting director] Victoria Thomas, who I've know for 20 years. She read the scene with me and you would have thought she was in the show. She was so game and bought in. We did the scene and it felt great, but I was dressed wrong, I was in a suit and tie -- completely wrong for the show -- but a couple of days later I got a call that they wanted to see me again. So, I said, "Great. When is it?" And they said, "This afternoon." I thought, "Somebody forgot to tell me about this and now I haven't had time to prepare," but they said, "No, that is how they want to do it." So, I go and do it, I don't hear anything for a couple of days, and then I get a call that Damon Lindelof and [executive producer] Tom Perrotta want to see me for the show. I said, "When?" And they said, "A few hours." I thought, "What is wrong with these people?" So, I go in and do this audition again and Victoria is there again, and she's tuned in, and it feels like we are living life in the room. I thought, "After this is over they'll know something either way." Well, I didn't hear anything again for a few days. Then, on a Friday morning I get a call -- they want me to come in that afternoon. So I go back again and we work another scene! I thought on Friday by five if I didn't hear anything, then that was it, but low and behold on Saturday morning I get a call from Damon Lindelof and he says, "This is going to work out. I'd love to work with you!" I said, "Great!" And he says, "You need to be in Texas on Monday." The whole thing was insane!
IBTimes: Now, did that scene you auditioned originally make it into the season?
Carroll: It did. It was the scene with John Murphy and Isaac (Darius McCrary) when they first meet in the premiere.
Watch the scene Carroll auditioned as seen in the Season 2 premiere below:
IBTimes: It's funny that you said you thought you were reading for a pilot, because in a lot of ways the Season 2 premiere was like a new show. When did you find out you would be essentially carrying that premiere?
Carroll: What's funny about it is that it was never presented in that way. Damon sort of made it seem like this was a continuation of the story as it moves along and where Kevin Garvey's family is now. They are coming to Texas and moving on. It was presented more in terms of a journey instead of, "Get ready. You are going to carry this episode." It was more, "This is where the story is going and we need you guys." Damon is very protective in crafting and laying things out. I think it was great not to set it up as not a huge burden in a way. It left me open and free to play, which I really appreciated.
I think it's a writing room being courageous to introduce a new set of characters after people have waited for a year to come back into the comfort of the characters they have been following. That is seen as a bold move by the writing team. I think Damon's respectful of that risk, but willing to take it, which for us involved -- we all know this is going to either fly or flop, but we are going balls to walls, and we are going to lay it all out there, and hope the audience appreciates that boldness.
IBTimes: You largely come from a background in theater. In one sense "The Leftovers" seems like a natural transition from that because the characters are so complex, but on the other hand, the show revels in subtlety and nuance, not theatricality. How do they compare?
Carroll: Luckily, the writers have given us a wholeness in the characters and rather than thinking technically about theatricality or not being theatrical, it's more about connecting with each other as a cast and trusting the layers there, knowing that everything you need is in the other players around you. You bring up a good point, because it brings up an issue of trust when you talk about subtlety and nuance. The writers go in and bang their heads around in the room and send this material down, you work on it alone, and then you bring it to the collective. Then everybody brings their sensibilities to the table and you have a director like Mimi Leder, who has to equalize everyone's ideas and guide the vision. When she's there and the players are committed and I think somewhere in that world of trust, everything kind of works itself out. The burden is not to be theatrical or not theatrical, the burden, if any, is just to be open to what you are receiving.
IBTimes: What has the experience been like working those things out with this cast, from Justin to now-Emmy winner Regina King, who plays your wife?
Carroll: This cast is first rate top to bottom. You couldn't have a better lead for the show than Justin. I've come to think of him as a utility actor. I used to have these little men that had magnets inside and you would throw them against the wall and they would stick and then plop down the wall. I could do it all day. Justin is kind of like that. You throw him up against the wall, you drop him from a tree, you bury him, whatever you want to do, and the guy is rock solid. He just comes through.
Actually, the whole Season 1 crew made it so easy to come into and then working with Regina -- you don't get much better than her with her sense of professionalism and her patience. She's well versed in the way everything is run from top to bottom. Sometimes when you don't work in the medium often you can find yourself out at sea and some people that can be a headache going, "What's this guy doing bumping into a boom mic? Now we have to reset." When you have someone as lauded as she is, but as much of a player as anybody else, it's such a reward. Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, these ladies are on top of their game. Carrie Coon just melts. Just seeing Carrie Coon walk onto set, I know I need to get my emotional state together because I know she's going to tear me apart in some kind of way.
IBTimes: John is an interesting character. On one hand, he lets his son have room to breathe with his religious beliefs, but on the other hand he is burning down the houses of people with whom he does not see eye to eye. I know you are not going to give up any spoilers, but can you talk about that dynamic a little bit just psychologically?
Carroll: The further you go along, the more you are going to get a sense of where the motivation comes from, but at a very surface level, you have a father that cares for his family. I think it's great that he allows that he allows his son to have his own beliefs and discover the world for himself and I think he is very much a part of his daughter's growth. I love that he is concerned about having her back on time, by curfew. I still love that John Murphy is a whole person. You get a sense of fun with him and his family. You get a sense of his paranoia. You get a sense of his love. You could see what might drive him over the edge, especially when it comes to issues with his family. I don't think any family is perfect, but I think [the Murphys] try and I think you see John trying. In the world of the show this giant event has happened and I think it affects everyone in different ways and he's forced to be protective of his family. There's value in seeing where he comes from and we just have not gotten there yet.
"The Leftovers" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. Watch the promo for "The Leftovers" Season 2, episode 4 below: