'The Leftovers' Star Ann Dowd Talks About the Shocking Guilty Remnant Death

THE LEFTOVERS episode 1: Ann Dowd. photo: Paul Schiraldi

Warning: Storyline and character spoilers for the "Cairo" episode of "The Leftovers" ahead.

With just two episodes remaining in the first season of The Leftovers, some answers — and a major death — ended Sunday's "Cairo" episode, directed by Emmy-winning Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alum Michelle MacLaren.

Ann Dowd's Patti, the leader of the local Guilty Remnant chapter, was kidnapped by Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), the Maplewood police chief whose anger at Patti and the GR has been festering since his wife, Laurie, left their family behind to join the GR. Kevin and the usually silent Patti, in the remote cabin in upstate New York where Kevin brought her, confronted each other about their mutual dislike and distrust, which led to some shocking revelations (Patti arranged Gladys's stoning death to make her a martyr!) and enlightening ones (see below), and to Patti's suicide when she couldn't get Kevin to kill her.

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Dowd, an alum of True Detective, Masters of Sex, The Divide, and Louie who next stars in Lifetime's movie adaptation of the Stephen King novella Big Driver, took time out of her vacation to talk to Yahoo TV about Patti's death, why the GR is appealing post-Sudden Departure, and why she won't watch herself in her "transformative" role for at least a year.

Patti finally got to speak! And she said a lot. What was the experience like of finally getting to speak on behalf of this character?
It was a privilege, because this whole episode… I don't know how to quite explain it, but the whole thing was transformative for me, finding out that the character was not going to [live]. I found that out early in the shooting of ["Solace for Tired Feet," Episode 7]. Having to deal with those feelings was shocking and sort of devastating at the time. And preparing to shoot it eventually, just getting in the shoes of Patti and realizing her death was a triumph for her… it was not a position of giving up but a position of strength. Being able to articulate what she believes and, as [showrunner Damon Lindelof] wrote it so clearly, trying to really reach, in the deepest way possible, Kevin, the person who has been her enemy throughout… and the closeness that comes between them the intimacy is the word I'm looking for was tremendous. I don't know when I've had such an experience in shooting an episode of anything.

There's so much we don't know still. But this episode was a fantastic, powerful revelation of Patti's motivation, her point of view, even some things about the bigger picture of the Guilty Remnant. Was it a relief to share that not just with viewers but from Patti to Kevin?
Yes. I think it's a new "religion," let us say. This group is putting it together day by day. [Patti] did not feel any… desire to speak prior to this about those things. Those views are hard ones. They come from profound …, maybe early, suffering, and coming to a place in one's life where she's actually chosen something that makes profound sense to her and is the truth for her. There is no question in her mind. She is fully committed. Sharing that information, is it going to fall on deaf ears or is someone really going to hear it? Because the last thing you want to do, or I would think Patti would want to do, is talk. But finally, Kevin can listen, which is why she chooses then to talk. I don't think she has any urge to, but it's just like, "Here it goes."

Every actor portraying a GR member on the show really has to use a different set of tools for their characters. You're not speaking, but you're also not mimes, so you're not using extreme physicality to express your thoughts, either.
No, not at all. No need, no desire, because silence is about as powerful as it gets. It's when you have spoken about something and the questions remain, and you just sit in the room with the silence and say, "Let's just put this on the table and think about it a minute without talking about it." It forces you to say, "Oh, OK, I've got to do something here, and actually think about what's going on. It's not being handed to me."

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And most people are so uncomfortable with silence in general.
Oh, silence, yes. [On the show,] some of the experiences, they are horrific. One would need to release that, and a lot of it would be talking through it. If you take that away, you have to find a deeper way to communicate.

Ann Dowd, Justin Theroux, Michael Gaston. Photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO.

Patti didn't know Kevin would kidnap her and take her to this cabin in Cairo, but once she found herself in the situation, was she trying to goad him into a confrontation that would end with her death, by his hand or hers?
That's a great question, because we're not given the blueprint from Damon. It's always a form of goading, without violence by intention. The stalking [by the GR], what is more provoking than that? Can you imagine the constant presence in the face of people? I think that that's [the GR] stance, always. And I think, if that is the way you're living your life, then you're going to expect that those circumstances, [confrontations] could arise. Knowing that all your actions are provoking people, triggering them left and right … They've lost people, so that loss brings people to their knees. We're saying to them, "You want to handle the grief? Then accept that this happened. Stop running away from it. Stop the nonsense."

So when she finds herself in this situation with Kevin, I think she is very ready and very comfortable. I think having time with him, when there's finally too much exhaustion, too much madness, for him to just dismiss her… she is ready.

The final scene between Patti and Kevin felt like watching a play. She's so defiant with him at first, but by the end, when she's finally gotten to say everything she wanted to say to him, and she recites the Yeats poem, she isn't just ready to die, she is excited about it, about the chance to become a martyr, like Gladys, isn't she?
Yes. ... I don't know whether consciously or not, but I think she doesn't plan to leave the room alive. If you've been moving towards something, even if you didn't name it, in life, say, if you're moving towards a transition that is huge, and you can feel it coming, but you don't know what it is, finally, when everything lines up and you see where you're going and you know it's right, it's a triumph, for sure. It's a triumph without fear, because she's stared down the fear and accepted it and surrendered to it.

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We don't know specifically why Patti joined, or started if that's the case, the Guilty Remnant. But in general, why is it the answer for so many people after the Sudden Departure?
People have said to me in various conversations, "What in the world is attractive about the Guilty Remnant? Who the heck would join it?" The answer — because I had to answer that myself very quickly, so I could identify in some way with Patti — is, if something like the Departure happens and people just disappear, that is a profoundly frightening life changer. Things will never go back to the way they were, because there was no… nobody got hit by a car, with cancer, any of the things that we're familiar with that take a person out of our existence. We grieve it. We name it. We let it go eventually in the way that we can. There's no way through this, and so the anxiety that presents itself is so overpowering. By anxiety, I don't mean nerves. I mean that global, life-stopping seizure of fright that is with you every single minute of your day. That's excruciating. For those of us who've had episodes of anxiety in our lives… it is global, and it brings you to your knees.

Then, imagine there is a way through that and a way to let go of the anxiety. What the Guilty Remnant offers is a way to stop resisting it, stop denying that it has won, and surrender entirely to what has occurred: that it's the end of the world, in its way. What the Guilty Remnant offers is a way out of the anxiety, because you just let go and surrender to it, to the chaos, to the madness, to the fright. It's a powerful incentive, in my opinion.

Ann Dowd

Are you satisfied with the end for the character if this is the last time we see her?
I thought it was a beautiful way to do it. This whole experience, again, was tremendously transformative for me. Normally, this kind of material, where people disappear or whatever…I'm not drawn to it, because I don't get it. Now, of course, I think of it entirely differently. In the way that it unfolded, and in the way that Patti left this Earth, I just thought, "I'm hugely grateful to be able to play that."

It's an amazing episode, one of the season's best.
Thank you so much. I have not seen it. I don't often see [my work]. I have to wait maybe a full year or more, because the experience of doing it was so profound for me. The closeness I feel to Justin and that whole group of people, the crew, everybody, and Damon, I will treasure that. I won't see it for a bit, but, boy, I was happy to do it.

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.