Christopher Eccleston Talks 'The Leftovers' Episode 3, One of the Year's Best Episodes of Television Drama

Christopher Eccleston as Rev. Matt Jamison in 'The Leftovers'

SPOILER ALERT: The recap for the "Two Boats and a Helicopter" episode of The Leftovers contains storyline and character spoilers.

Didn't we tell you the third episode of HBO's drama The Leftovers was the one to watch?

In this week of Emmy nomination announcements, Doctor Who and Heroes alum Christopher Eccleston gave a performance on The Leftovers that should earn him one next year, unfolding the backstory of how town reverend Matt Jamison meets bad luck at every turn. He juggles trying to keep his family church in the family (which includes — surprise reveal — his sister, Nora), trying to keep the faith going among the tiny congregation he has left (not to mention in himself), and trying to care for his comatose wife (Janel Moloney), who was injured in a car accident on the day of the Sudden Departure.

See Eccleston in the episode:

Eccleston talked to Yahoo TV about the hopeful and heartbreaking episode, how he'll factor into the series the rest of the season, what drew him to a role that was much less impactful in Tom Perotta's novel, and whether or not he might return for that Heroes miniseries that NBC is planning for 2015.

"Two Boats and a Helicopter" is a fantastic episode, and your performance is fantastic. If you knew just the basic premise of the show, this episode would work as a minimovie.
Thank you.I was very fortunate. I think really only myself and Carrie Coon get an episode entirely devoted to [our] characters. I was very fortunate there.

[Related: 'The Leftovers': The Familiar Faces You'll See in HBO's New Drama]

Did you know that when you first took on the role, that your character would have this big backstory episode?
I was pretty sure that [series co-creator] Damon [Lindelof] would give me something to do, because Matt Jamison does not feature a great deal in the rest of [Season 1]. I think he knew that I'd need something to do. It was on trust. Everything's on trust between myself and Damon, and Damon and all his cast members. There's a great deal of trust, which I think is a burden for him sometimes, pleasing so many actors. He's certainly looked after me, and I'm very grateful for it.

Christopher Eccleston as Rev. Matt Jamison in 'The Leftovers'

The Rev. Matt really is a fairly minor character in Tom Perotta's novel. What drew you to the role?
That's right. I was tipped off about the novel from a great friend of mine, a director that you've probably heard of called Julian Farino, who's responsible for a great many Entourage episodes and Big Love, [and]various other things under the HBO umbrella. He reads a great deal of fiction, and he tipped me off about the book. I loved the book. I actually sought out the character of Matt, a reverend reacting to what could possibly be the biblical rapture and remained, being a leftover. I felt he could be a very rich character for television. Obviously, Damon felt the same, and I think he was quite surprised when I approached him about playing Matt. I think probably when he thought about it, he could see what I was banging on about.

Christopher Eccleston in 'The Leftovers'

Was that the story you had envisioned for Matt?

Tom Perrotta was very clever with that character, because it was obvious from Matt's behavior in the novel that he was trying to deal with his own personal tragedy, his own feelings of exposure and possibly guilt at not being taken, his anger at the loss of his potency in the community. And I think Christianity is very much affected by the events that we depict in the series. Christianity has a huge question mark over it. He's bitter. He's angry, and he's hurt about that. He externalizes that by attacking other people. In Episode 3, we get an opportunity to say, "Well, this is a human being doing this, like human beings so often do, looking everywhere or at themselves." The hope is that during the arc of the series, Matt starts to look at himself.

[Related: Amy Brenneman Goes From Scheming on 'Reign' to Not Speaking on 'The Leftovers']

He is obviously looking at what happened from a religious point of view, but his story is relatable, too, because it's also about the fact that he believes in something so strongly, and has dedicated his life to it, and if he is now facing evidence that what he believed in may be untrue, what has his life and his life's work meant?
Absolutely. I think in the early stages of the series, he's desperately trying to justify his role. I do think he develops, even during [Episode 3], a slightly more sophisticated take on the Rapture, and that this possibly was God's work but that it was a test. He identifies very strongly with the biblical Job, which was fascinating for me to read. Myself, and Damon and Tom, read the Book of Job a number of times, and it is incredibly rich and complex. He's possibly the first existential man. He's the first one to say to God, "Who the hell are you, and why the hell are you doing these things?"

Watch a clip from Episode 3:

Ultimately, does it matter exactly what and why the departures occurred? It does to Matt, of course, but in terms of what the series is about, does it matter?
I've always felt that the series is about love and humanity, and its will to go forward in the face of certain death, in the face of certain loss, in the face of suffering. There is huge bravery and resourcefulness in humanity. We often see the best of ourselves in extreme grief and loss. For me, the series is about that. It's not about why it happened, or: Was it scientific phenomenon? Was it mystical? It's more about human beings looking for meaning. … It really is about the interiors of people's hearts and minds.

We hope we've built some interest. I know that the series from this point on gets better and better. You see more of characters like Nora (Carrie Coon)… the extraordinary Ann Dowd from True Detective [as Guilty Remnant leader Patti] really starts to open up later on. Liv Tyler starts to open up. Justin [Theroux]'s performance deepens and broadens, and we're trying to say this is about character. This is about people, and perhaps this episode demonstrates that very strongly.

Check out Eccleston and Coon in Episode 3:

It sounds like you and Damon and Tom talked a lot about this, and that you were a big part of shaping this character for this series.
Interestingly, no. I have to say that one of the most heartening things about working on this production is that it really was a very happy experience, a very creative one for all. So often, film takes novelists' works and stomps all over them and mangles them. What was really heartening for me was to see Tom Perrotta so ever-present, knowing that he was in the writer's room, seeing him on the set, and seeing the development of his relationship with Damon.

This is ambitious, in an emotional and in a poetic sense, rather than a physical sense. That script is fully formed. I felt this was a character who was going to have to look inward and face himself — or not, depending on your interpretation — but it arrived fully formed. Tom and Damon's writer on this was Jacqueline Hoyt. She wrote this with Damon — with consultation, obviously, with Tom. It arrived fully formed. And I have to give huge credit to Keith Gordon, the director. He's an ex-actor. In fact, he gave a performance that had a huge impact on me when I was a 19-year-old. He played the lead character in Stephen King's Christine, directed by John Carpenter. He played the very introverted, rather weak boy who turns into a monster, and the beauty piece from that film is he always retains sympathy. He said we cannot judge Matt Jamison. We cannot play him wholly angry. He is trying to do his very best. He continually nudged me to find the child in Matt and the vulnerability, and Keith was absolutely priceless in the creation of that character. I was very fortunate, not just to get that script, but to get Keith. I mean, he could have played Matt. I always thought, "What would Keith say?" He was a huge touchstone for Matt Jamison.

[Photos: 'The Leftovers' Red Carpet Premiere]

Christopher Eccleston as Matt and Justin Theroux as Kevin in 'The Leftovers'

You mentioned you don't factor into a lot of the other episodes. But we will see Matt again in Season 1?

Yeah, he pops up now and again and causes trouble, but nothing like Episode 3, which is as it should be, because this really is an ensemble piece. He weaves in and out of the story, and he features heavily in the finale, suddenly pops up again. The focus throughout the series moves. I think it's great — the focus moves throughout the community. [Matt] does have a strong connection to Kevin Garvey (Theroux), particularly Kevin Garvey's father. There's a history between Matt and Kevin, which develops throughout the series.

And as we get a hint at, in this episode, something has gone down between Matt and Kevin's father, who was the police chief. It has something to do with the flyer Matt pulls out of the peanut butter jar piggy bank?
That's right.

NBC is producing a Heroes miniseries next year. Any chance we'll see you return as Claude?
I don't know. I had no idea that it was happening, and I was on the red carpet at The Leftovers premiere and the question was brought to me. I'd be interested, and that's all I can say. I had a great time, particularly with Jack Coleman and [series creator] Tim Kring. If they ask me, I'd certainly consider it.

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