Amy Brenneman Goes From Scheming on 'Reign' to Not Speaking on 'The Leftovers'

Kelly Woo
Yahoo TV

One day, Amy Brenneman plays a woman who doesn't hesitate to speak her mind. The next, she is a woman who refuses to talk.

The versatile actress is guest starring on this week's new "Reign" as Marie de Guise, the mother of Queen Mary (Adelaide Kane). She arrives at the French court to give both her daughter and Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) a big piece of her mind.

When Yahoo TV spoke to Brenneman a few weeks ago, she had just shot her scenes for The CW's "Reign" — and was departing the next day to film the new HBO show, "The Leftovers." In the post-apocalyptic series, based on a novel by Tom Perrotta and produced by Damon Lindelof ("Lost"), Brenneman plays a woman who leaves her family behind and goes totally silent.

[Related: 'Reign' to Expose Uncensored Episode Online]

The former "Private Practice" star chatted with us about moving between two wildly different roles, and just what we can expect from the larger-than-life Marie de Guise on "Reign" (airing Thursday, March 6 at 9 p.m. on The CW).

Have you done a historical drama like "Reign" before?

Not very much. Many years ago, I played [artist] Mary Cassatt. But not very often.

Is it fun to put on these amazing costumes and enter this completely different world?

Yes, it is fun to do all that. The sets are really incredible. When you're there, it's a little like being at Disneyland — you get immediately transported. And I'm a modern gal, so I have to remember about my posture and my bearing and stuff like that.

What can you tell us about Marie de Guise?

Marie de Guise is French. She was actually a very interesting woman in her own right. She was wooed by Henry VIII after he killed his wife Anne Boleyn, and Marie de Guise said, "No thank you!" [Laughs.] And then she married James V of Scotland and they had a very loving, passionate relationship. It was a real love match. And James V was Henry's cousin, so that's why Mary Queen of Scots is in the line of England.

When Mary was about nine days old, he died, so I became the regent of Scotland, which means I've been running it, waiting for Mary to come of age. I sent her away to French court to be groomed to be part of that. So, I'm very strong, yet I'm not heartless. Actually, as I was doing my research, it was very unusual in those days for a woman to make a love match like she did in her marriage. And she's obviously very estranged from her daughter and doesn't know how to be a mother.

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So, their relationship is rather troubled?

They have a non-relationship. She sent her away. But historically, they didn't have a troubled relationship. There were letters that were actually affectionate, so we tried to keep some of that, so it's not all conflict. But absolutely, I have been watching from Scotland going, "What the eff is going on?" It's really less toward Mary and more toward Catherine, like "Why are you having your court run by soothsayers and magicians? You're being an idiot."

Can we expect to see her lock horns with Catherine then?

Yes, you do see her lock horns with Catherine, but you also see us scheme together. We're not only in opposition. Laurie [McCarthy, the showrunner] wrote this quite beautifully — there are very few people that understand Catherine, that are in the same position as she is, like Marie de Guise. So there's actually a lot of camaraderie as well.

Does Marie de Guise feel like her daughter should make the political marriage or the love match, like she did herself?

I mean, political. But I think again what's really nice about Marie is that I myself made a love match so I'm not a machine about it. I think my point of view is we have to get out of the hocus-pocus of the medieval mentality and get Nostradamus out of the court and think with a clear head. I say it to Mary but I also say it to Catherine. And I joke about it, like, "You used to revere dwarves too. You're always into this thing — tea leaves, Nostradamus. Will you please just enter the Age of Enlightenment and think with your brain?" [Laughs.]

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Will we see you again as Marie down the line?

Maybe. I'm about to start this new HBO thing. It's very open-ended and very rich, and I think Laurie the showrunner was pleased with the way it came out. I would absolutely have a blast coming back. But so far, no plans.

You're off to do "The Leftovers." What's happening with that?

We shot the pilot in June. And it's everything people say. HBO feels more like doing an independent film. It does feel quite different from network. I fly to New York tomorrow to start shooting the nine episodes. With somebody like Damon and Tom Perrotta — who's the novelist and is on board as a producer — it's a very singular vision, which is really fun. I shouldn't say it's so different from network. Shonda Rhimes is such a strong showrunner. I think what's hard about network television and bigger studio pictures is you have all these different entities weighing and that can dilute the artistic expression. But when you have someone like Shonda or Damon, it's really nice, but you can just go to the source. I'm excited. It's a very different role for me.

Get a quick glimpse of "The Leftovers" at the 1:42 mark:

What's your character like? Or is everything hush-hush?

No, because it's based on this Tom Perrotta novel, which you can read. It's basically this post-Rapture world, although my character doesn't really think it's the Rapture. But it's after this unprecedented thing that happens, and people have different ways of making sense of it. So, I join this order and I don't speak. That's the big jumping point off for me.

[Related: Damon Lindelof: HBO's 'The Leftovers' Is About 'What Happens Now?' Versus 'What Happened?']

It must be challenging for you to go from this role on "Reign" to such a different one on "The Leftovers."

It's totally superfun. That's why I love doing what I do. To go from "Reign," which is so delicious and beautiful and verbal, to something like "The Leftovers," which is a post-apocalyptic blast — it's pretty fun!

"Reign" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.