'The Leftovers' Christopher Eccleston on Matt’s journey, the ferry orgy and the series finale

Ben King/HBO

As the final episodes of HBO's The Leftovers shift the show's setting to Australia, the characters are all beckoned Down Under for very different reasons. Nora (played by Carrie Coon) grapples with the idea of reuniting with her Departed family, despite common sense and her job at the Department of Sudden Departures reminding her that the scientists who claim people can see their loved ones again are likely just incinerating people. 

For Nora's brother, Reverend Matt Jamison (played by Christopher Eccleston), the reasons are more prophetic — at least in his head. Matt needs to travel to Australia to bring Kevin (a bearded Justin Theroux) back to Jarden, Texas, before the seventh anniversary of the Departure. He believes another apocalyptic event will occur on that day — the number seven has a particular resonance in the Bible — but is hoping it can be averted with Kevin's presence, since many believe Kevin to be a Christ-like figure, what with his sudden, innate ability to, well, resurrect on command. For his odyssey to Australia, Matt brings along a couple of other characters: John and Michael Murphy, true Kevin believers, and, unbeknownst to Matt, Kevin's pragmatic ex-wife, Laurie. Simple enough trip, right? 

Evidently not. At the start of the fifth episode, a French warhead is fired on an uninhabited Pacific island, leaving commercial jets grounded in the interim. The best Matt can do is charter a relief plane to Tasmania, and take a ferry to the mainland. But in the lighter spirit of The Leftovers from season two onward, there's a spectacular catch: The only ferry Matt and co. can board was bought out by a lion-themed sex cult (there is an actual acting credit for, bless this show, "Vigorous Hand Job Guy"), and on board is an Australian man claiming to be God. There's little chance this man is actually God, but with his childhood cancer returning and a potentially apocalyptic Departure anniversary looming, Matt's searching for answers anywhere he can. 

In a phone interview with Mic, Eccleston discussed Matt's conversation with "God," the surreal ferry orgy, the fast-approaching series finale and what it was like to film next to a live lion. 

Oh hey, it's Three Wise Men — and Laurie!
Oh hey, it's Three Wise Men — and Laurie! Ben King/HBO

Mic: Because season three has a time jump, there are times when the viewer has to put the pieces in place to find out what's happened to some of the characters, like how we discover Nora and Kevin lost their adopted baby. How much of Matt's past three years did [showrunner Damon Lindelof] detail to you?

Christopher Eccleston: I don't think I've had major discussions with him about that. I think he trusted me to be able to fill it in myself. I always felt instinctively that I knew where he was going to go. Not, obviously, exactly, but I knew enough. 

In the end, what's important is what we show the audience. So yeah, I didn't get into that too much.

We learn that Matt's cancer is back, perhaps this time for good. How do you think this influences his decision to spontaneously fly to Australia and bring Kevin home before the anniversary?  

CE: There's a great deal of ego in it. In that proving he was right, proving the existence of God in whatever manifestation he can. His latest brush with mortality increases the urgency of that, and Matt's never lost for urgency anyway. This is a man with an engine.

Matt's experience with mortality, which goes back to the loss of his parents and to his first brush with cancer when he was very young, has driven him hugely, about his religious faith and his religious quest.

Matt confronts a man claiming to be God [played by Bill Camp], though by the end of the episode we learn the truth rather incredibly when a lion kills him. Do you think there was any point when Matt genuinely believed the man was God?

CE: Yes — despite himself. And hopefully, despite all he said, I think as a man of faith you have to be open, and I think Matt is. Whether I've been able to convey that, I don't know. Ultimately, does he believe he's God? No.

The ethical, religious questions of Matt's encounter with that man are huge because of where Matt eventually arrives, philosophically, spiritually. It's endless. Why did that man cross Matt's path? How does Matt justify that man crossing his path, the man who wasn't God leading him to a decision about God? It's just endless.

The mystery of life, maybe, to be pretentious for a moment.

The trip on the ferry is also quite hilarious, with the entire backdrop being basically a big, lion-themed orgy. How was the mood on set during these scenes?

CE: Overall, the mood on the set was always very positive, as it always is when you have such strong, clear writing. Because everybody — cast, crew — knows exactly what is required of them. It's only when you have poor writing or half-realized scripts that the atmosphere is bad. We all knew exactly what was needed of us, 'cause the writing is so strong. It was hard work, but because we all believed in the show so much, it became a pleasure.

The surrealism and ludicrousness of the orgy invigorated the crew. None of us had really had to create something like that for a television show before, and we wanted to get it right. So it was a very positive atmosphere, and it had to be, 'cause it was cold. We had a lot of supporting artists who were cold, but they were about as good as we've ever had. The cast and crew applauded the extras at the end of the shooting of the orgy because their spirit and contribution to the show was enormous. Really enormous.

Damn, Australia is gorgeous.
Damn, Australia is gorgeous. Ben King/HBO

We see the story shift to Australia for several of the characters, including Matt. What's different about that setting for you versus Mapleton and Jarden?

CE: That was the exciting thing about it, we traveled so far. We've been shooting in New York to shooting on a boat, on a ferry outside of Melbourne, into the Outback. Obviously, from a production point of view, there's a different culture, there's a different television culture to embrace.

A lot of our key crew members became Australian or Kiwis. That invigorated the production, they brought their energy, and there's an impact on the cast, of course, with the characters in a new terrain. It was perfectly Leftover-ian.

It was very exciting. It was a really useful, great experience for us. And of course if God is going to be anybody, he's going to be Australian.

I wanted to ask about Bill Camp, actually, as a man claiming he's God. What was it like working opposite of him, especially in that tense scene on the ferry next to the lion. Well, I mean the lion wasn't there, but...

CE: It was there. The lion was there.

It was there? 

CE: The lion was there in the cage. A real, live lion.

Really? Wow.

CE: And during one take, for absolutely no reason, it woke up and roared and I jumped about six inches in the air. It was a primal, ancient response, called terror.

And I've never, ever laughed so much with another actor than I did with Bill Camp. We kind of fell in love with each other. The nature of the characters we're playing, the themes that we were playing, we just laughed, continually. He's an amazing actor, and a wonderful human being. It was such a privilege to work with him. Nobody could've played that part better than Bill Camp.

Our father, who art in Kevin?
Our father, who art in Kevin? Van Ledin/HBO

Characters on The Leftovers have very different interpretations of the Sudden Departure, ranging from the Rapture to an unexplained scientific phenomena. The same goes for whether Kevin is a messianic figure or if everything surrounding him is just strange happenstance. How have you interpreted the show's most ambiguous mysteries?

CE: It's so difficult to step outside. "Of course he's not the Messiah" is the first thing to say, and of course, if we choose to be, we can all be Messiah-like. I think the point is realizing the relevance of your own life and its effect on other people — the good you could do, or the bad. I think that's in there.

You know, I'm so inside the thing, really, both as Matt and as Chris that I can't really get too outside it. It's another one of Matt's egotistical, passionate and moving capers, isn't it? I think, I can't know, I can't answer that. [laughs] I can just babble incoherently.

The Leftovers is ending after just three seasons.  Is there anything you wish you were able to explore with Matt that you didn't get to in the three seasons?

CE: Lots, there's lots, but I also feel there's a great integrity to where we've ended. I don't think we've ever shot one episode of The Leftovers that strayed in the pursuit of purely carrying on and getting paid. It's a little jewel, really, the three seasons. It exists as a little jewel and I'm very proud of that.

Yeah, I would've loved to have lived with Matt for a lot longer. We all would have, with a series like this. There is scope, it's character-based and we could have gone on and explored their lives for a while. As it is, we deal with a very intense period immediately post- and pre-.

The Leftovers, it's kind of a middle-aged show, and we all want it to go on. But you know, Damon has said that he always planned three [seasons]. He said that's how he always perceived it, conceived it as a short-run series, in order that it has integrity. So I'm good with that, but I'll miss them all. I'll miss Matt, and I'll miss all the people, I really will.

It won't be over for me, the show, until it stops airing. Then reality will kick in.

What can you tell us about the series finale? Do you think fans of The Leftovers will leave this show satisfied?

Yes I do, I think that — him and his writing team are brilliant — and I think it's perfect. It does what The Leftovers always does. It infuriates and creates questions, and most of all it moves people, and there are no answers in life. That's the beauty of it: There are no answers.

There's a real truth to how the finale unfolds. With Damon's mixture of tragicomic events — he loves these characters. There's a great deal of love, I think, with the writers for these characters and also with our hardcore fans. And they won't be disappointed.  

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Source: YouTube

The final season of The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO. 

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