THE LEFTOVERS - Season 1 |  ©2014 HBO

THE LEFTOVERS - Season 1 | ©2014 HBO

In HBO’s new series THE LEFTOVERS, premiering Sunday, June 29, two percent of the world’s population vanishes in an instant, leaving everyone else shocked, grieving and wondering what happened.

LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof adapted THE LEFTOVERS for television from ’s novel. Lindelof is at HBO’s session for the Television Critics Association to discuss THE LEFTOVERS. Following the official panel, the writer/executive producer remains for a lot of follow-up questions.

ASSIGNMENT X: Is THE LEFTOVERS ever going to tell the audience exactly what caused the disappearance and what happened to the missing people?

DAMON LINDELOF: I think what I’d say is, the question that you are asking right now is the fundamental question of the series for the characters in the series. So everybody in this world is asking, “Am I ever going to get an answer as to where these people went? Am I ever going to get relief?” And if I tell the audience, or you, that, yes, the answer is coming, then I’ve given you a piece of information that the characters don’t have, and therefore, you’re not going to be able to identify with these people, because as they’re walking around in the show going, “I don’t think we’re ever going to get an answer,” you’re sitting in your living room, saying, “Lindelof said it was coming, just be patient, chill out.” And I think the anxiety they experience as a result of not knowing whether or not they’re going to get an answer is the anxiety that I want the audience to be experiencing. I understand that I’m putting my head in a hive of bees, but it’s Tom’s fault – he wrote the book.

AX: Had you read any of Tom Perrotta’s earlier books?

LINDELOF: Yeah. I’ve read most of Tom’s books and a number of his short stories – BAD HAIRCUT, certainly ELECTION, THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER, LITTLE CHILDREN I love, and he just released a great collection of short stories that I read over the holidays. What attracted me to THE LEFTOVERS was in the New York Times Book Review. I saw that Stephen King, of all people, was reviewing THE LEFTOVERS and it just felt like that was the moment that the stars aligned.

AX: Does the working relationship with Tom Perrotta conform to your expectations of what it would be like?

LINDELOF: I think I have a sense of all authors as being non-collaborative and very precious and super-intellectual and most of the things that they say go way over my head, and they have little patches on their blazers on their elbows. I don’t know if Tom owns a blazer like that, but I’ve found him to be incredibly collaborative, really generous, considering there’s nothing more personal than sharing your story with someone else, and I know this is what you’re supposed to say, but I do think traditionally the author gets pushed aside and the person who’s adapting it says, “I need to basically be alone in this room with your wife. You’re not going to want to know what’s happening in here.” But I want Tom to watch and participate [laughs].

AX: Do you feel THE LEFTOVERS has some existential mystery components in common with LOST?

LINDELOF: All I can say is, I didn’t want to do LOST again, but the things that drew me to the premise of LOST are the same things that drew me to this premise, and I hope that the viewing experience is not completely and totally dependent on the resolution of this show. I feel like LOST was very much presented as a mystery show. It had characters on the show that were actively trying to determine what the island was, why they had been brought to the island, what the purpose of it all was, and therefore the show had to present some version of those answers, but it’s not my place to say that there was an empirical response to LOST. I know there were a lot of people who were frustrated with the way the show ended, there were other people who were not frustrated with the way the show ended, and there were a lot of people who gave up before the show ended. I think the same will be true of THE LEFTOVERS, and there’s no way that I could guarantee otherwise.

AX: You’ve said THE LEFTOVERS has pushed you outside your comfort zone. How did it do that?

LINDELOF: Well, first off, I think the idea that this is a straight-up adaptation. It’s a book that I loved, and coming to Tom and saying, “Can we play together in your world, and here are some ideas that I have, and what do you think of them?” definitely puts me outside of my comfort zone, because I’ve not really adapted [other material for] television before. [There is a question of] how much story is there here? It’s a novel, so technically speaking, this could have been a movie if you just straight-up adapted the novel. What makes it a TV series? And with the LOST legacy, how long should it go on? How many episodes of THE LEFTOVERS should there be? Where does the frustration point start to set in? I think that the comfort zone is essentially, I am stepping back into that abyss that many would argue burned me last time, but for me, it was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. And while I think there are going to be a lot of new surprises along the way, I get turned on creatively by what I get turned on creatively by, and I have a type of TV shows.

AX: While the mysteries are being explored, will the viewers be simply engrossed in the overall world of THE LEFTOVERS?

LINDELOF: That’s my hope. I do think that the show would be neglect[ful] in not examining the mystery of where everybody went and what happened to them. In the show, there are going to be characters who are interested in finding more out about that, but the show is much more focused on the present than it is in the past. I’m much more interested in, “Are we going to get attacked by terrorists again?” versus, “Who are the terrorists responsible for this act?”

AX: Some of the characters believe the disappearance of two percent of the population means this is the Rapture. Is the reason people think it might be the Rapture is that all of the people who disappeared were noticeably good people and the people who remain are jerks?

LINDELOF: The reason that some people think it’s the Rapture is that the Rapture is the only preexisting concept that could possibly explain this phenomenon, but when they try to attach, “Okay, so what are the rules of the Rapture?”, an immense debate breaks out, because even amongst evangelicals, the idea of what’s the Rapture, what’s the timing of the Rapture – we know that it’s a lead-up to the End of Days, but it does seem to have this idea in mind of, the people who disappear were all really good people, but a lot of a**holes went, too, and not just a**holes, but really, really bad people. So is the idea that there’s a moral judgment in play, but our idea of morality is slightly skewed, so these things that we think are good and bad, like not cheating on your wife or murdering people, may not be that big of a deal to whoever decided to make this cut.

AX: So nobody’s going to mistake THE LEFTOVERS for LEFT BEHIND?

LINDELOF: I think it’s playing in a much different world than LEFT BEHIND. You might hear the word “Antichrist,” but in an entirely different context.

AX: Are you committed to the same eventually ending for the series that is in the LEFTOVERS book?

LINDELOF: I don’t want to say whether we’re going to do that ending or not do that ending on the show, but I can say that the ending of the book is not the ending of the series. I think we’ll be moving past the ending in the book fairly quickly in terms of the life of the series, so the idea of the story that we’ve talked about for the series THE LEFTOVERS definitely extends beyond the ending that’s currently in Tom’s book.

AX: Do you know how many seasons, or how many episodes, you want to do of THE LEFTOVERS?

LINDELOF: It’s definitely a thought. I don’t think I ever would have taken on another serialized drama like this if I didn’t have some sense of what that was. I do think it’s kind of arrogant to say before anybody has even seen the show, “I only want to do forty episodes of THE LEFTOVERS,” but I do feel like the number of episodes in this show is more akin to a BREAKING BAD than it is to a LOST. Actually, BREAKING BAD did as many seasons as LOST, but almost half as many episodes – slightly more than half.

Another way of looking at your question is, what is a serialized drama in the context of a show like this, where – THE SOPRANOS, for example, was a serialized drama, but it wasn’t all hinging on one central mystery being unveiled and a year could elapse between seasons, or two weeks could elapse between seasons, or six months could elapse between episodes, and so there was not a sense of immediacy to it, and then in the final episode of THE SOPRANOS, the questions that were in play weren’t, “Are you going to resolve the grand mystery of life and the universe and everything?” It was just like, “Is Tony going to get shot in this restaurant, or isn’t he?” So I do think that the format of this show, and the desire of this show, is to not be a cliffhanger-based show, that the finales feel more like the endings of books in a series, versus, “Oh my God, who shot J.R.?” It’s hard for me to tell you, not having seen the finale of Season 1. But we’ve planned it and I do think that the first season of THE LEFTOVERS has a sense of completeness to it, but also, a sense of, “Wow, I would really like to see what happens next.” We’re just trying to balance that.

AX: Will characters who seem minor at first become major later on, or do the people who are the protagonists in the beginning remain front and center throughout?

LINDELOF: I do think that the jumping-off point for the show is the Garvey family, but there are characters in the show who are extras in the pilot – that is, they have one or two lines – that will be carrying entire episodes on their back sooner rather than later. One of my favorite shows is THE SIMPSONS, and I love the idea thatSpringfield has gotten to the point that everybody who walks by – if they’re just shopping in a mall – is someone who’s had their own episode at one point or another. It really lends to the rich texture of that universe.

AX: You left Twitter on October 14, which is also the date of the mass disappearance in THE LEFTOVERS. How long were you planning that timing? Did anyone pick up on that?

LINDELOF: If anyone picked up on that, I don’t know, because I’m not on Twitter [laughs]. But I was sitting around with the writers, it was our first week of working together, and I was in a place of feeling like Twitter was really consuming me in an unhealthy way and it was right around the time that BREAKING BAD was ending, and I was just saying, “I just kind of need to quit, I just need to stop.” And then as writers’ rooms often do, everyone started pitching on collaboratively the best and most dramatic way to do this. If I was going to leave, I had to do it in an incredible fashion. And then, it wasn’t me, someone said, “Hey, October the fourteenth is in two days! You should just quit on October 14 and your last Tweet should be, you should cut it off right in the middle, so it seems very abrupt. And then don’t tell anybody, but later on, it will become apparent that that’s what it was.” That said, me leaving Twitter was not a marketing stunt for the benefit of THE LEFTOVERS. It was just a happy accident. I have no intention of coming back.

AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about THE LEFTOVERS right now?

LINDELOF: Oh, God, I’ve already said far too much. No, only that I do think that my previous experience only really being LOST in terms of a show that I created, that’s a show that had to come out of the gate very strong and very hard and very aggressively as a big sort of action, cinematic “This is what the show is going to be, here I am, ta-da” way, and I think that THE LEFTOVERS is not that show. It does move at its own pace and I would just say that I hope that people are patient with it, because I think that the patience will pay off.

Related: TV Review: THE LEFTOVERS – Season 1 – “Pilot” – Series Premiere

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Article: Interview with THE LEFTOVERS creator Damon Lindelof

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