“There is no bag of tricks. You better get your act together, girl,” said “The Leftovers” star Ann Dowd in our recent video chat (watch it below) about the challenge of playing a woman who doesn’t speak. Her character, Patti Levin, leads the Guilty Remnant, a cult whose members have taken a vow of silence following the disappearance of two-percent of the world’s population. “It was a tremendous learning experience,” Dowd adds of shooting scenes without dialogue. “Don’t walk onto that set if you don’t know what you want … It takes the nonsense right out of it.”
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Like Justin Theroux, Dowd wasn’t sure what would happen to her character from one episode to the next, but there was one story development that took her especially by surprise (the following contains spoilers from season one of “The Leftovers”). “I got wind of [Patti’s death] I think about two weeks before shooting it,” she said. “I was crushed. I thought, ‘No!'”
She had grown attached to Patti, but the uncertainty of the show also taught her “to let go of it. Because at first I thought, what? I’m leaving the show? What could you mean? She’s dead, really?” But by the time she filmed Patti’s shocking suicide, she had made peace with her character’s fate, “which is of course what Patti does: she lets go of her existence on Earth, lets go of the past, the mishegoss, all of it … When I left at the end of the season, there was a level of fulfillment, and whatever happens will happen.”
Even though the actors didn’t always know what would happen next, showrunner Damon Lindelof made sure they weren’t flying blind. “If there were things I wanted to know insofar as he could tell me, you just have to ask,” she said, “and then the email comes back, and some explanation about something that might have been confusing, or what would the motive have been, or where is she going with that, he was there to answer that question.”
A longtime character actress, Dowd is in demand now more than ever, with roles this year in “True Detective” and “Masters of Sex” in addition to “The Leftovers.” That success could be attributed to her breakthrough performance in 2012’s “Compliance,” a low-budget indie that won her the Best Supporting Actress prize from the National Board of Review, as well as nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and the Critics’ Choice Awards. But distributor Magnolia Pictures wouldn’t foot the bill for DVD screeners, so Dowd did it herself, a move that attracted a surprising amount of media attention.
“To me, it was just a business decision. I didn’t see this coming, but there’s a chance something could happen here,” she said. “It’s done all the time, it’s just that the film company does it for the actor … I said, this is just because this is the circumstance. It’s not being done, so I’ll do it. It’s my career, it’s my choice.”
That choice didn’t result in an Oscar nomination, but judging from her career since then, it has paid off anyway.
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