Who Is Erika Murphy On 'The Leftovers'? Actress Regina King Talks Her Character & Season 2's Big Mystery
Anyone who has seen the trailers for Season 2 of HBO's The Leftovers knew that they would be meeting some new characters when the divisive drama returned for its sophomore outing, which shifted locations from Mapleton, NY to Jarden, TX. But, what viewers probably weren't prepared for was the fact that the season premiere focused almost exclusively on these newcomers; not a single familiar face even appeared onscreen until Reverend Jamison popped up 36 minutes in. One of those new Leftovers characters is Jarden doctor Erika Murphy, played by Regina King — a recent Emmy winner for her role in ABC's American Crime — and as jarring as the transition might be for fans, according to King it was just the opposite behind-the-scenes.
"I feel like we kind of just fell right in," the actress tells Bustle in an interview about the new season, speaking of herself and fellow newcomers, including Kevin Carroll (Being John Malkovich) as her character's husband, John. "Everyone embraced this new story with open arms. I think it's been very exciting for [co-creators] Damon [Lindelof] and Tom [Perrotta]. (The latter also penned the 2011 novel on which the series is based.) "With Tom, obviously this was his baby — but the first season was the entire book and there's no sequel. So, here you have the opportunity to create a whole new world, if you will. I feel like we fit right in because it feels new for everybody."
For those who are perhaps unsettled by so much new-ness in the premiere, King would like to put your minds at ease. "That's just to establish things," she assures us. "Anyone who followed Season 1 knows the way Damon writes. Sometimes you're not gonna see characters in an episode at all." She's referring, of course, to the two most universally acclaimed entries of the freshman season, which were slice-of-life episodes that focused on one character (Reverend Jamison in one and Nora Durst in the other) for a whole hour while relegating the show's nominal protagonists to mere cameos. "It's going to be the same way this season," King reveals.
So, who are the Murphys, really? There has been a lot of strain on the family since the Sudden Departure, even though Jarden is the only town in the world where nobody disappeared. "I think appearances are important to them. Especially because there are things that have taken place that, as a family — even if those things weren't necessarily their fault — they're not very proud of," King says. "So, it's very important, especially to Erika, to show that we survived it. We're surviving it. She's the doctor in this town, so a lot of people know her. A lot of people know her family. She grew up in this town."
As to more specifics about her character, King can only speak in the vaguest of teases: "She comes in holding the same amount of mystery as all the characters in The Leftovers. Everyone has a secret or something that they're hiding behind their smile or hiding behind their frown."
What secrets is Erika hiding? Those who watched the Season 2 premiere know at least one of them — even if they don't know what it means yet. In one particularly strange scene, Erika ventured into the woods to dig a box out of the ground that contained... a living bird. Had she buried it as an experiment? Was it a deceased pet that had reanimated? Originally, King was as in the dark as the rest of us. "I wanted to know what the heck that was about, too!" she insists, revealing that the writers didn't even clue her in when they filmed that scene for the premiere. But, it won't be a mystery forever. "You will find out," King promises. "You won't have to wait until Season 3. I think I can say that."
Now that the Murphys' daughter Evie has mysteriously vanished, viewers can expect those secrets King mentioned to start revealing themselves — perhaps sooner than anticipated. "Through this whole event [of Evie's disappearance] is how you get to know some of these secrets that they've been hiding. Usually that's what happens in families when there's something traumatic. You find out about something you never knew," King says.
This is something King knows about from personal experience: "My grandmother's not doing well and I had to fly to Cincinnati — literally I got back the day before the Emmys — and I learned something about one of my cousins that I never ever ever ever knew, and probably would not have learned if all of this wasn't going on with my grandmother," she admits. "So I think that's kind of what's going to happen with the Murphys. It opens the floodgates."
While she guarantees that some mysteries will indeed get solved, she warns that new ones will always be taking their place. "When I read the scripts as they come, they'll make something else make sense to me — and then something new will become confusing! It keeps it going because you've got to answer some questions eventually," she acknowledges. "But, if you do answer the question and don't pose a new one, the story would be over."
The question of what happened to Evie gives this season a narrative drive that Season 1 lacked at times, but some fans may still be wondering — where exactly is this whole Texas detour headed? Asked to describe Season 2 in a nutshell, King states confidently, "More than anything, it's about your faith. What you believe in. It just makes you question your faith even more. Faith in every single thing: other people, in God, in what you believed all your life. There's big discoveries for everybody in this one."
While some viewers remain frustrated that Perrotta and Lindelof refuse to answer the question of what caused the Sudden Departure, King reminds us that the ambiguity of the event is the whole point. It would be one thing if two percent of the world's population had died of something explicable like a plague. But, it's the pain of not knowing — not knowing what caused it or where their loved ones went — that prevents those left behind from healing. "The reason why the theme [of faith] has not left from the first season coming into the second season is because that still hasn't been answered," she says, referring to the overarching mystery of the show. "And there's nothing more painful than loss."
After a heavy pause. King breaks the silence: "Yeah... Some deep sh*t."
Words to live by, ladies and gentlemen.
Images: Van Redin (3), Ryan Green/HBO