'The Leftovers' Chris Zylka On Tommy's Season 2 Path & Finally Interacting With The Cast
In the first season of HBO's The Leftovers Chris Zylka's character, Tom Garvey, was largely separated from the rest of the cast. While the bulk of the characters dealt with their grief in the wake of the Sudden Departure in Mapleton, NY, Tommy starred in his own spinoff-within-a-show, shepherding a pregnant young woman across the country at the behest of a cult leader who delivered magical healing hugs. But that bizarre subplot was wiped clean at the end of the first season when Holy Wayne was killed, Christine disappeared into the night, and Tommy left her baby on his father's front porch.
Now, in Season 2, Zylka finally gets to interact with some of his cast mates — and he couldn't be more ecstatic. "Working with Amy [Brenneman] and Liv [Tyler], it was so wonderful," Zylka tells Bustle in an interview. "Every single scene we did in Episode 3 just felt good to be on set with someone else from the cast. It was nice."
Tommy, his mother Laurie, and Guilty Remnant member Meg are still sequestered from the main plot of the season, remaining in Mapleton while the majority of the focus shifted to Jarden, TX; but at least he's no longer alone. And, not only does Zylka get to share scenes with his onscreen mom, but the two have become unlikely heroes, doing their best to rescue people from the brainwashing of the Guilty Remnant.
For someone who spent the entirety of the first season in service of a cult, this anti-cult action is a drastic departure for the character. "Tom felt betrayed by Holy Wayne," Zylka explains, referring to the revelation that the cult leader had impregnated multiple women, all of whom were being protected by a sucker like him. Zylka traces his character's extreme reaction to this revelation all the way back to an earlier betrayal: "The last person that betrayed Tom was his biological father. You get to see Tom's anger and how he can drop everything and he puts walls up. As soon as he's betrayed, especially by a male, I feel like Tom can completely turn his back and walk the other way."
Ironically, in his efforts to distance himself from Holy Wayne, Tommy essentially becomes his betrayer. He and Laurie realize that they're losing the fight against the GR because the cult is able to offer its members something; if they want to convince people to leave, they need to offer them something even better. So Tommy adopts Holy Wayne's persona, promising the GR's victims that he can heal them with a loving hug. How comfortable will he be with this new position of authority? "Tom is never comfortable. That's just the way he is," Zylka says. "He's constantly searching for something, searching for answers, but I don't really think he knows the question. If someone said, 'I have the answer for you,' I don't think he would know what question to ask. So, he's constantly conflicted."
The actor did drop one interesting tidbit about his character's new role as savior: "I love the fact that you don't know if he actually has Wayne's powers or if he doesn't. You'll find out," he teases. He follows that up with a quick "Maybe," hedging his bets. "It's a show about prophets, true prophets, false prophets, prodigal sons," Zylka reminds us, referring to the show's ambiguous supernatural tendencies. "[Showrunner] Damon [Lindelof] is brilliant and he'll keep you guessing no matter what. Us in the cast are constantly questioning and trying to come up with, 'This is what's going on.' And then you get another script and it's completely different. And at the same time, there's answers to questions but then new questions arise. It's just wonderful to be a part of his creative process."
But, the most memorable moment for Tom in this episode wasn't his transformation into Holy Wayne; it was his bizarre encounter with Meg who, after catching him trying to lure a GR member away from the cult, sexually assaulted him and then threatened to burn him alive. Zylka can only describe Tom's thought process in that moment as "bewilderment." "It's a moment that he shares with another individual with no talking, no anything, which is a complete juxtaposition as to where Tom has been before." Zylka says. "There's always someone talking or telling him what to do or he decides to leave. And now he's trapped and has to be in the moment. He can't run away."
Zylka describes the scene as simultaneously "wonderful" and "intense" — and he credits co-star Liv Tyler for that. "Liv killed it. Liv killed it," he gushes. "She was so good in that scene. I haven't seen it yet, but it's hard not to be lost in any kind of moment when another actor or actress is so focused. It's easy to play off of."
So, where does Tom go from here? Seeing as how the show caught up with the source material by author Tom Perrotta at the end of Season 1, there are no signposts for what happens to any of the characters next. But, Zylka isn't worried. "We're completely blessed that we're on HBO, we have a wonderful cast, and we kind of all throw ourselves to Damon's creative process," he said. "Not much to complain about or be too surprised about. We just kind of throw ourselves out there." The cast isn't afraid to take risks — and that's a sentiment that is certainly shared by their showrunner. Those risky choices may have alienated some viewers (especially in the show's more divisive first season) but, without them, The Leftovers wouldn't be The Leftovers... and it wouldn't be one of the most gripping, unpredictable dramas on television today.
Image: Ryan Green/HBO