'The Leftovers' Carrie Coon on portraying Mapleton's saddest survivor

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carrie-coon-the-leftovers-hbo-nora-durst.jpgAs the story of Mapleton's survivors continues to unfold each week on "The Leftovers," possibly one of the most compelling and gut wrenching tales is the one of Nora Durst's. She is one of the town's saddest cases, having lost her husband and three children in the sudden departure. Who could forget her speech from the pilot, when she described just wanting one more terrible Saturday with her family? But these days she has taken on a new role, unwillingly, as a small town celebrity.

Actress Carrie Coon tells Zap2it she was ready to tackle the role of Nora. She and her husband, playwright Tracy Letts, being long-time avid readers, had already read and were fans of the original Tom Perrotta penned novel before ever knowing it would one day be a series. Coon jumped at the opportunity to audition for the character who had lost it all because she felt "very connected to Nora," immediately.

She was also very aware how big the responsibility was she was taking on when she accepted such a devastating role, "The danger of a role like that is, because I have not experienced that degree of extraordinary loss, thankfully, you don't want anything to feel trite or not truthful," the actress explains. "I did feel a tremendous responsibility to honor what that experience might be like, as deeply as I possibly could."

The people left behind are all trying to find their own ways of coping, but Nora's struggle isn't just about surviving, it was also about redefining. "I think we are all looking for our purpose in life. Nora's was wrenched away from her, at least the one she had defined for herself," Coon says.

Durst's new purpose comes in the form of counseling and helping other survivors receive departure benefits, which is kind of like life insurance for the sudden departure victims. Coon sees it as a perfect fit for Nora. 

"I think, having lost three people, she went through those departure interviews three times," she says. "I think she had a terrible experience and part of what she is trying to do to make a contribution is to make other people go through that in a more compassionate way. She understands better than anybody what those people have been through."

Coon understands being part of the solution is important for Nora. "Her whole identity is grief and loss," Coon explains. "Her whole identity is someone who has been left behind and left alone and so who better to conduct the interviews than someone like that? If you take her grief away then who is she? She doesn't know." 

In the second episode of the series, "Penguin One, Us Zero," Aimee and Jill seem a bit obsessed with Durst. Coon explains the fascination to Zap2it, saying, "I think teenagers are always aware of things that are out of place. So I think it makes perfect sense that they would latch onto Nora in that moment and try to figure out what is going on with her. Also since she is sort of a town celebrity, having lost her whole family, everyone's sort of vaguely aware of her status, this kind of negative celebrity status she carries around.  Why not follow the saddest woman in the world for a day?"

Whether Nora ever finds true peace in yet to be determined, but we can't wait to see what Carrie and Nora both have in store for us. "The Leftovers" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Photo/Video credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO