It's good to hear Amy Brenneman's voice on the phone.
That's because in her surprising new role on HBO's dramatic series "The Leftovers, " her voice isn't heard at all, anytime soon.
In it, the Glastonbury native, whose work has included "NYPD Blue," "Judging Amy" and "Private Practice," plays a member of a sect that takes a vow of silence, wears white, lives communally, chain smokes cigarettes and provides a haunting and controversial presence for residents of a small town.
The sect — the Guilty Remnant — is created in response to the story's central calamity: The day, suddenly, three years back, when 2 percent of the world's population disappeared. Whether it's due to a Rapture-type event or something else, nobody seems to know.
The source material for "The Leftovers" is the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta ("Election," "Little Children") that is being adapted by writer/producer Damon Lindelof, in his first big project since TV's "Lost."
Brenneman says Lindelof is the main reason she signed onto the series, which begins June 29 on HBO.
"I just was utterly captivated by him," she says during a recent interview from New York. "I'd watched 'Lost.' Although I wasn't a diehard fan, though I certainly knew his capabilities. It's like he had me at hello, because he said, 'Here are the reasons you shouldn't play this role.'
Among them: "You don't speak, you don't wear makeup, and it shoots in New York.' And I was like: Yeah, I'm in."
It was a matter of facing challenges when they come along, says Brenneman, 49, who is raising two children with her husband of 19 years, director Brad Silberling. "It's so thrilling to do something you've never done before and have never seen anybody else do before."
It is odd in some ways not to talk in a role, she says. But, she adds, "I enjoy being silent on film. I love listening to people on film. It's one of my favorite things to do. So I thought: that's not going to be a problem. And I certainly trust my face to communicate whatever it needs to communicate.
"It also crossed my mind a number of times that it's probably good that I don't do Botox because I literally could not express anything," she adds. "So my face is very mobile, and it needs to be, because it needs to reflect every nuance and idea."
Because she can only communicate with others by writing notes, Brenneman finds herself in a role in which she has to pay more attention to penmanship than articulation.
"I think what got more difficult was: I play a pretty complex woman," she says. "I take actions that are very complicated, that are kind of controversial. I have to understand why I'm doing it. A lot of what I do is really not liked by other people."
That in itself is unusual for her, she says.
"Usually I want the audience to understand me and to like me and sympathize with why I'm doing this," she says. "Obviously, I had to let go of this pathological need to be liked, number one. And then I just had to figure out a different way to communicate all of those things."
And what is her take on this character, Laurie, that she plays?
"I definitely have a sense of why she made the choice to join this group," she says.
And because the story picks up three years after the mass disappearance, there are likely to be flashbacks to show the reason for her joining.
But for now she says, "I think that in a world that where you're in a completely unprecedented situation in human history, all decisions are valid in a way because nobody can tell you what the right way to go is.
"But there's lot of chatter and insanity and violence that happens in the wake of this. And I think at a certain point, Laurie just says no. I'm going to live like a monk. I'm not going to participate in this or engender more of this. So I drop out."
Cigarettes But No Makeup
In addition to not speaking in the role, Brenneman also had to take up smoking for the first time. "So that's been a bit of a drag."
And so has the lack of makeup.
"I'm usually not that hung up on the glamour thing," Brenneman says. "But even I was like: 'Can we have a little mascara?'"
When the series was being developed for HBO, her look turned out to be "this interesting flashpoint for how far we were going to go," she says. "So in the end there was no hiding. I just had to go for it."
Overall, "The Leftovers," which also stars Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler and Margaret Qualley, is "about living with things that cannot be explained," Brenneman says.
"My dear father-in-law passed away last year of these diseases he shouldn't have gotten and there's that period of course of the sudden stages of grieving, of why did this happen, you want to figure it out, you want to take steps," she says. "And then there's many, many situations where we just have to accept without full explanation. It tests the mettle of us."
Brenneman says Perrotta's original novel was written "directly in response to 9/11, something that I think was important to him."
But in "The Leftovers," there is no external disaster. "The structure of the world itself looks very similar," she says. "It's not like a tornado has passed through this town. But the insides of it – the peoples' spirit, how people look at the world, has utterly shifted. And how each individual handles that change is what the story is about."
For Brenneman, "I liken it a lot to climate change, which I'd say is pretty unprecedented in human history."
As those effects become more deeply felt, she says, "Are we going to become generous and thoughtful? Are we going to become feral? How are you going to raise children in the midst of this Earth that is declining? So all of these things are the backdrop, I think, for each individual choice that these people make. "
Shooting the 10-episode series over four months in a series of New York towns including Nyack, Mamaroneck, Irvington and Rye to represent the fictional Mapleton, Brenneman says she's happy to be back to the East Coast.
"I get to see my parents in Connecticut, which is really nice," she says. But she adds, "It's been really cold. We started in February. And I shot primarily night shoots, and primarily outside. And there was a moment where it was like: I don't know if we can do this much longer. It was actually 6 degrees. And I'd look around at the crew, who were completely bundled up, and I was basically in my stupid wardrobe coat, that wasn't real."
But generally, being there has been "very sweet," she says. "And I do think it's sort of created a very different and specific feel for the film we've been creating."
For Brenneman, it's the second difficult role in a row, following her work as Violet Turner on "Private Practice" where a number of terrible things happened to her.
"In 'Private Practice,' Violet had gone through this horrible thing, but the world she was living in, she could return to. She had her friendships and all that," Brenneman says. "This is like the whole world is so dark and altered and at time merciless.
"In those moments," she says, "I'm very happy to get out and home to sunny California where my children are."
"THE LEFTOVERS" premieres Sunday, June 29, at 10 p.m. on HBO.