Showtime’s new drama Homeland stars Emmy Award winning actress Claire Danes (Temple Grandin) and British actor Damian Lewis, who is best known to TV audiences for his series, Life.
In Homeland Danes portrays Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent who becomes suspicious of the rescue of a US Marine, Sgt Nicholas Brody (Lewis), who has been missing in Iraq since 2003. Coming home to a heroes welcome, led by his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin), Brody’s story of survival makes him the new poster boy for America’s ‘War on Terror.’ Mathison, who is battling her own psychological demons and personal secrets, must discover what Brody’s possible intents are before a tragedy can occur.
Claire Danes and Damian Lewis flew into Los Angeles from shooting the series in North Carolina, to speak with the TV Critics about their new drama.
Can you talk a little about Carrie Mathison, and what it is about her that made you want to play the role?
Claire Danes: She’s incredibly bright, at times dangerously bright, and formidable and focused, compulsive and even myopic. But she’s also very sensitive and vulnerable. And that juxtaposition is interesting.
My first roommate in college was a CIA officer for a little while, and she’s the most innocuous, benign person. And so I was telling her that I was going to play this role. ‘I’m going to play a CIA office, and she’s bipolar.’ And her immediate response was, ‘Oh, she sounds very isolated.
That’s a lonely character.’ And she is. She’s on the outside, and that provides her this incredible perspective and incredible vantage point. But it also causes her suffering and she needs to resolve that. And I think that’s very interesting.
Damian, you’ve played similar roles in other work you’ve done. What do you think it is about you that seems right for this kind of role?
Damian Lewis: American psychopaths? I think it’s the early Noel Coward that I did in the West End! There are similarities between Nick Brody and Charlie Crews (in Life). They are both sent away for different reasons. They are held in captivity for different reasons.
But they did come back changed men. This is, I would say, more realistic. I don’t know why I play Americans convincingly. It’s a lucky, happy fluke that I’m going to run with until someone finds me out.
The torture scenes look appropriately grisly. Can you talk about shooting them?
Damian: This character is so compelling that it feeds the psychology of the piece. It helps me because a lot of it appears in flashback, and I enjoy the way in which it informs the character going forward. I don’t mind filming that stuff too much, weirdly. But I’m an exhibitionist!
Did you get all of those scenes out of the way in one swoop, or do you have to constantly go back and forth between prison and being back in the States?
Damian: We go in and out. They try to schedule it in my favor, but it’s two hours in the make up chair. And then I lie down on a gritty, sandy, dirty, stone floor in some warehouse just out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a guy pees on me.
I’ve been hung upside down. I’ve been beaten in the head, I’ve been beaten with a club with barbed wire wrapped around it. We’re keeping it real and brutal as those are things [that were done], it’s not for sensationalist reasons. It’s not for shock value. It has a strong psychological reason.
It’s to break somebody physically, emotionally and psychologically so he is then malleable, and that’s really the purpose of it. So it’s important to the show.
Do you think for a serious drama, like things about Iraq and terrorism with great characters, actors are having to turn to TV?
Claire: It’s an incredibly valid question. I have not read a character this compelling in a movie script in quite some time. I just gravitate to the most interesting work and this was impossible to ignore.
I think there are a lot of essays to write about why television is such a fertile territory for drama right now and way the audiences have tolerance and appreciation of drama in that medium and in that context.
There are only 13 episodes this season, if you’d gotten the same role and it was a 22-episode run, which is much more of a commitment, would you still have been interested in the series?
Claire: I think there’s just so much liberty that one has in cable. You get to curse a lot. You get to get naked a lot. So, no, I think that that’s more appealing than the relatively moderate work hours. It’s just the creative flexibility.
Damian: That is a conversation that the networks have repeatedly, whether they should start producing 12-part series, instead of these 24-episode series, in order to get the stars to come and do their shows, because it’s a big thing to ask someone to work on one role for nine, ten months a year. So it definitely does affect your decision-making.
The scenes in Iraq or Afghanistan looked really legitimate, where did you shoot them?
Claire: We filmed those scenes in Israel. It was fascinating. It was essentially a great excuse to explore that amazing part of the world. And we shot in a place that was cohabited by Israelis and Palestinians. So the tension was very alive, and it actually felt a little risky.
How does this type of television differ from your work in England?
Damian: In England, we can’t make this kind of TV. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the writers, we don’t have film and TV language in our DNA in the same way you guys do here.
The big concept in telling it compellingly, entertainingly, but in a psychologically real and complex way, is something we don’t come up with as often as you do here. So for me to be here is a thrill.