Home TV Homeland – ’24’ writers on telling the complexities of grayness

Homeland – ’24’ writers on telling the complexities of grayness

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Homeland - Claire Danes; Damian Lewis; Morena Baccarin; Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
Homeland - Claire Danes; Damian Lewis; Morena Baccarin; Howard Gordon, Executive Producer; and Alex Gansa, Executive Producer speak to the press on August 4, 2011 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, CA © 2011 CBS Broadcasting, Photo Mark Davis

Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who both worked as Executive Producers on the long running series 24 have joined forces again to write and produce the new Showtime drama Homeland.

The psychological thriller stars Emmy Award winning actress Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer who becomes convinced that the intelligence that led to the rescue of a US soldier, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), is a set-up and may be connected to an Al Qaeda plot to be carried out on American soil.

Howard and Alex came to the TV Critics tour to speak with us about the new show, which premieres on Showtime this fall.

It seems shows like yours offer actors so much more than movies do – can you address that?

Homeland - Claire Danes
Carrie Anderson (Claire Danes) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Alex Gansa: I’d say one of the things that movies can’t do is offer stories like this, and the breadth and scope that they deserve. In other words, in a couple of hours you can’t really tell the complexities and grayness and just the breadth of a story about terrorism.

It can’t be handled effectively in the short time frame of a movie. But over the episodes of a series, you really get a chance to explore and delve into all the different areas of intelligence and terrorism and the issues that are facing the country right now about American projecting its power overseas, about warriors coming home from the battlefield.

You just get a chance to tell a biggest, fuller story.

There are 13 episodes this season, were you hoping for more?

Howard Gordon: Alex and I probably wouldn’t have done it if it had been any more than this number. This is a very intensely, deeply serialized drama. And on a normal broadcast schedule, it’s an impossible task, you wind up vamping, and here I think we find ourselves able to tell a complex story, but one that’s just the right length.

Did you get exhausted doing 24 every year?

Howard: I’m still recovering. Yeah, it was exhausting, but it also was instructive in this particular process.

I know you can’t necessarily control this, but it seems that this is premiering right after the 10th anniversary of 9/11. There’s a pretty significant milestone for this to be coming up. Was it mapped out this way, or did it just happen?

Homeland - Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
Howard Gordon, Executive Producer; and Alex Gansa, Executive Producer © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Howard: It is just a confluence of events. It turns out to be quite fortuitous, as are a number of other things that seem to affect the way this show is going to be viewed.

Osama bin Laden was killed when we were on Episode 2, eerily like the scene of Damian’s rescue. So this sort of collision of the war on terror and the two wars we find ourselves in, is a story that has not been told about what’s the price of 9/11 to this country.

This show is very much in the wake of 9/11, but then years later. This is after Abu Ghraib, after Guantanamo, after the prosecution of two wars of questionable merit. So the timing of it is significant, accidental and fortuitous.

24 was famous for adjusting to what the response was to certain storylines. Did anything in the real world happen while you were in production with this?

Homeland - Damien Lewis
Scott Brody (Damien Lewis) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Howard: Alex and I called each other the moment after Osama bin Laden was killed]. We all said, ‘What does this mean to Homeland?’ Because in a way, this had symbolic significance, it had emotional significance. But how much real geopolitical significance did it have in the this so-called war on terror? So that happened and was a solidifying event.

Alex: But one thing rose above that. 24 existed in a real post-9/11 world, but Jack Bauer was an action hero. In response to that, ten years later, things have become deeper and more complex. And the heart of this show is really psychological, how America is dealing with that ten-year period. And now it’s a post Osama bin Laden world.

We kept watching 24 because we knew there would be a conclusion at the end of that season. We’ve been burned by several other shows that didn’t conclude at the end of the 13 weeks. Will you solve the mysteries of Damian’s character?

Howard: We’ve all discussed it. The first conversation we had with Damian and Claire was how long can we keep the ‘is he or isn’t he; of it alive without feeling like we’re jerking off the audience. And I think we have found a really satisfying way to tell that story where this uncertainty is actually compelling.

The answer is that we hope that we answer those questions at the right time.

The Manchurian Candidate was obviously years ahead of its time in a lot of ways. It’s interesting how this kind of idea seems so contemporary and so current. Was that and inspiration for this?

Homeland - Howard Gordon
Howard Gordon, Executive Producer © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Howard: Alex pointed out this is a different medium than a movie, which is essentially reductive. The idea of The Manchurian Candidate was kind of science fiction. It was at the time of brainwashing , LSD and stuff like that.

We are taking this idea of somebody who might have been turned and exploring it and taking this incredible canvas and taking our time to dramatize that process, such as it is, in its greatest complexity.

It was absolutely a reference point for us, but I think we’ve had the exact right canvas to try to tell that kind of story.

Alex: It was more something that we reacted against the idea of being brainwashed, or the idea of being turned in a magical way. It felt false to us. And the issues that we wanted to explore, without giving anything away, if you are turned, for example, you are not really a terrorist until you commit an act of terrorism.

You come back from the war, from this captivity, hypothetically, and there’s still a lot of questions to resolve in your own mind about whether or not you might go through with what you’ve been asked to do. So that’s where the drama lies.