British actor Damian Lewis took home this year for Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama for his portrayal of Nicholas Brody, American war hero turned secret terrorist in Season 1 of Showtime’s HOMELAND. The show also won five other Emmys, including Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Actress for Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, the CIA agent who is onto Brody – but also carries a torch for him.
In HOMELAND Season 2, now airing on Showtime Sundays at 10 PM, things have gotten even more intense. Brody is now a U.S. congressman, being groomed for higher office by U.S. Vice-President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan), who knows nothing of Brody’s secret life. However, Carrie’s suspicions of Brody have now been vindicated and the already conflicted Brody is being forced to work as a CIA informant – which the terrorist network has now realized.
Lewis, who’s also known for starring in the series LIFE, playing a WWII American soldier in BAND OF BROTHERS and essaying one of the leads in the remake of THE FORSYTHE SAGA, talks to a group of journalists about where Brody’s been, where he may be going and where Lewis himself has come from.
One of the plot tenets of HOMELAND is that Vice-President Walden is entirely gung-ho about running for president with Brody as his running mate.
“The trajectory is very believable and I think [the vice-president] is just dying to believe that Brody is this war hero and basically he’ll ride all the way to the White House on the back of Brody in the way McCain tried to do Palin, which was not a good choice,” Lewis laughs. “Were [Walden] to know that man [that Brody really is], he might think twice.”
HOMELAND show runners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, in adapting the Israeli series HATUFIM for American cable television, are very open with the cast, Lewis notes.
“They are unbelievably, probably to a fault, generous with collaborative information,” says Lewis. “So I knew quite a lot. There was one outstanding question, which was, if Brody was going to act, how was he going to act? And they came up to me midseason and said, ‘Do you know you are going to strap on a vest and you are going to blow yourself up?’ And I said, ‘Really? Wait a second. I thought we’d been trying very hard to tell the story that he hadn’t been successfully radicalized and created into a jihadist.’ And that seemed to undo all of that. But ultimately, it didn’t.”
Gordan and Gansa decided to keep Brody around, which resulted in the character donning the explosive vest but ultimately deciding against detonating it.
”It was a big political symbolic statement, Brody doing that,” Lewis observes. “It was a stroke of genius , but that was the final and biggest surprise for me last season, when that emerged.”
Given what we know about Brody now, has Lewis changed the way he plays the character at all this season?
Lewis replies, “Brody made a mission statement at the end of the first season saying he wanted a nonviolent political subversion of American policy,” says Lewis. ” [At the start of Season 2], he would like to think he’s in control of his own destiny. He absolutely [isn’t] and … will live in a state of heightened anxiety and paranoia and uncertainty, whereas in the first season, he was a man just trying to reenter civilian life. There was a degree of damage which elicited some sympathy from the audience, but at the same time, he was also the menace. So people were terrified of him. He’s more knowingly juggling balls this season, but essentially he’s everybody’s bitch. He’s pretty f*cked,” Lewis adds with a laugh.
Secondary school, the English equivalent of junior high and high school, is where Lewis first became enthusiastic about acting and music, he relates.
“My delightful parents, in their wisdom, who were war babies themselves, Second World War babies, thought boarding school was a good idea,” he says. “So I was packed away at the age of eight and was at boarding school for ten years. At that time, there was a guy called Mr. Woodgate, who used to run the little choir that I was part of, and he was very cool, because he introduced me to the Beatles at the age of eleven, because he used to write orchestrations for Beatles songs and then, as the choir, we would sing them. And so that was a lot of fun. I was in a school where we performed musicals every summer, so it was kind of always there in my life. He was an interesting teacher.”
Did Lewis play any military roles while at school? The actor laughs again. “I just answered that, because I spent ten years at boarding school and it’s a little bit like being in barracks,” he adds.
Perhaps HOMELAND’s most famous fan is President Barack Obama, who invited Lewis to a social function at the White House.
“It was as much a shock to me personally as it was, presumably, to everyone else in this room that I was on that invitation list,” says Lewis. “It was a British state visit to see the President, who happened to have this [HOMELAND] as his favorite show on TV at the time, and I’m a Brit playing an American part, and I ticked a lot of boxes [fit a lot of the criteria for the invitation list]. So it was fantastic talking to him about it. I did ask him and [British Prime Minister] David Cameron, ‘When do you guys get to watch TV? Aren’t you supposed to be running the free world together? And because I hear, Mr. President, that you really like the show.’ He said, ‘Yes, Saturday afternoons, Michelle and the two girls, they go play tennis. I go into the Oval Office, I pretend I’m going to work and I watch HOMELAND.’”
One viewer had a reaction that wasn’t nearly so pleasant, Lewis relates.
“There was one slightly hairy moment in Charlotte, North Carolina [where HOMELAND is filmed] quite early on in the season,” Lewis explains. “Actually, it was happening in my building [where Lewis was renting for the duration of the shoot]. It was up near the pool. There was a barbeque going on and there were a bunch of Southern boys there, drinking beer, eating fried chicken, eating steak. [One man] came up to me and he said [Lewis briefly adopts a Southern accent] ’So, you’re playing a terrorist?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know. Maybe. I actually don’t know yet.’ And he said, ‘It’s going to piss off a lot of people.’ He looked at me in the eye, slightly drunk, blurry-eyed, and I thought, I’m about to get my head pulverized and no one will find me. But that was it.”
What was Lewis’ reaction to finding out Brody wasn’t going to blow himself up after all? And why, as an actor, does he think Brody elected to live?
“It was just love of self, it was very simple,” Lewis jokes. Then he gives a more serious answer. “Was I relieved that he didn’t blow himself up? In terms of surviving and being around these lovely people [the HOMELAND cast, writers and producers] for another season, it was an enormous relief. But I think an ongoing battle for the writers is how you write the best possible season and how do you nurture the series as a whole. And I think there are endings to seasons which may seem more devastating, but you could equally lose half your cast. So how do you keep the two things going at once? I like to think they came up with, I hope you’ll all agree, something that was devastating emotionally, but where we survived. And I think they’re going to have the same dilemma this season, and we’ll see how it goes. We’re all waiting to see.”
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