‘Homeland’ star: Even Obama is fan of the show

Jeff Oon
Singapore Showbiz

Britain's Damian Lewis wins Best Actor for a TV Drama during the recent 64th Emmy Awards. (Getty Images)

It's the show that's got everyone talking.

Having recently swept top honours at the recent Emmy Awards, winning Best Drama, Actor, Actress and Best Screenplay, Season 2 of American TV drama series 'Homeland' is back.

The tense, psychological counter-terrorism drama follows the tale of Sgt Nicholas Brody, a returning prisoner of war who was turned during his years of torture and captivity by al-Qaeda.

His gripping portrayal of an ex-soldier in conflict with himself and his country, along with that of CIA officer Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) who herself suffers from bipolar disorder, have got critics and fans alike raving.

Season 2 of the series starts six months after the end of last season's finale with Brody elected as a congressman for the state of Virginia, a Manchurian Candidate rising through the ranks.

During a recent break in filming, Lewis takes a break from a heavy day's schedule to talk about season 2 and his meeting with the show's highest profile fan, President Obama.

Q: Can you describe in your own words, your character, Brody? He's very complex.

Damian Lewis:  Nicholas Brody is a blue collar working man from Virginia, originally, who falls in love with his childhood sweetheart, Jessica, who is five or six years younger than him. He probably falls in love with her while she's still coming out of high school and he's a 21, 22-year-old young man who thinks he's going to have a very happy, normal suburban life, two kids and dog.

Maybe join the swimming pool club if his business goes well enough. He probably has a small construction business. He's probably smart enough to be running a business rather than just being a labourer. That's really who they are. And 9/11 happens and he decides to join up, he enlists in the Army.

He is appalled by what happens and he thinks, like a lot of young, idealistic men did, they joined up thinking they were going to go and put it all right. And within six months of being in Iraq he's kidnapped; him and his sniper partner — sniper teams work in pairs — and he and this character called Tom Walker are captured and transferred to Syria and finally discovered in Afghanistan, eight years later, by Delta Force, by some special troops.

He's returned to the US a hero, a man who withstood psychological and physical torture, as a symbol of everything that is great about America and Western freedom. And there's this one woman, Carrie Mathison, being played by Claire Danes, who works at the CIA, who just believes he might be something else. Then you're into the season.

Q: Brody has PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Carrie is bipolar. You've described them as "two broken winged birds, always drawn to each other." How do they connect in Season 2?

DL: It is something of a reconnection, actually, but I wonder how much I should say. I just don't think we should go there. Let's put it this way, Carrie and Brody will always be drawn to one another because there's a, frankly, unhealthy co-dependency there between two people who suffer from conditions.

She has a volatile temperament which becomes clearer what that is as the (first) season goes on and he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and whatever hidden agenda he may have, what she thinks he may have, the reality of returning from a war zone, reintegrating with one's family, doing normal things like going to do the grocery shopping on Saturday morning is incredibly tough for him. He still has to re-enter, if you like, and strike up a relationship with an estranged wife who has been used to being a single mum; two small children who are used to being orphaned, effectively.

There are other — I say "other handsome men" (laughs), there are handsome men floating around, other soldiers, who are keen to take care of her — that's a temptation. And based in truth and fact in what goes on... as Michelle Obama used to say a lot when she first came into the White House, these wars are fought by entire families. That's the point — they are not just fought by the soldiers out there. Everybody suffers. There's no real education for the families back here in what they have to go through, how they can adjust and adapt to a returning stranger. Not least of all, physical intimacy — how do you make love to your husband again, who you haven't seen for eight years. That's hard.

Q: This is not your first time playing an American soldier...

DL: No, it's my second time playing an American soldier. Band of Brothers was the first time I played an American. I don't think there's any great connection in the fact that these two are American soldiers, between Band of Brothers and this. They are two very different things.

It's sort of incidental that Brody is a soldier in this. What's more important is a man's disintegration and uncertainty about his place in the world and the way in which an experience has changed him and has changed the way he views the world around him. Whereas, obviously, (Band of Brothers') Dick Winters was a man defined by his actions in the field of combat, much more than by what he said, actually.

'Homeland' stars Claire Danes and Damian Lewis take top acting honours at the recent Emmys. (Getty Images)

Q: Were there any concerns in being part of a post 9/11 series, when it's still very raw?

DL: I think my wife was more concerned than I was. She was worried that... there was a scene written for this season, I'm not going to tell you what it was, but it was very controversial. Very controversial. It was the one time when we would have been seen doing something overtly provocative because of the imagery. And it involved Islam. Finally, at the eleventh hour that was withdrawn.

So, I think the point of this show is not to be shocking for shock value's sake. I think it's actually a very liberal view of involvement in Iraq and then, latterly, Afghanistan. It's anti-war, I think, in the way it sets itself up, and yet it uses the conventional Republican machinery of the CIA, of covert American espionage, infiltrating at every level; a culture of secrecy, a culture of lies and duplicity, which is the spy world. And it (at) least proposes that it's these people who can protect from the "bad guy". And the "bad guy" is certainly a radicalised jihadist, yes, there is a Muslim bad guy in this show but there's also, which emerges later, a Vice President who behaves, perhaps, unethically and posits the idea that nation states and governments can commit terrorist acts too.

So, I think it's pretty balanced and certainly when I took the role I was very clear — of course, I was dying to take it because they'd called me up and I'd read it and I said, "Holy crap!", all the people involved, Claire (Danes) and Mandy (Patinkin) were already on board and I knew about Howard (Gordon) and Alex (Gansa), their history with 24 and so, of course, everything was adding up. I was trying to find reasons to say no and I did make very clear early on that if Brody was going to be... if there were going to be easy parallels drawn between Islam and violence I wouldn't do it.

Q: Can you talk about your visit to the White House? What did you discuss with President Obama, who is a fan of the show?

DL: I asked him and Mr Cameron (David Cameron, British Prime Minister) when they had time to watch TV, because weren't they supposed to be running the free world? (laughs)

And he turned to David Cameron and he said, (American accent), "Have you seen the show?"

And Cameron said, (does a posh English accent), "Well, we're only on episode 2, at home, but Sam (Cameron, his wife), did get it on-demand (catch-up TV in UK) while we were changing into our black tie for dinner. So as I was changing I saw the first episode. Very good, well done," he said.

And I said to the president, "When do you watch?" and he said, "Well, Michelle takes the girls out to play tennis on a Saturday afternoon. I pretend I'm gonna go work in the Oval Office and I turn on the TV and I watch Homeland." So, Saturday afternoon is his slot.

Q: So how does it feel to be part of the most influential show on TV?
DL: Well, obviously, after I shared my economic policy ideas (laughter) with them, now of course we are influencing policy directly in the White House!

Episodes 1 and 2 of Homeland Season 2 premieres on Sunday 14 Oct, 10pm on FOX Movies Premium (StarHub TV Ch. 622 / 662 HD, Mio TV Ch. 414 HD). New episodes premiere on subsequent Sundays from 10.50pm