If you haven’t seen “Homeland,” you’re missing out. The Showtime series is, by many accounts, the most riveting new drama of the fall season, winning critical acclaim and high ratings with its tumultuous tale of a mentally ill CIA agent (Claire Danes) hunting down a former POW (Damian Lewis) who she believes has been “turned” by al Qaeda operatives.
ABCNews.com recently talked with Lewis and co-creators/executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who brought “24? to an end before launching “Homeland.” Check out the full story here, and see more from the conversations below:
ABCNews.com: How did you prepare to play Sgt. Brody?
Lewis: Brody was a very tough character for the guys to write, I think. The idea that this man had been captured in the early days of the Iraq war, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was held prisoner and then released eight years later, I think what they knew was that he would be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder of some kind. And in his search for salvation and some peace and spiritual clam, he had found God but the God he had found was in the form of Allah.
So I did a lot of research, as much as I could, into Islam and I went to the London Central Mosque and spoke with people there who were incredibly welcoming. I learned how to say the prayers.
Alongside that, I was researching post traumatic stress disorder, reading accounts of how people dealt with it day to day. Learning, psychologically, what it means to live with that daily.
And then thirdly, I have played soldiers before, I suppose most obviously in “Band of Brothers,” but the Marines have their own different sets of traditions. I spent time hanging out with one or two guys reallyf or anecdotal evidence and spoke with friends of mine who’ve been at war. I gathered all the information I could and let it assimilate in me, somehow.
ABCNews.com: You got the attention of “Homeland’s” producers by playing a schizophrenic in “Keane,” and now you’re playing another emotionally damaged character. What draws you to roles like this?
Lewis: Most actors will say that the more psychotically complex a character, the more rewarding they are to play. I enjoy the responsibility of playing people with real life psychological complexity. But I don’t know, probably it’s having been sent to boarding school all my life. Emotional control is learned at a very young age in order to cope. It’s reminiscent of being a young soldier in an army. You repress your natural responses. And in that way, boarding school is a great place to train as an actor.
ABCNews.com: What do you think Brody is at this point? Has he been turned or hasn’t he?
Lewis: There really isn’t a simple answer to that. What I would say as a little finale teaser for your readers is that Brody attempts an act that is pretty shocking, but the reasons that he does it, or the reasons he lays plans to do it, are more personal and emotional than viewers might be expecting. It’s incredibly shocking and visual.
But I think the thing to remember about Brody is that as much as he claims not to have been damaged by his time in the hole and as much as it may be unclear at what point he came out of that hole and actually started living a life out in Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan or wherever he’s held — was he a prisoner of war for eight years or was it more like two or three years? Those things are still unclear for the audience.
But whatever’s happened, he’s definitely vulnerable, he’s definitely fragile. This is a man that for the past eight years has just been hanging on. He’s confused by who he is. But I think that he decides that as a solider, he needs to act. It’ll be left up to everyone else to decide whether his actions are acceptable or not.
ALEX GANSA and HOWARD GORDON
ABCNews.com: What has it been like to go from the structure of a network series to premium cable?
Gansa: It has been so liberating on so many levels. The most important one being that you’re not writing to these artificial act breaks every 10 or 12 minutes that we had to do on a network show. The episodes can really have a rhythm all their own. They’re like miniature movies. You’re not constantly wondering, how am I going to get people back after the car commercial?
ABCNews.com: How was “Homeland” received when you were pitching it? Did anyone think it was too controversial?
Gansa: We were never met with that objection. When we were pitching it originally, even though Howard and I always hoped that we’d be able to get this on a paid cable network because we knew we’d have so much freedom, we were obligated to take it around to the networks first. The very first thing we would’ve had to have done if we sold it to Fox or NBC or CBS, we’d have to make it very clear from the beginning that Brody actually had been turned. By having it on cable, we were really able to embrace the ambiguity of him. Was he turned, is he turned, if he is turned, will he go through with it?
ABCNews.com: Has anyone objected to how you portray Muslims or the military?
Gansa: There are always people that are going to object. When we were doing ’24,’ there were people that objected to us portraying any Muslim character as innocent. There were people who felt that was dangerous. There were people who thought that there were too many Muslim characters who were guilty. On this show, I’m sure that there are military families who will object to the fact that we’re portraying one of our own as possibly having been turned. There’s always going to be somebody out there who is unhappy. But our job as writers and filmmakers is to create a character that you understand. If he is a terrorist, you understand why he’s doing it. If he’s not, you understand why he’s suspected of being one.
ABCNews.com: How have your interactions with the CIA been?
Gordon: They’ve been, on the surface, extremely cordial and really helpful. Particularly one CIA contact — she’s an unpaid consultant, somebody I met outside the context of the show, she had dinner with Alex and I, and she sort of became the de facto touchstone. She gave us some pretty good ideas that we ended up using in the show. There are some things about the agency that are not particularly flattering but it reflects our understanding about the reality of that culture and the challenge of that culture.
Gansa: They were willing to allow a sort of open minded look at this place. If there’s one thing you realize when you meet with any of these [CIA] people, it’s how dedicated they are to keeping us safe. They’re obsessed with it.