Initially intended as a smaller role, Rupert Friend has made Homeland’s assassin with-a-heart Peter Quinn into one of the show’s main attractions. Making his first appearance in season 2, Quinn’s job was then to eradicate the threat of terrorist traitor Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis), and it seemed with the end of Brody’s life in season 3, Quinn might fade away. However, by season 4 he had become a major player, exploring a will they/ won’t they with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). Homeland was Friend’s first foray into television, coming from film roles likeThe Young Victoria and Pride and Prejudice, a challenge he describes as, “a very sharp learning curve, really, because I realized I didn’t know anything.” Season 5 is of course very much under wraps, with Friend still in the dark. “We’re not given a season outline or anything,” he says. “It’s done very much blow-by-blow.”

In the beginning Quinn was a more minor character–how has it felt for you to see him evolve?

It’s been a very spontaneous sort of a journey, really. When I first read for the role I had one scene, and didn’t get any more information than that until I had moved to North Carolina. When I landed, having uprooted myself and home, I phoned them and was just like, “guys, should I be getting a flat? Should I buy a car, or rent one? Are we here for a week or a year?” Nobody would say. It was very clandestine, actually. Very true to the show in many ways. They were very, kind of like, “Oh, you’ll get used to it.” I’d never done television before. In movies you’re handed a script and that’s the whole script. That’s what you’re shooting. It will change a little bit, but really that’s what you’re going to do, and we are given next to nothing. So it was better to just remember that I didn’t know anything and try to roll with the punches.

Did you worry about your role when Brody was killed off? Were you reassured as a cast that the show would go on?

I don’t know how any other show is made, but there’s so much to this show that’s kept secret for whatever reason from audiences, and frankly also from us. It’s not as if there is a consultation period, really. Their thought processes, I’m not privy to, unfortunately. If I were to hazard a guess, they wanted to do a reboot of everything and rejig the whole concept of the show away from a kind of will they/won’t they Carrie/Brody thing and back into an espionage thriller, and focus on spy craft, which they now seem to be doing pretty much each season really. Certainly this one we’re filming now is very much a do-over, again.

About that they/won’t they: how do you feel about Quinn and Carrie’s thwarted romance at the end of last season?

I think it was very interesting to see this so-called tough guy–who we’ve seen be violent, and who has deep anger management issues and is very thick-skinned in many ways– open himself in any way to anybody, even the tiniest bit, and be even mildly rejected. I mean, for you or I, if somebody just didn’t return a phone call, I don’t think you’d send yourself off to war. To me that spoke volumes because really this is not someone who is used to or prepared to repeat any demonstration of intimacy or vulnerability if the outcome is not 100 per cent the way he wished it would be, and that betrayed this huge amount to me impartially. You know, outside of having to play him, just as a reader of the script.

Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn in Homeland
“There’s so much to this show that’s kept secret for whatever reason from audiences, and frankly also from us,” says Friend of working on Homeland.
Photograph by David Bloomer

What was a particular challenge of playing Quinn?

Getting inside the head of somebody who has a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve never been to war, and I would never presume to fully understand the horrors that that kind of experience can impart. So even beginning to delve into imagining just how scarred and raw somebody’s guts would be, not physically, but emotionally.

Fresh out of drama school your first job was with John Malkovich and Johnny Depp on The Libertine–how was that experience?

It was the most exciting kind of golden ticket you can find in a chocolate bar, if you know Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My school, Webber Douglas, and most English schools, don’t focus on screen acting at all. We did one afternoon, I think, over that entire period. I’d never seen a film camera before. I had no idea about continuity, or turnaround, or any of these things. They were all new, and I like new things. To me, it was a big adventure, but it was also a big academy. Not least because most of my scenes were with these brilliant actors, John and Johnny, and also Samantha Morton.

You’ve got Hitman: Agent 47 coming out later this year–another assassin role.

I’m always interested in what we’re not being shown. So if you’re playing ostensibly a quote-unquote ‘baddie,’ what are their good sides, and vice versa. So to take somebody who is on the surface perfect, a perfect killing machine, who always completes his contract and then try to consider what might be the human traits in somebody like that–that intrigued me.

Is there a favorite scene in Homeland?

Well, I’ve only seen the first season. I used to like it when Saul lay on his rug. I always thought that was a very human and real response. We never see people going to the toilet or eating on television and I’m always interested in those human moments, for all of us, behind closed doors. That was a wonderful moment that told me everything without any words, and I like those.