An awards magnet for Showtime over the course of its six seasons, Homeland has netted the premium cabler four Golden Globes and six Emmys, always with a finger on the pulse of current world events—a fact that the series’ stars, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, don’t take for granted.
In the midst of production on Season 6, Donald Trump was elected President, leaving the series’ writers to re-examine their position, and ultimately bringing out themes that became much more immediate and clear. Part of what Danes and Patinkin appreciate about Homeland—and the medium of television, in general—is the opportunity to improvise, even within the context of a scripted series, providing a mirror to contemplate present predicaments, in a world spinning forward at a rapid rate toward an uncertain conclusion.
Speaking with Deadline, the pair of actors discuss the additional resonance Homeland has taken on post-Trump, and their hopes for the series as it heads into its final two seasons.
What were your first impressions when you read the scripts for Season 6?
Claire Danes: It’s interesting, because the writers started trying to anticipate what the outcome would be on Election Day, and what fate would be determined. They did an extraordinary job of creating a format that would sustain us throughout this period. We were waiting, and at the midway point [of production], Trump was elected, and suddenly, the themes became very clear, and they pursued that. I think the season just collected momentum and strength as it went along. I marvel at their ability to surf these phenomena as they’re occurring, almost in real time.
I imagine a good deal of the arc must have been outlined before you began shooting the season.
Danes: Yeah, they have a pretty sound sense of how we’re going to start, but invariably, they get outpaced by filming, and they end up writing as we film. It’s a high wire act.
Mandy Patinkin: They stay fairly flexible, and it is fluid. They certainly have a clear structure, where Claire would be working, the nature of her job, and defending this young man, and what would happen to the young man. But then, as the world around us changed very quickly, they went with the world, not with previous conceptions…
Danes: …Adapted to that tack.
Patinkin: Yeah. I like that way of not having everything in front of us.
Danes: I think it distinguishes television from every other medium. It’s what makes it kind of radical, and risky, and fun.
Patinkin: It’s not improvisational comedy theater, but it is improvisation. We might get a call that morning, while we’re doing something, and the change goes in that is something that just happened an hour ago, in the world.
For you, what extra resonance does Homeland—and Season 6, in particular—take on, in light of the election results?
Danes: This idea of fake news, and efforts to influence popular opinion through these bots, all of that became a lot more relevant after Trump was named President. We knew always that the season would take place during this transitional period where the President was elected, so we had to decide who our President would be. They did a great job in creating a character that was malleable enough to reflect whomever would have been elected. She’s female, but she had a lot of qualities that were Trumpian, or…
Patinkin: Bernie Sanders. A combination of the three.
Danes: It’s interesting, because she becomes quite isolated, and starts making authoritative decisions, and not involving her cabinet. There are some parallels to Trump, but she arrived there for very different reasons.
Patinkin: I think a character came to the forefront that wiped all the rest of the characters away, and that was the character of truth. This system that Claire is talking about—the bots, the sock puppets—became so current, and so horrifying.
I got a call from a friend that said this was his favorite season to date. He’s watched them all, he’s very critical. He said, “This one wasn’t even close to the truth; it was beyond the truth. It was just terrifyingly accurate.”
I wish we had to stretch further for material than we had to stretch this season. We were overwhelmed with frightening choices in the real world to choose from. I think the genius of this season is this man who represents fake news, and the system that Max finds his way into, with Carrie’s guidance.
Our team, they don’t screw around. They really research sh*t. This isn’t made up.
Do you continue to look to actual CIA operatives for research purposes, at this point in the series?
Danes: Yeah. We work with one man in particular, who curates the four-day process, and Alex [Gansa] gives him a sense of the general themes he’s curious about. He does a pretty astonishing job of introducing us to a wide-ranging group of people, a lot of whom have very opposing views to one another. They’re all in the same waiting area, and some times, it can get a little tense. It’s incredibly illuminating, and stirring, and unnerving.
Patinkin: Claire and I have walked out of there and we’re looking at each other just wide-eyed like, that was more information than we needed to hear—even as diligent actors, trying to do their proper research. It was overwhelming.
Carrie and Saul again find themselves in difficult situations this season, which are challenging on both a professional and personal level. How do you balance those aspects of these characters?
Danes: It’s always pretty dark. It’s not a farce, this is Homeland. I think Carrie, the last couple of seasons, has made earnest, noble efforts to become kind of a normal citizen, and have a sane, healthy, coherent personal life. For various reasons, she realizes that’s not her destiny.
Last season, she believed that bipolarity would not be keeping her from having a healthy personal life, and she realizes this season, “Oh, no, it’s not that; it’s not my bipolar condition. It’s just that I happen to have this kind of superpower, and an outsized calling.”
Throughout six seasons, we’ve been trying to understand what it’s like to be a civil servant of this kind, and the cost involved, and it’s big. A lot of these people make profound sacrifices, and are very isolated and estranged from the people they love. That’s a reality.
Patinkin: Their character is being tested vigorously often, particularly this season. Carrie, on the surface, wants to be a good mother, and be there for her child, but she has this gift, this sixth sense, this ability that Saul recognized the minute he met her, and saw that if there was a hope for after his lifetime, it would be this person.
In spite of the friction that goes on between them, and the tense moments at times, when he sees clearly, he knows that the gift of his life is this character, Carrie Mathison. He makes one mistake—probably the greatest mistake that he made in six years of the series—which is to think of himself first this time, when he was being thrown under the bus, and protect himself.
All great men usually are awakened by the great women in their lives. No matter what friction is there, if that relationship was there, that usually is their best friend, at the end of the day. That wife said, “That’s never who you were; why should you give a sh*t about being humiliated? That never mattered to you before.”
He wakes up, and realizes that his life isn’t what matters—it’s all the vulnerable people out there in the world that are being so deeply affected by the various crises of the moment.
With two seasons of Homeland still ahead, what is it like for you to see the end coming?
Patinkin: Get back to us in two years. [laughs]
Danes: Yeah, I still feel very deeply immersed in it, and there’s a lot more tarmac ahead of us. It’s amazing that the show is able to reimagine itself every season, and we have this history that we can draw from creatively, and that we’re so fluent in each other’s language. That’s such a privilege, and we work very efficiently because of that now.
But there are so many new themes and locations, and characters at play that we remain stimulated and engaged, and challenged. It’s a wonderful combination of continuity and intimacy.
Are there places you’d like to see your characters reach as the series winds down?
Danes: Carrie’s been on the periphery for a while now, and opted out of the intelligence game, and I think she’s ready to re-enter it, and re-engage—put her spy back on. I look forward to that, because she’s excellent at what she does, and it’s really enjoyable to play that.
Patinkin: There are a couple of things I’m hoping for, and certainly will chat with Alex and campaign, to some degree, for. One, I think will happen because it has to happen, which is what became such a focal point of this season—attention to the truth, and facts. Real facts—not false information, not bots, not sock puppets, but truth, which has become an essential debate and concern all over the world.
Arthur Miller said one of my favorite lines ever, that he had the mother say to her two sons about a very unstable father in Death of a Salesman. She said, “Attention must be paid.” It’s one of the most resonant lines that I think he ever wrote, and I think attention must be paid to the truth.
There are two other areas that are personally deeply important to me, that I hope the show can attend to in some way—one, being the refugee crisis. These are the most vulnerable people among us in the world. There are over 60 million refugees displaced by war, over 21 million that go to a third country. Right now, there are 60,000 refugees in Greece, 7,900 in Serbia. The numbers are climbing, and there are no legal options for these people.
These are the victims of the real world’s crises that the Homeland world reflects on, and almost takes a Polaroid of these days, versus a fictional tale of it. It’s pretty much, this season particularly, just a dead-on photograph.
I hope that something can be done in our piece that reflects on the attention that needs to be paid to the most vulnerable people in the world right now, that have to not be politicized, but saved, literally.
I hope that there is a continuing attention, in the fictional way, to a place we have paid attention to, visited, filmed in, and incorporated into the story over the six years, which is Israel, and the Palestinian crisis, because for me, it’s the epicenter of the world crisis. If we can somehow, in a fictional world even, lay out a possibility of change—of what is not sustainable at this moment, and what might be, in our story…
I don’t have the hubris to think that we’re going to solve the world’s problems, but we have the attention of some people in the world, and maybe—on purpose, or even by accident—something will come out in our story, or our playing, or the way we listen to each other, that might strike a note with somebody who hasn’t been listening, to give hope and optimism to some of the most horrible, fragile, ongoing, unsustainable realities in the world we’re living in.
One of the most extraordinary things is to have a platform that this show has given us, to just answer that question. That’s an unbelievable gift that you don’t get every day.