Julia Roberts, apart from playing herself on Murphy Brown or doing guest shots on Law & Order and Miami Vice, had never acted in a TV series before taking the lead in Amazon’s forthcoming drama Homecoming.
During a TCA panel devoted to the show, a half-hour thriller based on a popular podcast of the same name that is directed by Mr. Robot‘s Sam Esmail, Roberts said the shoot unfolded like a typical film production. As she was making the series, she did not focus on the nature of the platform. “I didn’t think of it as small screen-big screen,” she said, joking, “My television is very big.”
The line drew a big laugh, which Roberts relished. But she also offered more serious thoughts about the experience of making the show, which premieres November 2. “It was a great mental challenge every day,” she said. “That became the fuel: How many pages do we get to do tomorrow?” She added, “The harder the task, the faster we accomplished it. We were also strangely happy all the time.”
The audience saw a clip from the show, which details a social worker’s efforts to help soldiers returning from war (though perhaps, it seems, to nefarious corporate ends). In one continuous take, the scene shows Roberts taking a phone call at her desk, standing up and walking down stairs and through a densely populated office. In a fluid tracking shot, the camera follows her both from afar and overhead, passing over the walls dividing each room. Such explicitly cinematic flourishes, Esmail said, were inspired by films by Hitchcock and Brian De Palma.
Esmail said the cinematography and atmosphere of paranoia borrows from Mr. Robot. Like that show, he said, Homecoming taps into a seemingly bottomless well of feeling about the current era of “corporate greed,” as he put it. “We’re still reeling” from the 2008 financial crisis, he said, notably from the fact that no financial executives wound up criminally prosecuted for the meltdown. “I don’t want to say all corporations are the villains but there is that un-trustworthiness,” he said.
Bobby Cannavale, who stars in the show, along with Dermot Mulroney, Alex Karpovsky and Jeremy Allen White, said he got hooked on the podcast by coincidence during the time he was in production on Mr. Robot. “I was that guy who came in and said, ‘Has anybody heard this podcast?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be doing that.'”
Esmail said he was “obsessed” with the podcast, which was produced by Gimlet Media. “I binged it three times in a row. And then when Julia raised her hand, I thought I’d be silly to say no. This could turn out to be something special.”