When first broadcast in the US this time last year, then earlier this year in the UK, Homeland quickly made a lot of people care an awful lot. Viewers on both sides of the Atlantic lapped up the gripping yarn about American soldier Sgt Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis), returning home to a hero’s welcome after eight years in captivity in the Middle East.
The series offers a definite shift away from what Lewis described earlier this year as, “the immediate response to 9/11, [which] was the more muscular, testosterone-filled 24. Which was [all about] plot. And it was very clearly good and evil.
“We feel a bit differently about the War On Terror now. We’ve gone to war in the name of defending western democracy and our freedoms, but a lot of us don’t like the way in which those wars have been perpetrated, and we feel ambivalent about our governments as a result.”
“Being in this show is a gift,” reflects Mandy Patinkin, the thoughtful Broadway and film veteran who plays Saul Berenson, the CIA Middle-East Division Chief who is agent Carrie Mathison’s mentor and protector. “To have an American hero, a Marine, who converts to Islam… and makes a suicide tape [in which he] blames the Vice-President of the United States for war crimes is extraordinary. Then you have the other point of view, calling him a terrorist and a murderer.”
Patinkin recalls his comments to the show’s creators before they shot the pilot: “If we can show both sides of the argument, by not being left wing or right wing… then we have really got a hit, as far as I’m concerned. I want the conflict of points of view to be a knot that you cannot untie, and I want those questions to be seared on that TV and leave you in a haunted state of: what do we do? And I think Homeland’s asking those questions.”
The original cast are joined by a new agent for this series, played by Englishman Rupert Friend. The star of The Young Victoria reveals that he was a season one “addict” who was cast as a recurring character one week before filming began.
Joining a hit show with Homeland’s critical and commercial momentum, the 31-year-old ruefully acknowledges, brings its own stresses. As the key new cast member, “if the next season’s shit, it’s my fault! So I guess there’s a fair amount of pressure.”
Pity Claire Danes (who plays Mathison), then, surrounded by all these Brit actors, both at work and at home (she's married to English thesp Hugh Dancy). Does she share Patinkin’s view that Homeland is important because, as well as offering good old-fashioned thrills, the show is also blisteringly of-the-moment?
“Definitely. I think this show is unusual in that it’s entertaining and it’s also so immediately relevant to what’s happening in the world. When I first read the pilot I was almost concerned by how relevant it was,” she admits.
“It’s talking about very provocative ideas and conflicts that are still raging and that we haven’t resolved as a culture. And that’s risky. And I didn’t even know if it was exploitative. And I don’t think it is.”
Nonetheless, Danes’ concerns chime with the worry that Lewis’ portrayal of a character like Brody might affect people’s opinion of him, he replies: “I think my wife was more concerned than I was…” he begins, before falteringly elaborating on a potentially contentious moment during filming.
“There was a scene written for this season [that] was very controversial. And it was the one time that we would have been seen doing something overtly provocative because of the imagery. And it involved Islam. So finally at the 11th hour that was withdrawn.” In the light of recent stories involving the defilement of The Koran, and after the world-wide embassy protests against an offensive, American-made, anti-Muslims film, Homeland’s need to walk a balanced line is ever more crucial.