Homeland – Claire Danes: “Carrie Mathison is a very amplified version of me”

"There are gifts that come with having bipolar disorder, but it's also incredibly dangerous, and often fatal"

When we last saw Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), she’d been stripped of her job at the CIA and strapped to a trolley about to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. It was her latest attempt to control the bipolar disorder that tormented her daily life.

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As series two of Homeland starts, we find her coming to terms with her new, surgically induced mental equilibrium, and teaching English to Arab students. But soon, Danes says, “She gets a call.” No one concerned with the production wants to reveal too many plot details, but it seems that Mathison becomes the archetypal spy who came in from the cold, and is once again in hot pursuit of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis).

In reality, Danes is pregnant, by her British actor husband Hugh Dancy, and mulling over just what she and her character have in common. “Well, we’re both fake blondes… and we’re both a size four. Um, I can be a little impatient – Carrie’s definitely impatient. I can get very focused in the way that she does. I mean, she’s focused times 40,000!” she laughs, of a woman whose mania makes for a special kind of dedication to the job.

“So, yeah, whatever qualities we may share, she’s a very amplified version of me. I’m not obsessive to the detriment of my life.”

In the new series, Mathison’s “pitch and that sense of hyper-vigilance” are, post-ECT, levelled off. But the response Danes has received from bipolar sufferers has been “mostly positive. I don’t think there are many representations of it in pop culture. And I think any kind of exposure and illumination is valuable. So I was very grateful and relieved. I took that job seriously, because I care about it.”

Accordingly, the actress is quick to acknowledge her ongoing responsibility. “The more I learnt about the disorder, or the condition,” she says, “the more respect I had for the illness and the people who grapple with it. It’s deep, and it affects a lot of people, and I really didn’t want to render it in a dishonest way. I didn’t really want to comment on it; I didn’t want to judge it as good or bad. I just wanted to share my impression of it.

“I don’t think it can be dismissed simply as a horrible thing,” Danes continues, “because there’s value in it too; there are gifts that come with it. But it’s also incredibly dangerous, and often fatal. There’s a higher suicide rate among people with that particular mental disorder than any other. So, yeah, it’s no joke,” she laughs, just. “I admire people I’ve met who know it intimately, and their efforts to figure it out and make life work.”

Meanwhile, what of her own “condition” – how does Homeland season two incorporate Danes’s pregnancy into the narrative? “We don’t”, she replies firmly. Her bump hasn’t impacted on her daily work. “It’s fine. I’m not drinking so much coffee,” she shrugs, “but it’s fine,” she repeats.

A brilliant CIA agent who’s mentally imbalanced and hormonally turbulent? Maybe Homeland can save that for season three.


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Season two of Homeland begins tonight at 9:00pm on Channel 4