Conflicting motives. Nerve-jangling tension. Narrative u-turns, dead-ends and paradoxes. Goodies who are baddies; baddies who are goodies. That, in a nutshell, is the appeal of Homeland – the best new US drama on television.
And central to this all-American show about all-American heroes and villains is a trio of Brits: Damian Lewis, Eton-educated star of the forsyte Saga; David Harewood, Birmingham-born Rada alumnus; and Rupert Friend, best known for the Young Victoria and the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
“On the whole, Brits find the jingoism of American patriotism quite hard to deal with,” says 31-year-old Friend, who joined the cast as a mysterious cia agent during season two.
“We tend to be less sentimental, less rousing as a nation, but a lot of people I’ve talked to seem to be more interested in the human side of it – is Brody’s marriage going to survive? Why doesn’t he get with Carrie? These questions are as relevant as the ones of national security and politics. That’s maybe why it has a broad appeal – whether you’re interested in it cerebrally or emotionally, there’s something for everyone.”
Right now, of course, British actors are all over American television. Hugh Laurie’s house may have hung up his stethoscope, and The Wire’s Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) has long gone to the great drug-deal in the sky, followed by co-star Dominic West. But Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Jonny Lee Miller (The Walking Dead) and Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy) are going the narrative heavy-lifting in a string of quality US dramas. Harewood – now working in Los Angeles on a new drama, Anatomy of Violence – can offer some insight as to why Brits are nicking all the plum parts.
“A casting director said to me the other day that she finds a lot of the Austrailian and British actors seem very content in their male-ness. Whereas there’s still an idea that American males almost have this femininity – it’s about being pretty, it’s about the look. For the Europeans it’s more about character. And because we’re schooled in the theatre, we come from a position of inside-out – character outwards – as opposed to what we look like and the outside shell.”
“They tend to do a lot of theatre, that’s true,” agress Claire Danes who plays CIA agent Carrie Mathison, of the Brit thesp incomers – and she should know. As well as working with them on Homeland, she’s married to one, Hugh Dancy – who’s just premiered in his own US series, Hannibal. “And typically, they’ve done a lot of the TV movies of the classics,” adds the actress who, like Lewis, has won Emmys and Golden Globes by the wheelbarrow-load for Homeland.
“I’ll ask Hugh, ‘have you read such and such a classic?’, and he’ll reply, ‘Well, I was in it…’ So, yeah, they tend to have that in common.”
But what of the show’s future? Lewis says the creators are of the opinion that “you can’t flog this as a dead horse for ever… it will run its natural course. If that’s only four years, it will only be four years… and there’s no guarantee that my character will be around,” he speculates. That said, “the series could rebirth itself each year by just finding a new threat. So you can go past Brody because the anchor of the show is in the CIA, it’s in the threat to homeland security.”
And yet, that topsy-turvy second season ended with a bang, with half the CIA – including Estes – wiped out. A slate-cleaning, or a shark-jumping?
“It was a bit of a shock,” admits Harewood. “I’m disappointed, obviously, to be out of the show because its such a fantastic premise, and I was working with such fantastic actors. But I feel blessed to have been in Homeland – it’s really kicked off my career here in America and it’s become such a global hit. I get people, all over the world, stopping me in the street saying, ‘Oh, Mr Estes, we hate you…’” For the working actor, there can be no higher compliment.
Your vote counts in this year’s Radio Times Audience Award – but which of the super six is your favourite?
The Olympics Opening Ceremony
Game of Thrones
Call the Midwife
Strictly Come Dancing
The Great British Bake Off
To vote for your favourite, go to radiotimes.com/bafta