Damian Lewis: On the thrills and secrets of ‘Homeland’
"You need to keep people on the edge of their seats; you need to keep twisting and turning," says Damian Lewis about his freshman Showtime drama series "Homeland." "One of the appealing things about this show, for people who share our sensibilities, is that each episode feels a little bit like a film, rather than a TV show. And that's because the writers have busted their balls to explore character, explore the psychology of the situation, whilst remaining true to the genre: the thriller genre."
The British actor plays U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a recently rescued prisoner-of-war who might have been turned by his Al Qaeda captors. C.I.A. operations officer Carrie Mathison (Emmy and Globe champ Claire Danes) is on a quest to uncover the truth about Brody. Producer Howard Gordon worked on the Emmy-winning "24," another show about secret missions within the government.
In a video chat with senior editors Chris Beachum and Rob Licuria, Lewis revealed that he was privy to Brody's back story to some extent. "I need to know certain elements, the fundamentals, so that I can plot my character and be credible and not be sculpting him one way only to have the rug taken out from under my seat the next week." He says the show's producers, "are both incredibly collaborative that way; they're not secretive or precious about sharing information."
But Lewis added that he still finds it exciting opening up a new script to see where the show is going, and is eager to know more about how the story will develop. "It's part of the reason I enjoy doing this kind of long-form drama. I enjoy the novelistic aspect of it." He described the Nov 13 episode "The Weekend" as a "watershed" in which Mathison and Brody become romantically involved during a weekend together in the woods where certain truths about the characters are finally revealed to each other.
Regarding the recent twists in the show's ongoing story arc, where his character's motives become a little clearer but also more complicated, Lewis said, "The one thing I have learned is, TV audiences are nothing if not fickle. And they might love you for eight episodes, but if you don't deliver in the final quarter of the season, they feel betrayed very quickly. So we have to see it through."
The "is he or isn't he" dynamic, as well as the complicated relationship between the show's two main protagonists, has attracted an enthusiastic following, garnering stellar reviews and big ratings for pay cabler Showtime. With a Metacritic score of 91, the reviews have been rapturous. James Poniewozik (Time) says, "I can't recommend the series highly enough, particularly for the phenomenal performances by Lewis and Danes." Robert Bianco (USA Today) calls Danes and Lewis "near-flawless" and Linda Stasi (New York Post) thinks, "Showtime's edge-of-your-seat series, is, bar none, the best thriller on American TV."
Lewis, Danes, and supporting players Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin, as well as the show itself, could be contending for awards nominations in the coming weeks when they are announced on Dec. 14 (SAG Awards) and Dec. 15 (Golden Globes) . Lewis had a previous Globe bid in 2002 for his lead role in the miniseries "Band of Brothers."