Bringing the fight back home
THE premise is intriguing. A United States marine, missing in action for eight years and presumed dead, is rescued from a terrorist compound. He has been held hostage by al-Qaeda for all that time.
Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody returns to the US initially as a hero. Yet it quickly becomes clear life has changed. His wife has been sleeping with his best friend; his children barely know him; and a CIA operations officer is convinced he has returned home converted to the ways of al-Qaeda.Damian Lewis, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin in Homeland.
Based on Israeli show Hatufim, the riveting Homeland is comfortably the year’s best-credentialled new American series.
The returning soldier is played by British actor Damian Lewis; the CIA officer so obsessed by him that she fills his home with Big Brother-style cameras to monitor his activities by Claire Danes; and her mentor by veteran actor Mandy Patinkin.
Claire Danes plays a CIA officer obsessed that her target has become a traitor to the US.
For the London-based Lewis, Homeland marks a return to American television after the demise of Life, a critically adored but ratings-challenged cop show set in Los Angeles.
Although it made it to a second season, Life was criminally underrated by viewers. The show focused on Charlie Crews, an LA detective framed for his friend’s family’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was released after 12 years and set about finding who entrapped him.
At the time, it stood out in the American network landscape. It was smart, thoughtful, well-written and looked terrific, capturing a side of LA rarely portrayed on TV.
Lewis describes the show as something of a bittersweet experience. ”I’m very sad Life wasn’t a big hit,” he says. ”But it was undone by politics at NBC. It was intense. I moved my wife and we had two children back to back. So working those hours and living abroad in LA was a handful. But it was a great experience. I keep bumping into people who say they loved it and refer to it being an unusual, quirky and slightly more sophisticated cop show.”
After Life was cancelled, Lewis returned to England and reassessed his work-life balance.
”It’s not a good quality of life working on a TV show 75 hours a week, even though the work is hugely satisfying and [financially] rewarding,” he says. ”If I didn’t have to work in the relentless network TV schedule again, I wouldn’t.”
Yet here he is sitting in a trailer in North Carolina, a long way from home. There was, he insists, a caveat to his previous declaration.
He contends that if something exceptional was offered in cable television, he would be tempted.
When Homeland was gestating, however, he had settled back in London and was starring in the West End with Keira Knightley.
But when Lewis read the Homeland scripts, the quality of the story stood out. ”I couldn’t say no,” he says.
There was a bonus; Homeland’s producers had worked on landmark series 24, tied first to the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and, by the end of its run, the Republican Party.
”We’ve been in shock for a lot of the years since 9/11,” Lewis says. ”Now we live in a different place, a more fractured world with greater uncertainty.”
The series 24 was a high-octane, plot-driven drama about a man trying to stop another act of terrorism within 24 hours. It tapped into an idea that the people over there were evil and we had to stop them.
Homeland examines the scenario of an American soldier who’s initially committed to defending the US and the West’s freedoms but who may have been convinced to change his opinion about right and wrong.
The notion of the series will be challenging and therefore provocative for some. But, Lewis believes, it’s indicative of where we are now. Asked if he was concerned the show would have a similar slant, Lewis is firm. ”24 had to withstand accusations of being right-wing but Homeland is a far more liberal show.”
Screened here on Channel Ten, it is very much an adult drama and includes coarse language, violence and nudity. Its worth is undoubted but it remains a risk for the network, and while Homeland has created a buzz in the US, cable dramas are rarely big ratings winners here.
When it came to preparing for his role, Lewis immersed himself in research.
He read the Koran first, often leaving it by his bed to read periodically. He also visited a mosque in central London and developed a relationship with an imam in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Homeland is filmed.
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