Just as Nicholas Brody received a hero’s welcome upon being rescued from captivity in Afghanistan, Damian Lewis of Showtime’s Homeland has been met with plaudits for his riveting portrayal of the conflicted Marine sergeant, husband, father and… would-be terrorist. Lewis – going for his first Emmy nomination this year, having previously been nominated for the 2012 Golden Globes for playing Brody on this series and in 2002 for his role in HBO’s Band of Brothers – reveals how he makes the potentially reprehensible relatable.
TVLINE | You had to play a character who for much of Season 1 needed to keep us guessing about his agenda. How much did the producers share with you up front?
They gave me a pretty good outline, but what wasn’t explicit from the outset was whether Brody was actually going to try and do something. They never said, “This guy is a terrorist and he will act in a devastating way.”
TVLINE | Actors can get caught up in the idea of playing a likeable character – certainly not an American-bred terrorist. How’d you get past any such concerns?
It was a crackling script. Also, I don’t mind playing unlikeable roles; I’ve done it before. One of the things you should seek to achieve as an actor is that your character is understood somehow. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “You’re a guy who is going to blow up the vice president, you’re lying to your wife and you just generally scare the hell out of us, because you are unpredictable and unknown — and yet we oddly kind of liked you.” If people like what they find, that’s their choice. Some people will still choose to not like you, and that’s fine. But I had one contention: Is there a way of finding in Islam a force for good, a nurturing thing in his life? Plenty of people think that if you’re a Muslim you want to blow people up, which is nonsense, and to pander to that would be irresponsible. We were at great pains to find motivations for him, and they successfully did that.
TVLINE | Ultimately it’s your job to sell us on the fact that Brody believes what he believes.
Exactly. In the 17th century, when actors were given a play, “the argument” was the word for the script – and I approach characters like that. I put forward my side of the argument.
TVLINE | Is there a scene that stands out for you as being particularly difficult?
The interrogation between myself and Claire Danes’ character [CIA officer Carrie Mathison], when I was first brought in [to Langley], is nuanced and carefully colored because the audience doesn’t know how much Brody is hiding. At that point, I had fundamentals available to me – yes, he had been brutalized and tortured physically and mentally, and yes, at some point in captivity he settled into a life that he made peace with – but there were details of his relationship with [Al Qaeda commander] Abu Nazir that I wasn’t fully clear about, so I had to set out my stalls and make choices. Yet I couldn’t just not make any choices, because it would be nebulous and dull.
Read the full interview at TVLine.