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Inside Homeland

The epic TV show has already won awards, and promises to keep everyone on the edge of their seats in the second season this fall
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

(continued from page 2)

The show was inspired by “Prisoners of War,” a hit dramatic series from Israel about a pair of Israeli soldiers who return home after 17 years in captivity. But the Israeli series was strictly about the soldiers adjusting to their return home and the stress it placed on families they hadn’t seen in almost two decades. There was no terrorist-hunter like Carrie Mathison, no suspicions about the returnees’ loyalties, no terrorism subplot at all.

“We owe a great debt to that show,” Gansa says. “But ours is very different in terms of the facts of the story, because it’s set in America. In Israel, it was more of a family drama. The American version is a thriller.”

Chip Johannessen, an executive producer and writer for the show, says, “The Israeli version is the story of returning prisoners of war and there’s a love triangle. Here, the whole plot is, ‘Is he a terrorist?’ ”

“I loved the changes in direction that Alex and Howard brought to it,” says Gideon Raff, “Homeland” executive producer who created “Prisoners of War” for Israeli TV (where both shows are popular hits). “This show was similar enough to be familiar but different enough to be fresh.”

One key to the success of “Homeland” was its casting: the fiery, diminutive Danes as Carrie; the preternaturally calm, icy-eyed Lewis as Brody; the inwardly seething Patinkin as the mentor who alternately follows Carrie’s hunches and doubts them.

“The thing that attracted me to the character was the same thing that made me wary of her,” Danes says. “When I was discussing the pilot with my agent, she said, ‘You’ll have a lot to do.’ And that’s an understatement. Carrie is under great duress. That complexity is very attractive to an actor—but also very demanding. She’s so bold. She’s not fearless, but she’s very impulsive and decisive; she’s preternaturally intelligent. But she’s jangly—and maintaining that emotional pitch is challenging.”

Ironically, Lewis had just starred in a short-lived NBC series, “Life,” in which he played a Los Angeles cop, released from prison after being wrongfully incarcerated for several years, when he was offered the chance to play the just-freed Nicholas Brody.

“I enjoyed ‘Life’ so much—the level of the writing was so high—that it was a joy to play,” Lewis says. “And I thought, ‘Well, there will never be another role like that.’ Don Draper (of “Mad Men”) is taken. ‘The Wire’ is finished. But arguably, ‘Homeland’ is the new ‘Wire.’ I’m unbelievably lucky. When you see what’s on TV, having these two roles come my way is unbelievable.”

Patinkin relished the chance to be part of a show that deals with the issues that “Homeland” raises: “It’s extraordinary to be contemplating the kinds of questions this show does,” he says. “Those kinds of questions—about who are the terrorists, about who’s responsible for what was, is and will be—are rarely asked in life, let alone by the entertainment media. When I read the pilot and then met with Alex and Howard, their care for the world at large came through in that script. I think Claire said it best when she told me, ‘I could imagine having a seven-year discussion with Alex and Howard.’ ”

Actually getting network approval to cast their lead actors of choice was a different story. The producers had to fight for Danes (who had just won an Emmy for her performance in the HBO film Temple Grandin) for the role of Carrie.

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