‘Relieved, proud and grieving’: Claire Danes on wrapping up 8 seasons of ‘Homeland’
Claire Danes has portrayed Carrie Mathison, the damaged, driven and always brave protagonist of Showtime’s acclaimed spy thriller “Homeland,” for almost a decade now. This spring, loyal fans were treated to the eighth and final season of the show, which found the bipolar CIA operative recovering from a period of imprisonment in Russia and then sent immediately to Afghanistan on a peace mission, though there were those certain the Russians had turned her.
During a phone interview early this spring, the articulate and sophisticated actress says the experience of playing such a complicated character has been life-changing.
“I am both relieved and proud, but I’m also grieving, which is inevitable,” notes the four-time Emmy-winning Danes. “We filmed this last season for what seemed like forever. We wrapped the production, and then, after the holidays, I did more press than usual since this was our last season. Soon after, the coronavirus pandemic happened, so just as I was released into the world as an emancipated citizen, everything shut down. I feel like all the psychological work I was doing to disentangle myself from ‘Homeland’ was interrupted because everything around us has been suspended.”
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The past season was also something of a family affair as Danes’ husband of 11 years, Hugh Dancy, joined the cast as John Zabel, a self-serving adviser to the president who made life even more difficult for Carrie and her boss, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). The actress says Dancy and their two young sons have always been part of the experience in one way or another.
“Well, the kids have been inside of me, Russian-doll style, at first, and then actually on the set. During our third season, our producing director Lesli Linka Glatter would direct the episodes while she was cradling my first son, Cyrus, who was 5 months old at the time. During the final season, he was still sitting on her lap, but this time, he was 7 years old and was calling ‘Action’ and ‘Cut!’”
One of the fascinating aspects of “Homeland” was how often the events of the show mirrored what was unfolding in the real world. Danes says the writers and producers were quite diligent about getting as close a reading of the political climate in D.C. as possible.
“Every year, we would talk to a host of politicians, journalists and CIA insiders to get as accurate a picture of the landscape and what may happen in the near future as possible,” she says. “So we did a fair amount of research, and I was lucky enough to sit in on those sessions with our showrunner, Alex Gansa. Then there was always some kismet in play as well, where some plot point and detail emerged from the collective imagination that played out in the real world as well.”
As Danes leaves Carrie behind, she says she is pleased about how the finale treated the character. “I think she is most vital and at her best when she is working as an operative in the field,” she says. “I wanted her to end in that place. I thought it was very elegant storytelling to have her be in such a parallel position as Brody [Damian Lewis] was in the first season.
“She can’t orient herself or place herself because she has no recollection of the past, so that was a little bit tricky for me to get traction but was very interesting to play. I thought it was also kind of amazing to have this central relationship be with her adversary [Russian spy Yevgeny Gromov, played by Costa Ronin], but she is drawn to him in a very perverse and practical way because he’s the only person who can fill in those crucial blanks” from her captivity.
The “Homeland” cast and crew traveled to many international locations — including Lebanon, Venezuela, South Africa, Germany, Israel and Morocco — in search of authentic-looking backdrops for the show’s plot lines.
“What I will remember most is the globe-trotting aspect of the experience,” Danes says. “We saw so much of the world in such an in-depth way. We would land in these far-flung places for half a year at least and got to work with some of the best people from each country. My son is a very worldly first-grader because of that! It also made politics seem less abstract and made you aware that there are people who are figuring out these policies in real time and making decisions based on a human framework.”
Of course, for many TV fans, Danes will always be the lovely, angst-ridden heroine of ABC’s acclaimed series “My So-Called Life” (1994-95), for which she received an Emmy nomination. “It’s funny, when people meet me on the streets, I still get comments about that show more than anything else I have done since,” she notes. “I think it’s perhaps because it was the first impression that was made. It was such a surprising show at the time and still remains kind of fresh, vital and progressive. I was only 14 at the time, and that seems so very long ago!”
What’s next? “Well, there are some things percolating, but I’m not sure what will ultimately manifest,” she says. “I do know that I won’t be playing a spy in the next project.”
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