A conversation with Damian Lewis, who plays conflicted returning POW Nicholas Brody on the Showtime series
"An American prisoner of war has been turned." With that sentence, the events of Showtime's hit political thriller Homeland kicked into gear—and so did the next career phase of British-born actor Damian Lewis, whose nuanced portrayal of P.O.W. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody helped make Homeland the most suspenseful show on television last year.
Homeland's first season followed CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) as she investigated the possibility that Brody was the man planning the next major terrorist attack on the United States. In the end, the answer—spoiler alert—was yes. Circumstances conspired to keep him from carrying out his plan, and Brody ended Homeland's first season as an embedded (and conflicted) sleeper operative within the United States. Homeland's second season, which premieres Sunday night at 10 p.m. Eastern, begins at least six months after the first season ended, and plenty has changed; Carrie is now out of commission and Brody is now serving in the House of Representatives—with a chance at a major promotion in his immediate future.
It's been a big week for Lewis, who earned a deserved Best Actor award at last Sunday's Emmy telecast for his layered portrayal of Brody—and an even bigger week for Homeland, which also earned Emmys for writing, Best Actress (Claire Danes), and Best Drama. As the countdown to Homeland's second-season premiere begins, The Atlantic talks to Lewis about the upcoming season, the never-ending process of playing Nicholas Brody, and the surreality of starring in President Obama's favorite TV show.
In Homeland's first season, you had to play the ambiguity of whether or not Brody was a terrorist for most of the season. Now that there's a definitive answer, do you think about Brody any differently?
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I think Brody has many different realities. He's essentially an abuse victim. Abused by a man who he loved, and who tortured him, which would be very confusing for anyone. The crux of his problem is that he came back wondering whether he was going to commit some sort of act in the name of Issa, this little boy who was murdered. But he also has the alternate reality, where he's integrating with his family in civilian life—which is happening now, to soldiers as they return from the Middle East.
How did you manage to make both aspects of his character so convincing?
I think my choice as Brody was to play each reality to a tilt—but to play it fully, and display each reality for a time. Really, the mercurial quality and the ambiguity came from the shifts between the two realities.
Brody is such a troubled, fragmented character. You have so much to play in every scene—his anger at the United States government, his reluctance to commit a terrorist attack, his love for his family, his attraction to Carrie [Claire Danes]... How do you make it all come across in your performance?
You have to do a lot of work. You have to do a lot of preparatory, imaginative work—it's been going on for the last year. You carry it along with you, and you stay with it.