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EXCLUSIVE: How Real-Life Political Twists Kept Claire Danes on Her Toes

by Elliott Smith 12:41 AM PDT, June 14, 2017
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Claire Danes, 'Homeland' Photo: Getty Images

Never a stranger to tackling hot-button topics and explosive political situations, the Showtime drama Homeland found itself in the middle of a real-life plot twist so good it was impossible to ignore -- the 2016 presidential election and its cultural and political aftermath.

While in the middle of the series’ sixth season, showrunner Alex Gansa began writing new scripts and retrofitting scenes into already shot episodes that reflected America’s current political climate, placing a greater burden on the series’ star, Claire Danes, in her role as Carrie Mathison.

“The onus is on the writers to make the show as relevant and reflective of what’s happening as possible. I’m interpreting their work, so it’s fun for me,” Danes tells ET, explaining that it’s the actor’s responsibility to be flexible and responsive to the ever-changing nature of their work. “That’s true of television in general; you’re airing as you’re filming, as you’re writing. It’s all happening simultaneously. You have to rely on your experience and your reflexes and your technique, but also your intuition. I think you just have to do it and pray that it’s working.”

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This season saw Carrie step away from the secrecy and danger of the CIA for a more “normal” job with a nonprofit agency that assists Muslim-American citizens fighting discrimination. But with a transition of power on the horizon and old friends Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) up to their tricks, it wasn’t long before Carrie got pulled back in. “She’s trying to lead a more grounded, civic life, and once again, she discovers that’s not her fate,” Danes says.

Over the course of the series, Carrie has shown herself to be an excellent, dogged agent who has also exhibited some shocking lapses in judgment, including her doomed relationship with soldier-turned-terrorist Brody (Damian Lewis). But it’s that mix of right and wrong, and Danes’ fierce performance, that continues to make Carrie such a compelling character and earned the actress Emmy statues in 2012 and 2013.

“She is incredibly capable and incredibly vulnerable, and in some ways, her vulnerability allows her to be as powerful and efficient and dynamic as she is,” Danes says. “She’s kind of a raw nerve and myopic and totally committed to whatever she’s focused on. I think, yes, she’s fallible and broad, but her intentions are always good, and we believe that and trust that. It allows us to go down the rabbit hole with her because she means well.”

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in a scene from Homeland season six. Photo: Showtime

At the crux of this season is Carrie’s relationship with Quinn (Rupert Friend), who is still recovering from the sarin poisoning that left him incapacitated. Carrie lets Quinn live with her and her daughter, a decision that proves fraught with complication when Carrie’s daughter is placed in foster care, and later, when Quinn is killed trying to protect Carrie and the President-elect.

“The themes this year had to do with loss -- they’re often to do with loss, as it’s not the first time we’ve seen Carrie grieve -- but that was definitely something I found myself playing pretty consistently between Quinn’s change of character and ultimately, his death, and when her daughter is taken from her,” Danes says. “She finds that incredibly painful, for obvious reasons.”

Carrie also developed a strong relationship with the newly elected president, Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), who, while initially seen as a Hillary Clinton stand-in, proved to be a more layered character that straddles the line between friend and foe for Carrie. “The dynamic between Keane and Carrie was really interesting,” Danes says. “These are two incredibly formidable women who respect each other and collaborate easily. That was fun to play and fun to watch.”

The globe-trotting show traded in its exotic locations for New York City this season, giving the 38-year-old a chance to film at home (husband Hugh Dancy’s Hulu show The Path also shoots in the New York area) and allowing the show the explore the vibrancy of the city.

“It was wonderful. I loved it,” Danes says. “It was a really fertile territory for the story. We were commenting on the election and the candidates were New Yorkers, and of course 9/11 occurred here, an event so defining for us as a country and for our show. So yes, I think it really made sense for us at this point.”

Gansa recently announced that Homeland would end after its eighth season, but Danes hasn’t even begun considering closing the door on Carrie, whom she calls “the unreliable narrator” on which the show is built.

“I remember when we got the finale [for season 6], we went, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s a whopper.’ Sometimes we go quietly into the night and sometimes we don’t, and this was the latter,” Danes says. “It was so meaty and epic and mournful. So, we have quite a lot of story left. A lot of ground. We’re not really envisioning how it’s going to land quite yet.”

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