'Homeland': Miranda Otto on Spies, Her Season 5 Arc and Brawling With Mandy Patinkin

"Is she trapped in this situation, with some guilt about it, or is she a sociopath? We've looked at her from both sides, but this episode seemed to be pretty definitive in the end."
Stephan Rabold/SHOWTIME
Miranda Otto

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Homeland's season five episode, "Our Man in Damascus."]

Any lingering doubts over the motives of Miranda Otto's Homeland character were likely cleared up during Sunday's episode. "Our Man in Damascus" set the wheels in motion for the fifth-season finale and showed the lengths Allison is willing to reach to cover her own tail.

Since the big reveal that Allison has been playing both sides, a semi-reluctant informant for the Russians while serving as CIA station chief in Berlin, she's at least appeared to be somewhat conflicted by her actions. Not so much anymore. "Damascus," which also showed Quinn (Rupert Friend) on death's door after his Sarin poisoning and a massive terror attack about to take place in a German train station, ended with Allison taking out a source and her own CIA handler before turning the gun on herself to keep from looking like the culprit.

Otto, a new addition to Homeland's fifth season, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about her character coming full circle in the scene and what it says about her — among many other things. 

Was the part of Allison pitched to you as "spy who flirts with Mandy Patinkin" or "double agent?"

I went in with a few scenes to do, but they hadn't really told me anything going in. Before I started shooting, I knew that Allison was having an affair with Saul and that she was a double agent, but I assumed that wouldn't come out until the end of her arc. Everything in this show moves so fast. I think it was by the end of the third episode you see that she's with Saul. I thought it was a secret I was going to have to carry for some time.

Homeland tends to burn through story very quickly.

You get the scripts for every episode, and you really don't know what they're going to do. I kept waiting for her to end up getting arrested and have to spend the rest of the season filming from inside a jail cell. They managed to keep her going. She keeps coming up with so many ways of getting out of things. She's teflon.

Most audiences probably wouldn't associate you with playing a villain. How enticing was that part of the role for you?

That was a lot of fun. Along the way, I was questioning where they were going with her. Is she trapped in this situation, with some guilt about it, or is she a sociopath? We've looked at her from both sides, but this episode seemed to be pretty definitive in the end. Someone asked me at the start of the season if Allison was a patriot. I didn't want to spoil anything, so I said, "Yes." But, at the end of the day, I'm pretty sure her number one concern is herself.

The double-homicide makes that pretty clear. 

We shot it a few different ways, in terms of what's going on in her head at that point, but I haven't seen the one they chose yet. So I'm not sure how it plays. But when I read it, I was so excited. It seems very unexpected. I thought they set it up so well, with Conrad [Morocco Omari], because he was so nice — and really the only supporter of hers. Dar [ F. Murray Abraham] is on the fence, but he's skeptical. 

In five seasons, Saul hasn't cracked the way he did during that interrogation when he started choking Allison. What was it like being on the wrong end of Mandy Patinkin's rage?

He can do anything. The point that he had to get to in that scene, he can just do it. It's wonderful to watch. We had to do a lot of takes, and I have to say that my bounce-back time was getting longer and longer as the day went on. It was quite intense, but I was really pleased with how that scene came out — especially for his character. You never see that side of Saul, because he's so wise and thoughtful... to see him pushed to that point by this woman. The terrorists in the show are really terrible, but the idea of betrayal within seems like the worst thing that could happen. Terrorists are driven by belief, but that's not where it's coming from with Allison.

What did they ask you to do to research the part?

One of the first things I asked Alex [Gansa] when I got the role was how to catch up. Everyone on this show knows this world so well, it's incredibly well-researched. So they put me in touch with one of their advisers, who worked at the CIA, so I spoke to him at length. That was one of the more exciting things about this job, getting a real insight into this world — what goes on and how things are dealt with. You can read novels and watch the news, but to actually talk to someone like that, who's been in those situations, that's fascinating.

Has the show changed the way you absorb current events?

When I was in Germany, the only English-language channels I had on my TV were CNN and BBC World. So I was doing these scenes during the day, coming home and turning on the TV, and it was exactly what we were talking about all day... chemical weapons and refugees. The night of the Paris attacks was horrific. We were very close. It was a very weird time. We were in Berlin until the end of November. The turnaround of the show is so fast. The last two episodes, I don't know how they did it.

What was the most difficult part of filming in Berlin for all those months?

Not speaking German. I did get very used to saying "I'm sorry, I don't speak German." That was my phrase. It's nice to come home and stop apologizing. I certainly know how to say every food in French and Italian, but the only thing I could remember in German is how to order a hot dog. It wasn't much use to me.