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This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Damian Lewis harbored no illusions that his turncoat Marine alter ego Nicholas Brody was destined for a long life on Showtime’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning drama Homeland. He will tell you that, all things considered, three seasons felt about right.
Yet when the end came with Brody’s execution in a public square in Tehran as the season-three climax in December, it nonetheless proved harrowing. Here, the 2012 lead actor Emmy winner reveals the trauma and triumph of wrapping up Homeland‘s most mysterious figure and the gratitude he feels for getting a role a lot of guys “would have killed for.”
Have you recovered yet from the trauma of having been executed?
Of having been hanged publicly, humiliatingly, and having soiled my underwear in front of a global viewership of millions? Yes. Just getting over it now. You should see my therapy bill!
How did you prepare for the final scene in which Brody is hanged?
It was legitimately unsettling. We had a lot of people that day milling around — more than 200 extras — and they were all expected to bang the car and whoop and holler. While I knew we were only telling a story, I definitely got a sense of what it must be like, the isolation, the loneliness of going to your death in front of a baying crowd. It actually was quite disturbing to film. We also were in a Muslim country, Morocco, so there was an energy there. I certainly felt like a foreigner in a strange land. Which was exactly the story of Brody that we were telling.
Was there a strain put on your neck from hanging there? It certainly looked uncomfortable.
People have asked, “How did you do that? How did you make your face go all puffy?” I think it’s just because we didn’t have the harness attached properly. I was kind of being strangled for a lot of it. (Laughs.) But I figured that as long as I came out of it alive, it was probably good. I mean, of course I had a harness on my shoulders that was suspending me. If that was too efficient, the noose wouldn’t look like it was actually taking any of the weight. So there was this delicate balance in allowing the noose to cut into my flesh a little bit so it did look like I was being hanged.
When did you find out your character’s fate?
We were in Washington, D.C., in the bar of the basement of The Hay-Adams hotel, and it was our premiere in early September. I said to [co-creator] Alex [Gansa]: “I’ve got a lot of stuff in storage in North Carolina. Should I leave it in there or take it out?” He looked me in the eye and said, “Damian, you should take it out.” It was about two months before we shot it. That’s when I knew. But you know, when I accepted the job, it was intimated to me very strongly by Alex and [co-creator] Howard [Gordon] that, as far as they knew, this guy was kind of a two-season role. That’s what they had story for mapped out in their mind. They weren’t really sure how it would go after that. Then we became this big hit, and I think there was pressure on them not to kill Brody because he was so central to the show, and the Brody and Carrie [Claire Danes] relationship was popular with people. So I got a third season.
How satisfied are you with the way Brody’s story concluded?
Put it this way: Being on the inside and knowing the show the way I know it, it was right to me that Brody met his demise. As sad as I am, it felt dramatically like the right thing to do.
I’m not sure that Homeland‘s insanely passionate fan base would agree.
Our fan base was vocal all the way through. Because of how fans took to him, Brody became a kind of conundrum, and I think the show was a bit ambushed by the character’s success. In the end, what I gather is they were sad to see Brody go because they really enjoyed him as a character, but on balance they thought the show probably would suffer if they kept trying to write Brody a convincing plotline. Some bloggers swore they now wouldn’t watch Homeland without Brody. Then others are saying, “Thank God he’s gone!” I mean, let’s imagine the show goes on for three more seasons. Brody is like the first nemesis, isn’t he? He’s really the first baddie. Now they need to find another story with another nemesis. And they will.
Being on Homeland seemingly put you personally into another strata in your acting career. Is that what you’re finding?
Absolutely. There are jobs that come along in your life, if you’re lucky enough, that elevate you in a considerable way. And Homeland was definitely one of those jobs. I thank Alex and Howard as well as the guys at Showtime and Fox. There were a lot of guys who would have killed to play this role. For whatever reason, I was chosen, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
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