It’s nearly 11 p.m. by the time Claire Danes can do an interview, while simultaneously checking into a Holiday Inn Express outside Richmond, Va., after a long day on the set of Showtime’s “Homeland.”
Carrie Mathison, Ms. Danes’s character on the series, is exhausted, too. As Season 7 begins on Sunday, Feb. 11, the former C.I.A. officer turned presidential adviser, now out of a job, has relocated with her daughter to her sister’s home in Washington. Her confidant Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is dead, and the nation on the verge of civil war after an assassination attempt on President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Which has led to the arrest of 200 members of the intelligence community, including Carrie’s mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).
“We find her in this current season no longer besties with the prez, that’s for sure, and determined to fight this fascistic regime,” she said. “Things of course are not black and white — and I can’t give too much away — but the enemy is not who she initially imagines it to be.”
Settling into her hotel room, Ms. Danes, 38, who lives in downtown Manhattan with her husband, Hugh Dancy of Hulu’s “The Path,” and their 5-year-old son, Cyrus, talked about spy camp and the eerie collision of art and real life. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Remember when “Homeland” used to feel so extreme?
It’s just been bonkers, right? It’s hard for our show to compete with the screeching absurdity of what’s happening in our actual office. It’s like escapist television now — like a balm, a tonic. It used to be a harrowing, dystopic vision of the truth, and now it’s relaxing.
Where do we find Carrie after such a tumultuous season finale?
She was shocked and horrified in the very last beat. She was grieving throughout Season 6; it was kind of a ghost story with Quinn as a dead man walking. And then she realizes that the president, who she had been so allied with and believed in emphatically, betrays her and reveals herself to be a fallible, potentially dangerous leader. So she’s once again on the outside looking in with some disgust and a lot of concern.
And her bipolar disorder?
We learn fairly early on that lithium, which is her panacea, her miracle drug, is no longer effective. Then she finds herself needing to save the world again, and she won’t have time to experiment with other medications in a sane, scientific way. And she is forced to use street drugs and self-medicate.
The show’s story lines often have uncanny parallels to real-life politics — for instance, a conspiracy theorist populating social media with fake news. How do the writers manage that feat?
Every year we spend a week in D.C. in “spy camp.” We all meet in a club in Georgetown, and from morning till night, we talk to a whole coterie of characters within the clandestine world who have real insight into what’s happening. And they are able to illuminate what’s going to surface as relevant in a year’s time. It’s incredibly valuable and terrifying. We have an amazing crystal ball.
Quinn’s death sent fans into a tailspin, some of whom wrote an open letter criticizing the show’s treatment of veterans.
I think what [the showrunner Alex Gansa] wanted to do was not just “off” a central character. He wanted to spend time with a veteran who was wounded on a lot of levels — psychologically and emotionally and physically — and take seriously the sacrifice and the cost of making that commitment to your country. That was an earnest effort to honor the work that veterans have done.
Were you on the side of fans who longed for a romance between Carrie and Quinn?
I mean, everybody wants that. But I think they did have a romance. It just didn’t take a conventional form. They’re not conventional people. And I think it’s really interesting to consider that there are some people who might not fully be able to achieve real intimacy that we all recognize as valid.
You recently squeezed in a movie, “A Kid Like Jake,” which debuted at Sundance.
Jim Parsons and I play Brooklyn parents who have a 4-year-old son obsessed with dresses and all things princess. We’re applying to kindergarten, and our friend, an educator, suggests that we focus on his “gender expansiveness.” And it makes us suddenly aware of his being different and creates conflict in the marriage. It does talk about gender issues and these ideas that we’re actively wrestling with right now. But it’s about recognizing your child and finding the best way to usher them through the world.
“Homeland” will end after Season 8. How would you like to see Carrie go out?
I would like just a little relief for my girl, because I think she earned it. But we’re not there yet.
We’re going to take the longest frickin’ nap imaginable.
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