Another threat of terrorism on U.S. soil informs the purposely intense, grim Showtime drama premiering Sunday, Oct. 2. Executive producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa invoked a post-9/11 world in their work on Fox's "24," but they draw a much more direct bead on the theme as CIA agent Carrie Mathison (played by "Temple Grandin" Emmy winner Claire Danes) pursues just-rescued American POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis, "Band of Brothers"), suspected of turning and now plotting an attack at home.
It's not an impossibility, as very recent history suggests. Extra security was ordered for such cities as New York and Washington, D.C., on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. The reason? "Credible" information warned of another potential attack ... and an American was believed to be among the would-be perpetrators.
"It was more something that we reacted against," Gansa explains of "Homeland" and its genesis, "the idea of being brainwashed or sort of turned in a magical way. It felt false to us, and the issue we wanted to explore was that even if you are turned, you are not really a terrorist until you commit an act of terrorism. You come back from the war, from this captivity, and there are still a lot of questions to resolve in your own mind about whether you might go through with what you've been asked to do. That's where the drama lies, we think."
"My So-Called Life" alum Danes agrees, adding that her "Homeland" character's complexity made the project "impossible to ignore" for her. "She is at times dangerously bright, and formidable and focused, even compulsive and myopic. But she's also very sensitive and vulnerable, and that juxtaposition is interesting."
Carrie is guilt-racked, too, believing she missed clues that might have enabled her to help avert 9/11. "I can't let that happen again," she says in the "Homeland" debut. Erring on the side of caution is totally acceptable to her, even if others think she might be looking for things that aren't there, as with the attention she pays to Sgt. Brody's presumably nerve-related hand gestures during a televised news report.
"Actually, my first roommate in college was a CIA officer for a little while," Danes notes, "and she's the most innocuous, benign person, of course. I was telling her that I was going to play this role -- 'I'm going to play a CIA officer, and she's bipolar' -- and her immediate response was, 'Oh, she sounds very isolated. That's a lonely character.' And I was like, 'Yep.' It provides her this incredible perspective and vantage point, but it also causes her suffering, and she needs to resolve that."
On the subject of suffering, there's also Lewis' "Homeland" role that involves flashbacks showing the soldier's torture while an al-Qaida prisoner. "I've been hung upside down, I've been beaten in the head, I've been beaten with a club with barbed wire wrapped around it," Lewis reports. "We're keeping it as real and as brutal as those things are. It's not for sensationalist reasons. It's not for shock value. It's to break somebody physically, emotionally and psychologically so he is then malleable, so it's important to show it."
And Gansa says it's important to take "Homeland" viewers on the route to what he terms the "collision" of those central characters. He describes them as "two people who both served in various capacities overseas, both damaged in some way by that experience ... Claire's character damaged more because of her own mental illness, Damian's because of the experience he endured.
"These two people come together back in the United States and recognize something in each other. It's a cat-and-mouse game, but there's also a real deep connection between the two of them, and that's where we are kind of pushing the story. The question isn't really whether she's right or wrong, but how it's going to influence the rest of her life."
Also starring Emmy winner Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin ("V"), Jamey Sheridan ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent") and Nestor Serrano ("The Day After Tomorrow"), "Homeland" has 13 episodes initially. Gordon maintains he and Gansa "probably wouldn't have done it if it had been any more than this number.
"This is a very deeply serialized drama, and on a normal broadcast schedule, it's an impossible task. You wind up vamping. Here, I think we find ourselves able to tell a complex story, but one that's just the right breadth and the right length."
And one that may have come at just the right time, Gordon believes, if real-world events can be taken as signs of such.
"Osama bin Laden was killed when we were (filming) Episode 2, eerily like the scene of Damian's (character's) rescue. A story has not been told about the price of 9/11 in this country. This is after Abu Ghraib, after Guantanamo, after the prosecution of two wars of questionable merit. The timing of it, I think, is significant and fortuitous."