Posted by esquire.com. Interview by Emily Zemler. Oct 2, 2014
The British actor talks about Quinn and Carrie in the new season, why he doesn’t do rom-coms, and his menacing shaved head.
Homeland, which returns for its fourth season this Sunday, is undergoing a reboot. At the end of last season (spoilers for those not caught up ahead), the show’s male protagonist Nicholas Brody met his end on a noose, opening up new possibilities for the other characters. It also gave the character of CIA agent Peter Quinn, played by British actor Rupert Friend, the opening for what will be an expanded role this time around. Friend, who joined the show in its second season, is beloved by fans, many of whom have been calling for a romance between Quinn and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). The actor, largely unknown in America before appearing on Homeland, will also play Agent 47 in the upcoming Hitman movie, a move that will certainly cement his status as a star.
Friend called us from South Africa, where he is spending six months shooting Homeland, to discuss the new season, making a movie based on a video game, and what he’s learn about geopolitics.
ESQUIRE.COM: Are you enjoying South Africa?
RUPERT FRIEND: I’m sitting here looking at the waves crashing on the beach. The weather goes from wild storms to beautiful sunshine minute by minute. It’s one of the most breathtaking places.
ESQ: What a terrible job you have.
RF: They had to drag me here kicking and screaming. We’ve been here four months and we have two more to go. We’re over the hill of the halfway point.
ESQ: Are you shooting any of this season of Homeland in the U.S.?
RF: No, only in South Africa. We are recreating Pakistan, Kabul, and Washington, D.C. here.
ESQ: What do the people who live in South Africa think of that when they see you shooting?
RF: I think they’re a bit bewildered. We’ll take a crossroads and dress it with chickens and bamboo cages and smoking heaps of refuse and these guys show up and paint all the shop signs with Arabic lettering. Suddenly we’re in Islamabad, except you can see Table Mountain if you look a little bit over the right. So obviously we don’t look over to the right.
ESQ: Have you ever actually been to the Middle East?
RF: This is my only experience of it, to my deep shame. I’ve never been there. I would have loved to have gone and there was a time when we were talking about going there. It just became too difficult with getting the equipment and the crews to the standard that they have down here. They’ve got excellent guys here. I think that was part of it. It was more important to have that stuff than the actual shopfronts because our set designer is so clever. I’ve sat in one building and been in an American diner and I go around the corner and I’m on a Pakistani street. It’s amazing.
ESQ: Where do we find Quinn at the beginning of this season?
RF: He has been posted overseas. He has elected, for reasons that may or may not become apparent throughout the season, to be posted in a different station from Carrie. They’re both overseas and they are not together at the top of the season. I think the arc of both their characters as the season goes along is feeling a polarizing magnetic push-pull that you have for someone you know is dangerous for you.
ESQ: How would you characterize Quinn’s feelings for Carrie?
RF: There’s a huge mutual respect. But you know when there’s a person in your life and you’re attracted to them — and I don’t mean sexually or romantically — almost because you know that, when you’re around them shit goes down? Those two have a weird orbit for one another. They are each other’s bad news.
ESQ: There are a lot of fans hoping for a Carrie-Quinn love story now that Brody is gone. Is that a possibility?
RF: With this show the writers are so good. It would be a possibility if it wasn’t expected. To be honest, while it’s the obvious play, it doesn’t feel very Homeland to me. But I’m not writing the shows. I’ve just noticed that they’re very good at exploding the thing you think is going to be the big slow burner. “Will Carrie and Brody sleep together?” “Oh shit, they already have.” They just blow shit up. They blew up the CIA instead of wondering what happened to it. They’re more likely to put the cat among the pigeons than they are to say, “Here’s a nice, neat happy ending.” It’s not that kind of show.
ESQ: Has Brody’s death affected Quinn this season?
RF: I don’t think he gives it much mind. When we first met Quinn he was a highly trained, black ops assassin. But he’s still a soldier. Any soldier is a fierce patriot and hates people who, in any way, jeopardize their country. Particularly American soldiers. They really don’t like people who threaten their country’s freedoms. I think Quinn always found the idea that Brody thought that was okay very difficult.
ESQ: Did you know anything about Quinn’s eventual arc as a character when you joined the show?
RF: No. And I don’t think [the writers] did either. When I joined the show I was a guest role and as far as I knew it could have been a one-episode thing or more. There was no indication of that. They didn’t have any obligation to use me at all. It went from being potentially a pop-up role to something more substantial. The next season I became a regular supporting character. And then this season I would say even more prominent in terms of the effects he has on Carrie and the storyline.
ESQ: It seems from the trailer like Quinn may be going off the rails a little bit.
RF: Yeah. There’s definitely a sense that he doesn’t care anymore who he pisses off, what he says or does. He really doesn’t give a fuck. And for a trained killer, who has killed a lot of people in the name of something he no longer believes in and is drinking like it’s going out of fashion, that’s a lethal combination. We’re going to see all that. The big question mark that Quinn raises, that I think a lot of people in the world may have thought, is do we actually do any good by going overseas and implementing our way of life on people? Or do we actually make things worse, both on a small scale with the casualties and on a big scale politically, ideologically, and spiritually? Is it an improvement or is it a Band-Aid that gets soggy?
ESQ: Did you think about that much before working on the show or has being on Homeland magnified your perception of foreign relations?
RF: I’m not a big fan of people telling each other what to do, I’ll say that. I’m a dual citizen in a way. I live in the States and have a green card so my connection to British politics is almost nonexistent. But this show has been really good about drawing my attention to global politics and adding to my interest in people writing intelligently about incredibly complex problems. For whatever reason, pretending to work in the CIA, you start to look at diplomacy and politics with new eyes. It’s the same boring newsprint it was when I was a child. There’s a human angle now. And I think that’s actually the secret to getting anyone interested. Instead of making grand statements in Congress or the U.N., the moment you hear a human story it becomes accessible.
ESQ: Does the new season of Homeland reflect the current situation in the Middle East?
RF: Absolutely. The fact that we’re talking about America’s meddling in Middle Eastern affairs and the retribution that happens and then what happens afterward. When they do it they’re terrorists and when we do it we’re harbingers of peace and democracy. That double standard, when you’re talking about drone strikes and civilian casualties being collateral damages of war, is absolutely what we’re in at the moment. Although I hate to feel that anyone is profiting from glorifying the horrors that are going on, I think that it’s relevant television at the moment.
ESQ: You got pretty lucky that Homeland was your big breakout TV show.
RF: I was really lucky. I was asked to be on some other shows, where you look pretty and get the girl, and I’m not interested in it.
ESQ: Has playing Quinn altered the perception people have of you as an actor?
RF: I think you’re being very generous. I don’t think anyone in America had a perception of me. I don’t think they were really aware of who I was. And now people see me in bars and hold up their knife and shout, “Hey stick this through my hand!” I’ve done a few photos in a few bars with plastic knives, let me tell you. I’m actually thrilled because it’s not like, “Oh, this guy on Homeland who used to do a million other TV shows.” Most people in America didn’t know who I was and that’s fine by me because they get to see this Peter Quinn guy with no baggage.
ESQ: Did Homeland help get you cast as Agent 47 in Hitman: Agent 47?
RF: I don’t know. It’s a little bit shrouded in mystery. I don’t know that the people who signed off on that actually watch Homeland or not. I do know that they were presented with a lot of options. For whatever reason, I think because it’s a reboot and they wanted to do something not typically Hollywood, they wanted someone who they didn’t really know. So it wasn’t a movie star already and was more of a blank canvas who would bring something fresh to it. But in the end I don’t really care because I got the job. It was great thing to get my teeth into because it’s based on a video game and I don’t play video games. I’m a bit of a technophobe. It was another world to get inside.
ESQ: Did they send you the games once you were cast?
RF: I had to ask, actually. I was like, “I’m sorry, I don’t have these games.” So they sent me all the games. And then I was like, “Hi, sorry, me again, I don’t actually have anything to play them on. What can I play them on?” So I basically managed to bag a free PlayStation or whatever it was. And then I spent some time as the character standing in the corner staring at the ground going around in a circle. That happened for quite a long time until I figured out how to draw the gun and move around. There was a bit of a learning curve.
ESQ: How did it feel to shave your head for the role?
RF: I’ve never had it shaved that close before. I loved the feel of the air on my head! And it is what it is every day. It does make you look quite aggressive though. There’d be times where I was driving in Berlin or Singapore where we shot and someone would cut into me dangerously in the traffic. I beeped my horn one time and they stopped the car and came steaming over to my car to have a go at me. He took one look, turned around, and got back in his car. I didn’t have to do anything. I think I looked a bit more menacing than he wanted to deal with from just having a shaved head. So it was an interesting experiment.
ESQ: You’ve now played two characters who are killers. Are you ever anxious about where your brain goes when embodying that kind of role?
RF: No, because I started in music more than acting when I was a kid. I started playing in bands. So I see things more in those terms. Like in between the song’s beginning and end, it’s everything and it’s true. And then the minute it’s over, it’s just a song. In that moment it’s as real as anything is real. It’s like a dream — you know when you have a really vivid dream and you’re in it and it’s real but you’re aware of it?
ESQ: I think so. Are you still involved in music?
RF: Yeah. I was asked by this British band called Kairos 4Tet to write lyrics for them. And I wrote lyrics for them. The album is called Everything We Hold and you can hear my lyrics. It was a great example of someone believing in you and you saying no and them insisting and you say, “Okay, I’ll try,” and then realizing you love it. They loved what I did. So I’m a big fan of the idea that if you have the smallest inkling that somebody has a talent for something, don’t give up until you get them to do it.