Posted by EveningStandar. Interview by Jane Mukerrins. September 24th, 2013
If there were industry awards for inscrutability, then Rupert Friend, with his tight lips and gently teasing, taunting right eyebrow, would undoubtedly sweep the board. The 31-year-old British actor, who was nominated for an Emmy at Sunday night’s ceremony in Los Angeles, may have missed out on a gong this time (to Dan Bucatinsky for his role as the journalist James Novak in Scandal) but he is perfectly cast as the enigmatic “black ops” assassin Peter Quinn in Homeland. Indeed, such is the secrecy surrounding the show’s storylines, and so firmly is Friend following the diktat not to reveal any details of what fans can expect from season three, the CIA would be proud.
“In season two he was a gun for hire — literally — and in season three he is working more full-time for the CIA but still in a very underworld capacity,” he eventually hints, mainly just to quell my wheedling, I imagine. “His allegiances have potentially been redistributed to a sense of what is right, rather than just blindly following an order,” he continues. “He commits a mistake, which he has to then live with, certainly for the rest of the season, likely for the rest of his life. That’s a key moment, the difference between ‘I was just following orders’ — a Nuremberg-style defence — and him having a moral conscience.” With deflections this deft and foggy, he may want to consider running for political office in the future.
For anyone who has been residing under a rock for the past couple of years, Friend joined Homeland for its second season, alongside fellow Brit Damian Lewis as the former marine-turned-Congressman-turned-suspected terrorist Nicholas Brody, Claire Danes as the talented but troubled bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (who is also Brody’s lover), and Mandy Patinkin as her mentor, Saul Berenson. As audiences eventually discovered, Friend’s character, Quinn, while masquerading as an analyst, had actually been hired by the CIA’s director, David Estes (David Harewood) to kill off Brody — an order he never carried out. The season ended with an even bigger bang, though, as a car bomb decimated the CIA headquarters, killing more than 200, including Estes.
While the show, a post-9/11 tale of paranoia and suspicion, garners accolades and awards, its second season was criticised by some for losing its way, and accused of having “credibility issues”. The writers have promised that the third season will be something of a “re-set”.
“I think what they have gone back to is a more claustrophobic, psychological, spy-thriller feeling, more an exploration of the psyche,” says Friend. A few further facts have slipped out under the firewall too: Brody is on the run — unseen on screen for the first two episodes — Carrie is off her meds (again), and Saul is now the acting director of the CIA.”
In the grey-panelled, temporary CIA HQ — in reality, a studio set in a bunker-like building in Charlotte, North Carolina — I meet Friend, who is on a break from filming, six episodes into the 12-part season. He is casually dressed in jeans, a grey shirt and a zip-up hoodie, with a light smattering of stubble, and blood on his left hand. “Not mine,” is all he will say about that, damn him.
Before joining Homeland — which has earned a devoted following, from the US and Europe to India, Israel and even Iraq —Friend was best-known for British roles, notably as Mr Wickham in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice (opposite Keira Knightley, whom he dated for five years until they split in early 2005), and Prince Albert in The Young Victoria.
Playing Peter Quinn is not only a dive into American waters but also his first television role. “I hadn’t been excited by the cinema for a long time — going to it, or reading scripts,” he confesses. “It started to become apparent to me, a couple of years ago, that television in America was beginning to enter what I thought was the most exciting stage in its progression. It was reminding me what independent film was like here in the Seventies.”
Not that he owns a television set himself. “I was a huge fan of Homeland’s first season, completely addicted, but I watched it all on 4oD,” he admits.
Friend is, of course, the latest in a long line of British actors to head over the pond for television, rather than film roles. Aside from Lewis and former co-star Harewood (“His last day on set was really emotional … then we got absolutely shitfaced on whisky,” Friend recalls fondly), Andrew Lincoln is a couple of states further south, filming The Walking Dead in Georgia; Lennie James and Mark Strong are in Detroit making Low Winter Sun; Matthew Rhys is about to begin filming season two of The Americans in Brooklyn, and Michael Sheen will hit television screens next month as Dr William Masters in the racy new series Masters of Sex, set in Fifties Missouri.
And though Friend still has those cheekbones you could grate cheese off, he looks healthier and less frighteningly thin than he has done at points in the past; the Southern lifestyle in sleepy North Carolina would appear to suit him. “It’s a really boring thing to say but I love being hot all the time. I really do love it,” he enthuses. ‘And I’ve discovered barbecue — they do a lot of pork products here, the pig is very popular”.
“And they have loads of different beers. They have this thing called microbrew. I don’t really know what that is but it means lots of different flavours, as far as I can tell,” he grins. “And they all drink Newcastle Brown. Do you think they know it’s a north-eastern working man’s proper drink?” he shrugs in wonder.
Friend himself is firmly middle-class; he grew up in Stonesfield, a village in Oxfordshire, his father was a fine arts historian and his mother a solicitor. He was plucked from drama school to make his debut in The Libertine as Billy Downs, a young friend and lover of Johnny Depp’s Earl of Rochester, before landing the role of the dastardly Wickham in Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic.
His resulting relationship with Knightley made him prime paparazzi fodder, though the pair remained tight-lipped for five years about their relationship. It is not hard to imagine that there might be some relief in spending the eight months of the year which Homeland films for in the faraway, provincial US.
But while he may not be harassed by paps in Charlotte, do his friends back home not pester him to let slip the plot of the show? “They are more interested in what the Bayou is all about,” he says. “They want to know about The South.” He has certainly done some research, and explains how Southern gentility is apparently a hangover from Sir Walter Raleigh. “Oh, and they all ask: ‘What are grits? And what are biscuits?’ Biscuits are scones,” he informs me, wisely.
And in a show in which the element of surprise is paramount, does he not fear being bumped off and sent packing back to Britain, with its bad weather and inferior pork-based barbecue? “I genuinely love that the writers do what’s best for the story, and if something is becoming tired or predicable, they get rid of it,” he insists. “No one wants to be flogging some dead horse, so I trust them to blow me up when the time is right.”