What was the conversation like with Alex at the end of season five, when you originally thought you were getting killed off?
Alex has had to have this conversation with many of my colleagues on the show. This is a show in which there are casualties. I’ve been aware of it before, “the call.” Alex took me aside at the end of last season and said this, “This is going to be the end of Peter Quinn. Thanks for all of your of your hard work. Keep in touch.” Then, a few weeks later, he said, “Actually, no, you’re still alive. And not only that, you’re drastically different. We don’t know quite how, but you are. See you next year.”
Was the talk any different this time?
He said basically the same thing. “I think you’re dead. Don’t hold me to it. But I’m pretty sure you are.”
Are we sure he’s dead?
Yes. I believe so. That’s what I’m told.
Did you get a longer lead-time or did it fall into place close to the finale?
By the time we shoot those two or three final episodes, the writers are photocopying the pages as we’re warming up the cameras. It’s pretty close to the finish line. They’re still figuring it out at that point, because they have to juggle so many things and set up the next season. They try to keep their bets very open until the last possible minute — then, obviously, we have to commit to something. That’s what they’ve done with this.
How did they describe the arc of Quinn, post-sarin gas and stroke, to you?
It’s not ever really described in terms of an arc, because the writers don’t write the whole season. They write a couple of episodes, and then they’re playing catch-up with us while we shoot them. They said that he was changed and challenged by simple tasks. I was interested in what exactly meant, but they still weren’t really sure. What we eventually did with Quinn this season was something that was not written down. I presented it to them as a physical idea. And they liked it, so it actually informed the way they wrote him this season. That is one of the exciting things about contemporaneous writing in television. The season, the way that it mirrors current events, can also evolve with its production.
What inspired your pitch to the writers — did you do research or speak with stroke victims?
I don’t like the word “victim,” because the research that I did not was not about people saying “I can’t do this.” It was people sharing what they could do. I found that very helpful, as an actor, and very encouraging as a human being. People, on YouTube and social media, were sharing ways that they’d found of being creative. That’s exciting to me, whether it’s “here’s a way to play this song on the piano” or “here’s a way, as a stroke victim, to take a bath.” There’s a big network of people wanting to share information, and I hope there’s a way for Homeland to contribute to that. Though, as I’m saying this, I’m realizing “how to load a gun with one hand” isn’t the most useful. I don’t advocate anybody does that. What it gave me was the idea that humans are incredibly resilient and adaptive creatures. The way that we are this ridiculously evolved race, in some ways, is that we adapt to our environment. The idea that Peter Quinn was just going to sit around and give up, it was never going to happen. This is a guy who finds a way and gets a job done. It doesn’t matter if he’s only using one side of his body. He’s still going to pull it off with alacrity.
All Homeland romances seem ill-fated, but did any part of you ever think that Carrie and Quinn could work out?
The show is filled with very complicated people, and every character has a very dark underbelly. That psychological shadow means that this isn’t some kind of CW, skipping through the fields kind of show. One thing that interested me a lot in these last couple of seasons was that the moral code of each character was called into question. Between Carrie and Quinn, we saw a very different moral code. Quinn is questioning whether what he does for a living is actually serving him spiritually. Whereas Carrie, when pushed on waking a man from a coma and endangering his life for selfish ends, doesn’t really see her own accountability in that. That is not something I could ever see Quinn being OK with. This is a man who demands integrity, even though he recognizes what he does for a living is deeply flawed and fucked up. At least he understands it and questions it. But Carrie kind of walks through the world with immunity in a way. Those two moral qualities ultimately aren’t compatible.
Often when characters are killed off in this fashion, they get a dying gasp last statement. Are you bummed or pleased that Quinn was denied that?
We just watched The Running Man again, the [Arnold] Schwarzenegger film, and he manages one of those just making a cup of tea. He manages to say something seemingly epic about the most mundane thing. Homeland is a show that’s thankfully deeply rooted in reality, so I don’t know what the kind of final thing would be — but it would probably be incredibly cringe-worthy and best left to our imaginations. But maybe, “The Quinn is dead. Long live the Quinn.” He could have gotten that one out through some blood bubbles.
What will you miss most about the show?
Definitely the man himself. Quinn is such a deeply tragic, lovable guy that you simultaneously want to take for a pint and give him a hug — but then you don’t really want to, in case he flips out. It’s a weird one, but I grew very close to him. Rest in peace.
What’s next for you?
The great unknown. There’s something I really believe in, which is to allow yourself to be empty, so that you can let the flood come in again — rather than just continuously accomplishing tasks. I think it’s more exciting to wait and feel your curiosity pull you in a direction than force it.