Since its debut in 2011, “Homeland” has captured the attention of a wide audience ― around 5.5 million viewers per week across all platforms, to be exact. Nearly 2 million people, including the future king and queen of England, tuned in to watch the shocking Season 6 finale, which saw the loss of a beloved character in an unexpected twist.
But these days, plot twists are getting harder to pull off. It’s not as easy to surprise the political-drama audience, as we’re living in a world where a former reality star is president of the United States and human rights are being threatened.
But if there’s anything actor Rupert Friend wants “Homeland” viewers to walk away with, it’s a sense of curiosity about what real-life scenarios the show is actually presenting. (Err, a lot.)
“I would say there are those of us who read the news and keep up with what’s going on, but there are those of us who don’t, and that’s OK if they don’t want to. Maybe they like watching an entertaining TV show, and that show informs them of things which might shock them, might interest them or might astound them, which they can then go and research and discover, ‘Oh, crap. That’s actually true. These people are being gassed with this horrific thing. Government does work this way. Corruption does exist.’ So, in a sense, the more spotlights we can turn on the way the world is actually working, the better,” the British actor, who plays black ops agent Peter Quinn on the show, told HuffPost.
He continued, “Entertainment is absolutely an incredible fireball way of reaching frankly more people than straight-up news, at least in the first instance and then people can then go and do their own research and explore further.”
“Homeland” tends to mirror reality, sometimes inadvertently. Friend joked that he’s pretty sure the showrunners didn’t “make a deal with the devil” or “get a crystal ball” to see the future. Rather, Alex Gansa and co. “are exploring the show from the point of view of the characters and also looking at what’s going on in the world.”
Frequently, the situations and topics covered on the Showtime series reflect actual headlines. And, most grotesquely, those parallels included recent events involving chemical warfare.
It’s not the news, it’s not something that’s distant or far away, it’s real, it’s happening today. Rupert Friend
Near the end of Season 5, Quinn was given a lethal dose of sarin gas by the Plötzensee Prison terrorists, who were testing it for a far deadlier attack in Berlin. The effects kicked in within seconds, and Quinn began convulsing before collapsing to the floor. Although his fate was uncertain by the Season 5 finale, Quinn returned for Season 6, but his physical and mental capabilities were tragically impacted. The writers might have taken a bit of inspiration from the Assad regime’s August 2013 sarin nerve gas attack near Damascus, which killed more than 1,400, for their storyline in 2015. But it’s sickening to think that after viewers witnessed the torture Quinn endured, more news stories on gas raids in Syria surfaced. Just last month, at least 70 people ― 10 of them children ― were killed in a suspected chemical attack in the northwestern province of Idlib.
“It’s very hard because you’re exposed to the fact that this is not a made-up story. We’re not inventing this. There are human beings ― men, women and children ― in the world who are being gassed,” Friend told HuffPost. “If you do the research, and obviously I did, into the effects of sarin gas – and that’s just one of a multitude of deadly chemical weapons – it is breathtakingly troubling to consider that anybody would inflict that kind of suffering on their fellow man. It’s not the news, it’s not something that’s distant or far away, it’s real, it’s happening today. And I suppose if we can bring any kind of attention to it that the news isn’t already doing, that’s a good thing.”
Friend went on, “It’s definitely a dark world to explore, but I think it’s a necessary one, because the alternative would be to turn a blind eye and that just doesn’t work.”
Peter Quinn’s personality shifted a bit this season as he struggled to cope with his condition following the exposure to sarin, which left him with a noticeable limp, immobility to one side of his body and severely impaired speech. “He didn’t have the ability to differentiate,” Friend said, “and my heart bled for him on that because what a terrifying place to live in.”
Friend prepared for the role through immense research; he spoke with veterans and doctors, as well as many individuals who personally experienced what Quinn faced in Season 6. His performance this season was riveting and has rightfully earned him some Emmy buzz.
“There are people all over the world who have had strokes and are recovered and been damaged by them; there are people who have been victims of chemical warfare attacks; there are people who have aphasia; and there are people with semi-lateral paraseizures,” he said. “All of the conditions are true and I wanted to honor them rather than try to make it a guess.”
Despite Quinn’s mental and physical impairments, he was still partly the assassin with the “killer instincts” fans came to love. You see this in Season 6, when he suspects Carrie is being watched, and when he finally reveals the black ops team that had it out for her client Sekou Bah.
“The fascinating thing about playing someone for years who has then undergone such a drastic change is all of that work ― all of those thought processes and the past life and the physical capabilities ― it’s all in there, and then you are adding in other circumstantial things he underwent,” Friend explained to HuffPost. “Allowing that kind of agency that he had ― which was so terrifying and efficient and deadly ― to peek back through, sort of like the sun through the clouds, is part of the thrill of getting to play somebody as complicated and, to me, empathetic as Peter Quinn.”
After five years on the Showtime series, Friend said goodbye to Quinn in a scene that culminated with his redemption and death. He sacrificed his own life to save President-elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), driving them to safety while being shot at by officers.
“This is a soldier. He’s a patriot and, first and foremost, a patriot defends and believes in their country and the country’s chief, who at the time was in the back of his car. So, there’s no choice to be made, there’s only America first, really, for him,” Friend said of his character’s sacrifice. (Turns out, though, he gave up his life for a “distinctly un-American” president, per F. Murray Abraham’s Dar Adal.)
Friend is proud to have been a part of a show that’s highlighted the physical, psychological and spiritual fallout veterans face post-war. “To have the hero of a show be differently abled and struggling with neurolinguistic misfirings, as well as having had a stroke after being woken from a coma, and still be an exciting, thrilling, heroic guy to follow through a story was brave and I salute it,” the actor said.
With two seasons of “Homeland” left, Friend can see it going any which way, but hopes Max (Maury Sterling) “solves the world’s problems with a single algorithm, which he sells to the highest bidder and then goes to live on a desert island. On the desert island, Saul [Mandy Patinkin] can tend the bar.”
Friend never watched the “Homeland” seasons he was in. When asked if he’d start bingeing the series now that his character is gone, he concluded, “For me, maybe ‘Homeland’ died with Quinn.”