When we last checked in on Claire Danes’s brilliant, bipolar agent Carrie Mathison in the T.V. series Homeland, she was watching in despair as her on-off lover Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) was hanged in front of a jeering mob in a square in Tehran. As Mathison, pregnant with her lover’s child, this new season promises to come back to the origins of the show , when it was one of the best on television. We had the opportunity to talk with Claire Danes a great actress who is fluent in French and English and, as she confesses, also knows some bits of Spanish.
Q: You are fluent in English and French, Do you speak some Spanish?
A: I will be lying if I say that I do, but to tell you the truth I can pick up a conversation and understand many words in Spanish. I’m not bad with languages and I would love to keep learning and perfecting my Spanish.
Q: You are very passionate about reading. Do you like to read every where. You walk with books around...
A: No. I have friends who read novels in the bath, or in the bus, or even walking. I’m not like that. I like to invest in them completely I can get in and out. Reading is a wonderful effort to escape our loneliness. I think there is a strong sense of loneliness in all the stories I've picked. They're full of people who feel a bit abandoned. I don't know why I am drawn to that, but I am.
Q: Do you have a favorite Spanish author?
A: One of my favorite authors is an American who was very passionate about Spain and the Spanish Culture. I’m talking about Ernest Hemingway. My favorite book of his is Hills Like White Elephants. Is a short story with some of the most exquisite dialogue I've ever read. It's only four pages, covering about 45 minutes, as a couple waits for a train in Spain. Again, it's about people who are recognizing the distance between them. It's a very appealing story for an actor because drama exists in what's not spoken.
Q: Homeland is a great show. Did you do research into the CIA and that part of the character, as well?
A: Yeah, I did. I did the bulk of my research before we shot the pilot and it was a real crash course, totally fascinating and I worked with a woman who Alex and Howard knew who has a very senior position in the CIA and she took me to Langley and I spent an afternoon with a group of her colleagues and she had very carefully selected a team of people who she thought represented different kinds of operatives at different levels of experience and different genders and they were amazingly candid and open and I asked them why they were making themselves so available and they said “Well, you know we’re always recruiting, and it’s not very often that we are rendered in pop culture and we want to have a say in how we’re going to be represented because we want to entice more people to come and do what we do,” and I was like “Wow, even that is so forthright.” But that was interesting, the whole thing has just been – actually my roommate from college ended up, she was in the CIA, she went to the farm and she was an operative for a while, now she’s working a different capacity in the agency, but going to Yale, they’re going to find somebody and they do scour that campus. It’s so stupid, but I really left that day thinking that “Oh my god, these spies exist? They do really spy things,” and it’s all about human relations and role playing which is not a far cry from what we do.
Q: Can we talk about Carrie’s big relationship with her meds? Is she on or off them?
A: Well, she’s off them in the beginning of the third season, for a couple of reasons, but the primary one being she feels hugely responsible for this devastating loss and is convinced that had she not been on the meds she would have had all of her mental faculties and been able to anticipate Nazir’s moves and thwart this horrible design and attack. It’s a risky move and she ultimately gets in trouble for it.
Q: It’s interesting because it raises the question of does her trouble make her a more brilliant investigator or is it a weakness?
A: Yeah, well I think that’s one of the great conceits of the show, I think both are true. I think ultimately it’s too precarious to play with and I think she has to confront that over and over and over again and I actually think that’s true of a lot of people with a condition. We are in the realm of fiction and this is not a direct parallel to very much but we are drawing on big truths and that is very much the case with the condition and the drugs are tricky and you constantly have to tweak the cocktails and they often stop being so effective and you know you have to recalibrate and experiment again with different combinations and the side effects are really devastating and it does dull one’s perceptions and one’s mental acuity. The cost is great, but the cost of not going on them is even greater, I think. There is that thing about manic states, they do allow at a certain point on the continuum for exceptional thinking. You kind of can achieve this super human state but only for a very finite period and it’s not long before it just devolves into a chaotic jumble, a mess. But she’s hoping to maintain that for as long as possible so she can save the world.
Q: Do you like to play Carrie?
A: It’s really fun to play Carrie because she’s so unapologetic about striving for the things she wants,” she says. “So often women have to equivocate or put others’ needs before our own and she just doesn’t do that. She’s not defined by her sex, she doesn’t put up with shit. She doesn’t conform to conventional social standards. That’s very liberating.
Q: How did you prepare to play a bipolar character?
A: I read a lot of books, I talked to my – I happen to have a lot of friends who are psychologists so I talked with them about their experiences working with bipolar patients. I talked with a woman who is bipolar and has written a number of books on the condition, and the most valuable resource, or one of them, are these confessionals on YouTube, there’s a lot of material online, a lot of videos of people with the condition talking about their experience and often they’re in manic states because they’re up in the middle of the night and I think they just need to talk to someone and there’s no one to talk to so they put the camera on themselves and I think they also want to communicate their experience and I think it can be very isolating and they want to explain what it is they’re going through. So, to have that visual aid and to be able to really see what that’s like and to hear what that’s like is essential and so when she is derailed again in the beginning of this season, I binged on a lot of those videos and so they’re fresh in my memory.
I talked to – my best friend is a therapist and she said there are certain common truths about the condition but you’re given a lot of license because every case is specific and idiosyncratic, and because I was saying “I just really want to see people in their mania, and it’s very hard to do that. I know a lot of people with the condition but they’re medicated and it’s dormant,” and she said “Well, you know I’ve only seen patients when they’re in an aggravated manic state; I’ve never seen them in their euphoric manic state because they do not come to therapy when they’re feeling good. They do not want me to harsh their mellow so I have to extrapolate as well.” I have to make inferences and hope that my estimation of what that’s like or my assessment is somewhat accurate, but it’s interesting, it’s interesting to play because I do get kind of a contact high in a way. It’s curious, I don’t quite understand it but there are certain chemicals released; I mean I don’t mean to compare my circumstance in any way, there’s no way of really simulating it, but I don’t know, I can kind of imagine the thrill of it, but those days when I have to play manic, manic, manic I’m pretty pooped by the end of it.
Q: Will she heal?
A: Well I think it is true of the condition, also that it’s a matter of healing and then healing, you know, it’s ongoing, it’s never ultimately resolved and it just takes constant monitoring and a kind of hyper-vigilance.
(c) America Reads Spanish
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