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‘Homeland’ returns with an eye towards current political climate


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Updated: September 10, 2012 6:11AM

The next installment of Showtime’s political thriller “Homeland” picks up six months after season one ended, and a lot has happened over that half a year.

In the first few minutes of the gripping season two debut airing Sept. 30, we learn Israel has bombed Iran’s nuclear sites, igniting a political firestorm. Al-Qaida operative and U.S. Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody is a congressman. The bipolar CIA agent who figured out Brody’s secret has swapped her cloak-and-dagger lifestyle for one of simple domesticity.

Something else that’s happened in the interim: “Homeland” racked up nine Emmy nominations, the most ever for a Showtime program. The addictive cat-and-mouse drama that expertly plays into our post-9/11 paranoia got more nods than any new comedy or drama series this year.

Figuring out where to take “Homeland” in its sophomore season wasn’t easy, said the show’s co-creators and producers, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon.

“We had a much clearer architecture for the first season,” said Gansa, who teamed up with Gordon on another nail-biter, Fox’s “24.” “We spent a good month and a half in the story room talking about what the crucial dynamic would be for the second year.”

Season one’s finale was explosive — or non-explosive, in the case of Brody’s suicide bomber vest. The former P.O.W. backed down from blowing a bunker full of American leaders to smithereens. He vowed instead to use non-violent political channels to affect change and retaliate for the U.S. drone strike that killed al-Qaida leader Abu Nazir’s young son.

“Before, Brody was dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and re-entry into civilian life while keeping his faith secret,” said Damian Lewis, whose turn as a turncoat won him an Emmy nom for best actor.

“Brody is in a very different place now. He’d like to think he’s in charge of his own destiny but in reality, he’s become everybody’s bitch. He’s going to be come at from all sides.”

CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) spent season one running around like Chicken Little, insisting Brody wasn’t a war hero but a terrorist threat. We last saw a defeated Carrie strapped to a hospital bed undergoing electroshock therapy, having lost her job and her dignity.

“When we find her at the beginning of the second season, she’s been very humbled and she’s suffering from a real crisis of confidence,” Danes said. “She gets her mojo back, but it takes some time.”

Danes also gleaned a well-deserved Emmy nomination for her raw portrayal of Carrie, an obsessive federal agent battling manic-depression.

“As exhausting as those manic episodes were, I did get a kind of contact high,” Danes said. “I understand why those states are quite addictive and why a lot of people with bipolar condition are reluctant to treat themselves for fear of losing those opportunities to ascend to those heights.”

Danes recently announced that she and her British actor husband, Hugh Dancy, are expecting their first child … right in the middle of filming season two.

“Our first thought was we’re overjoyed for her and Hugh,” Gansa said. “Then we hit our heads. How are we going to do this? We’ve already shot the first few episodes and she’s not showing. The story plays out within a month or two, so it would be ludicrous to have her all of a sudden be six or seven months pregnant.”

Solution: “We’ll shoot her closer,” Gordon said.

The first two episodes were filmed in Israel, doubling as Beirut, Lebanon. (“Homeland” is very loosely based on the Israeli series “Prisoners of War.” Creator Gideon Raff also serves as an executive producer on the U.S. version.) Subsequent episodes were shot in Charlotte, N.C., a stand-in for Washington, D.C.

Setting this season of “Homeland” against the backdrop of such a timely political powder keg — the escalating aggression between Israel and Iran — carries both risks and rewards.

“It felt like the most present and real danger in the world; it felt current,” Gansa said. “But there was a lot of debate about it. You never want to be behind the headline. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of months before the show premieres. Will real events trump the events we created on the show?”

This season we can expect to see more of Brody’s teenage daughter, Dana (played by Chicago-born Morgan Saylor), as well as Capt. Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff), Brody’s former buddy who started shacking up with Brody’s wife after the Marine sergeant was presumed dead.

Newcomers to the cast include “Lost’s” Zuleikha Robinson, who plays a reporter described by Gansa as “our evil version of Christiane Amanpour.”

English actor Rupert Friend (“Pride and Prejudice”) comes on board as an intelligence analyst enlisted to run an operation with Saul, played with masterful restraint by Chicago native Mandy Patinkin.

“Another Brit,” Lewis laughed about Friend, who, like Lewis and fellow “Homeland” star David Harewood (David Estes) all hail from across the pond but play Americans in the show.

Lewis first portrayed an American soldier in the 2001 TV mini-series “Band of Brothers.”

“I’ve now played American so often since then, I’ve sort of developed a second skin, an American persona that comes as naturally to me now as Damian the Englishman,” Lewis said.

“I do stay in an American accent all day when I’m working,” he added. “It would make me feel self-conscious flipping between English and American. I wouldn’t want to be talking to craft services going, ‘Oh yeah, bloody amazing,’ and then go into Brody. That would be weird.”

Lewis mentioned one other thing that’s different this season, at least on the set. It’s the app the actors use to pass the time between scenes.

“The first season it was Words With Friends,” he said. “This season, it’s Instagram.”

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