Emmy Watch: 'Homeland' actor David Harewood on Estes' unwavering love for Carrie
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.
It was often hard to tell what David Estes (played by David Harewood) is thinking on Homeland. As director of the CIA, he had to remain calm and collected, rarely breaking for a vulnerable moment, constantly calculating his next move. Claire Danes gets a lot of deserved credit for her stirring portrayal of a character so intelligent, yet constantly on the edge. Mandy Patinkin as Saul gives a subtle, but forceful performance. But Harewood as Estes had to let you know what he was feeling with a glance, a furrow of the brow, a steady upper lip.
When we asked Harewood to pick a scene to discuss, he chose an early scene from the first episode of season two, “The Smile.” Estes goes to Carrie’s house to talk to her on her porch. A CIA asset say she has information about a possible attack on the United States, but she will only talk to Carrie. So, even though she’s not longer working for the CIA, Este is forced to pull Carrie back in. In the end he asks her to go to Beirut, which leads Carrie on the road to vindication.
Read our discussion about that scene, executive producer Alex Gansa’s note that changed everything, Estes’ relationship with Carrie, and those Doctor Who rumors:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was re-watching your parts in different episodes and it made me really intrigued that you picked the porch scene from the first episode to talk about. So, right off the bat, why did you pick that scene?
DAVID HAREWOOD: Well, it was the first scene where I really felt completely in control of my character. The first scene that I felt like I really knew him. All the way through the first season — I was very vocal about this — but I just didn’t know who I was. I had no idea who the guy was. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what was driving him, what [were] his motivations, what he [was] in the world of. He seemed to be a very ambiguous type of character. Towards the end of the first season I started to embrace that ambiguity, embrace the insecurity rather, and just play that opaqueness and be as still as I could be and just not try to do anything. And right at the end of season one I played a scene with Mandy Patinkin where — it’s a fantastic scene just between me and Mandy in the office. It’s when Mandy comes and asks for the DVDs [Editor’s Note: in the scene Patinkin is looking for information about a possible drone strike, having found a redacted document] … I can remember that was the last scene I had to do, it was on the last day of season one and Alex Gansa gave Mandy Patinkin—this is a very long-winded answer but—Alex Gansa gave Mandy Patinkin a note and during the notes he kind of said that Estes had been promoted over [Saul]. And I didn’t know that. He omitted to tell me that, but I overheard it and I thought “F–k there’s another piece of the jigsaw.” So it just gave me this will so… I just came back with this sense of “I am the man. I’ve got this position.” It was just a huge piece of the jigsaw for me that cemented my, kind of, feeling of who this guy was. I felt as though, you know, obviously this guy, Walden, the vice president, had given me that role, perhaps there was a little bit of antagonism with Saul, but it gave me something to play against with Mandy. It gave me something to play against with Claire. Whereas they both had kind of subplots and drives, I had none of that in the first [season], so I used that for my drive in the second season, this sense that “I’m here. I’ve been given this job. I’m gonna do it.” And it really made me secure. Just moment-to-moment it was the most comfortable of any of the Estes scenes I played up to that day.
I actually had forgotten this, but one of the backstories in season one is that you and Carrie had an affair. Did you play that in at all to the scene where you have to come back with Carrie?
Oh yeah, I mean I played every scene as if I was still in love with her. I mean it wasn’t written that way. It wasn’t supposed to be written that way but, you know, if somebody breaks your marriage up – And I mentioned to Claire, during the pilot I even mentioned it to Alex, that Estes seemed to me to be the type of guy who would tell his wife. I don’t think she found out. He’s such a square guy, that I just thought to myself: she must have just blown his mind. I mean the sex must have been insane. So I think he just thought “This is it. I’m in love,” went to his wife and said “Look, I’m in love. I’m gonna leave you.” And Claire agreed with that’s what freaked her out and she then ran away. And I think if somebody hurts you like that it’s in your heart. So for me every time I got together with Carrie I was trying to bury my emotions,… they were just underneath the surface. Right at the end [of the porch scene] where she kind of kicks off — it’s been almost like a lovers’ tiff– I kind of go “Listen don’t think this is you getting your job back.” We have this very kind of measured, kind of diplomatic fencing match and then it all just kind of explodes at the end again into that lovers’ tiff. It’s a shame we didn’t get to explore it a bit more. But I certainly played every scene as if I was still really crazy about her.
Given that you guys had this kind of shifting power dynamic where obviously you were her boss but you’re still in love with her and so she’s always going to have control over you, how did you sort of play that dynamic throughout the season and the fact that you are in charge, you have to make your decisions, but that she obviously is having this affair with Brody and you know about it. How did you play the power dynamic between you two?
We didn’t really get much chance. There was a wonderful scene in the third episode where she comes back and she thinks she’s gonna get her job back. It was difficult. I actually found it was the first time you saw a little bit of emotion in Estes. It was actually quite difficult for me to do that. It was very difficult for me to tell her that she’s actually not going to get her job back. I was forever basically just trying to suppress my feelings for her as much as I could. I was basically extremely jealous of Brody. I hated Brody. I hated Brody not just because I thought he was a terrorist, but also because he was moving in on Carrie. I made that part of my dynamic that this guy has to go.
One of my favorite reaction shots for you was you see everyone see the tape of Brody and find out that he is a terrorist and your reaction to that is kind of the most emotion we get to see from your character. Do you remember that day when you had to do that scene?
Can you walk me through it?
I remember it because also, in hindsight, looking back on it, you know, there were little moments where I thought to myself “something’s going on here.” And that was definitely one of those days where I suddenly felt as though I wasn’t secure, my job wasn’t secure. Because that was the first time Estes had ever said something to the tune of, I think he says, I’m cooked. I’m done. And Saul says no no no, if you do X, Y, and Z you can keep your job. He says don’t tell Walden that you know. Don’t tell Walden that we know. If you just play your cards right and we do what [I] suggest –which is get this second team in to kind of use Brody to bring down this plot– If you bring down this plot you’ll be the golden boy. But I remember there thinking “I’m vulnerable.” That’s the first time I thought to myself as a character, I thought I’m vulnerable. I did that reaction shot after we did that scene and I remember when I saw [the tape] thinking “I have made the biggest mistake. I have really made the biggest mistake of my career. I really put my neck on the line by not seeing Brody for what he was.” So I was playing two things there I was playing my vulnerability as an actor and I was also playing my vulnerability as a character.
I just wanted to quickly touch on the fact that I saw a lot of rumors recently that you’re on a list to play the next Doctor in Doctor Who.
(laughs) It’s only rumors but it’s amazing to be attached to such an iconic role. It would be extraordinary if the BBC were to make me the first black Doctor Who, it would be extraordinary. But I’m almost scared to make any comment whatsoever.
You were already a character on that show, right?
I was in David Tennant’s final episode, yes. So it probably wouldn’t happen anyway.
So if you were the Doctor what would you want your outfit to be, because they have the kind of signature outfits for each character with the bow tie….
It would definitely be something extremely sharp. Something extremely sharp and tailored. And not to kind of put too dark a pun on it, but I would make him darker. I would like to make this guy a bit of a badass if I was to do it.
Do you have anything that you want to talk about that’s coming up next?
I’m going to be onstage in New York which I’m really excited about. I’m going to be in Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream just off-Broadway in November. I’m very very excited about that, working with such a creative director… Since Homeland I haven’t really been onstage and onstage in America. With Estes I have to almost do nothing. I have to be as ambiguous as I can possibly be and not show any emotions. I had to be very disciplined playing Estes and I’m looking forward to doing something completely different and showing people that’s not all I can do.