Homeland: Peter Quinn actor on that heartbreaking premiere
The sixth season premiere of Homeland finally revealed Peter Quinn’s condition after his near-fatal brush with death last season (premiere episode spoilers below). As played by actor Rupert Friend, Quinn has dramatically changed — his body and mind seriously eroded from his exposure to sarin gas last year. Having given up hope on making any further improvement, Quinn is pushing away his friend Carrie (Clarie Danes) and just trying to escape from his new reality in a VA hospital. Below, we spoke to Friend about his character’s dramatic change.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, so what was your reaction when you go the premiere script and how dramatically Quinn was changed?
Rupert Friend: It’s tricky because the script didn’t say to what extent or in what way he’s changed. There was a lot of room for imagination or creativity because there wasn’t a manual on what we were seeing or hearing with this guy. The Homeland [script writing] style is very sparse, it’s pretty much just the words that actors say and not a lot more, which I happen to really like because there’s a huge amount of freedom afforded. So I saw this as an opportunity to explore something that’s under-explored in our popular narratives — which is a modern returning soldier. Not with fanfare and streamers, like maybe it was 100 or 50 years ago. But modern warfare spits veterans out and forgets about them. Veterans are coming home to us with diseases, ailments, and inabilities that we’re not even really qualified to deal with. PTSD is an obvious one, but chemical warfare being the other one. In wars in the first part of the 20th century you would have been run through or shot, and you had land mines and bombs. But chemical warfare now is a whole other horror story. This is a popular show and a popular character and it’s important we tell this story as truthfully as we can.
In terms of the physicality of your performance, how did you go about creating that?
There was a lot of research. It wasn’t necessarily clear what was happening to him. I spoke with doctors, neuroscientists, veterans. Weirdly, YouTube was incredibly helpful. There were are a lot of people who have suffered and with the power of YouTube or Vimeo they have made a lot of tutorials they’ve put out to help others. It’s an amazing spirit of people helping others who they’re never going to meet, and it’s a wonderful thing about the Internet because there’s no payback — maybe you’ll get some Likes or something— but it’s people teaching each other how to coop with impossible circumstances. There’s a huge sense of community and generosity.
It seems like such a delicate thing to pull off. A few degrees too much it becomes like a caricature. It’s a dramatic difference for Quinn, yet there also has a lot of subtlety to it.
Since I felt like I got inside a community of real people the idea of doing anything that didn’t do that justice would have been very insulting to them. While I didn’t want to shy away from the more dramatic effects these things can have on people, you got to do them justice, otherwise it’s, as you say, a caricature, and I’m not interested in doing sideshow freak show stuff. It’s not respectful and not interesting, and it gets boring quickly.
Even your voice pitch is different and, if I’m not mistaken, the way you use your eyes is different too.
Thank you. It’s a weird thing to try and imagine your entire neurological pathway has been short-circuited and re-wired badly. Having that as an obstacle, the storyline gets into very extreme places very quickly and overcoming those obstacles would be hard enough for somebody who is firing on all cylinders. But I think the hardest thing for Quinn is his confusion — Is this really what I’m seeing?
In the first episode, the read on Quinn that you get as a viewer is that he’s clearly in so much pain and just wants to escape.
That’s perfect. It’s been nine months, he’s done all the counseling and the tests and the physical [therapy], he’s come to terms with himself. The place where we shot the Veterans Administration was beyond depressing. This is your life. If you’re Quinn, you collect your check, you blow it all on one night to have one night away from it all, then you’re back in prison, effectively. There’s a genuine thing he’s saying to Carrie, Will you just give up on me because I have.
Can you tease to what we can expect from Quinn the rest of the season?
The altered perception of reality that Quinn has, which is fascinating and scary, his misreading of normal and simple situations, is going to be a huge problem for him and going to cause him to entangle himself into complicated and dangerous situations. We’ve seen Quinn get out of dangers situations but they’re not of his own making due to his inability to comprehend reality. We’re in this weird Fear and Loathing place where reality is a scary place … What’s really interesting is that Homeland is doing something I don’t think any TV show has done before, where you have a character in season 6 and he’s basically unrecognizable from the previous seasons. We’ve seen shows run and run with characters who come back season after season, but the idea that one of those characters comes back after they’ve changed … I think it’s risky and I like that. Some will say, “But where’s my old friend?” But that’s not the way the world works and I applaud Homeland for its bravery.
More Homeland premiere coverage: Interview with showrunner Alex Gansa
Homeland airs Sundays on Showtime.