The biggest question of Homeland’s third season has been: What about Brody? It seemed like the show had written itself into an impossible situation, porting its main character to fugitive status in the hinterlands of the modern world, while the rest of its characters meandered on in Langley. Homeland has given itself a staggering task in trying to knit together the stories of its star-crossed lovers, Carrie and Brody, while keeping the taut psychological tension of the show running smoothly. Showcasing the Emmy-winning performance of Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody can’t hurt. Last night’s episode, “Tower Of David,” finally brought Lewis back to Homeland, showing us a beleaguered character. He is essentially a prisoner of a Venezuelan gang, and in the episode’s final moments, we see him turning to heroin as a means of escape. Brody’s alive, but in dire straits; as far as dark episodes go, it’s one of the darkest. We spoke to Damian Lewis about Brody’s dark night of the soul, as well as how victimhood and redemption are going to play out for his character.
The A.V. Club: In an interview a few months ago, you said that your character has always been a victim of war—which is interesting, because he’s seen as an enemy by nearly everyone else on the show. How do you think that plays out in this latest episode, “Tower Of David”?
Damian Lewis: He’s a victim in a different place now—but Brody’s whole journey was set in motion the moment that he decided to go and fight in Iraq as an American marine. He was caught, captured, tortured, brutalized—essentially deconstructed as a human being. Brody has been a servant to so many masters ever since that moment. He has never been the master of his own destiny and has never really been a full, whole person again. He doesn’t really know who he is.
And now he’s ended up in this place. He doesn’t know where he is. This episode has a feeling of being a waking nightmare. And it ends up with him seemingly just wanting to end it all—if not actually to commit suicide, then to just get away from the pain, the misery, the uncertainty of his life. To choose some peace and just get high, you know? Just get in that cell and get high.
It’s a pretty depressing downward spiral that Brody has been on for the last seven or eight years of his life. He was the threat in the first season. He was a man who told God he was going to commit a terrorist act. But since then, he’s been a pawn for the CIA. For Carrie. Abu Nazir’s used him when he’s wanted to use him. He’s been like a tumbleweed. He’s a character who has entered the nine circles of hell, and I don’t see him getting out any time soon.
AVC: Wow. That’s intense.
DL: Well, I think Homeland is intense. I think that’s how they [showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon] want to write it. It is dark, it’s bleak, it’s unforgiving. This is what happens if you send young men to war. They become this damaged, and then they become this dangerous because of their damage. This man’s life has been ruined by that decision.
AVC: This is a loaded question, but: Do you think Brody is a good person?
DL: [Exhales.] Acting is like advocacy. I can advocate for all my characters. Put them on the stand and I’ll defend them all day long. I do think he’s a good person. He’s a man that made a lot of bad choices—I’m not going to deny that. But I think he is a man who is confused, rudderless, unable to see clearly, and incapable of rational decision anymore. I think that’s a result of him being tortured and brutalized and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He’s a dangerous man. He’s dangerous because he’s unpredictable. He’s not grounded. He has no strong center to him anymore, no sense of himself. And people like that are always dangerous. They just are. But I don’t think he’s a bad man, no.
AVC: What is it like as an actor to play a character who has historically—and then again in this episode—endured so much physical pain and even torture? How does that work for you?
DL: [Laughs.] Oh, let’s say, it worked once. Maybe that’s enough. I don’t think I’ve been beaten up quite so many times in any role I’ve played before. I think it’s because they cast a Brit in the lead role and they secretly resent that I’m British and decided to systematically humiliate me.
AVC: [Laughs.] Yeah, that must be it.
DL: I think that’s what’s going on. You know, curiously, it’s fun to play. These characters, in extremis like this, are fun to play. It’s brilliantly written, and it always remains psychologically nuanced, and I love playing it. There are times at 1 o’clock in the morning I wish I wasn’t standing there naked, about to be beaten up in a shower, but generally it’s kind of okay.
And I do think Brody is a symbol. A decision has been made somewhere—Brody is someone that has to endure. Whatever is thrown at him, he will endure it. It’s like a purgatory. It’s like a hell. But he has to endure it. One of the characters [“the doctor”] in this episode, he says, “You’re like a cockroach. You always survive.” That’s a theme they’ve hit on for Brody, and I think it’s a good theme. There’s something about Brody. He returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria a poisoned well. And anyone who drank from his well was poisoned, too. He destroys his family when he returns, he makes Carrie unhappy, people end up dead around him. He’s kind of toxic.
AVC: Earlier you mentioned that Brody’s had so many masters of his destiny. Do you think Carrie is one of those masters? And, related to that—is he in love with Carrie? Or is it something else?
DL: I don’t know whether Carrie in the end will end up being the master of his destiny. I don’t know.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how they write Carrie? Because they can choose to write her as being in control of Brody, or they can choose to write a love story, where actually she’s out of control—where she wants to love him and to help him, but she can’t. She may be powerless to do that; she may be empowered to do that. I don’t know how that will end up.
He’s definitely in love with her, and I think she’s—I speak for Claire here—but I think she’s in love with him too. I think they’re definitely in love with one another. Complicated by the fact that sometimes they seem to be in situations where they needed to play each other. They needed information from one another. They were sort of working each other, but they always ended up fucking at the end of it. Serious duality in their relationship. They were never quite sure what they were doing.
But what always pervades is their attraction for one another. So it just makes their professional work much harder. The attraction is based in a connection, in a recognition that they are similar creatures.
AVC: There’s this moment in “Tower Of David” where Brody’s looking down to someone who’s been thrown off the building. What’s stopping him from throwing himself off that building right now? Is it Carrie? Is it some idea of doing good?
DL: He still has an instinct to stay alive. He has an instinct for survival. Secondly, I think, Carrie. He’s in love with this woman. And thirdly, his family. The shame he has brought on his family, the shame that he feels on himself—there’s a dream that maybe one day he’ll be able to stand on U.S. soil and tell everybody that he was not the guy who blew up the CIA. He was not that. He’s not a terrorist. And his family cannot walk in shame; they can hold their heads high now. And he can hold his head high. And that’s Brody’s tragedy. He’ll probably never be able to be a full, functioning, normal person ever again. He will always be kept in the shadows.