She might have had a few covert affairs, but Carrie Mathison is not the kind of CIA operative who gets to sprint through scenic European capitals in Louboutins, turning the spy world on with her smile. Claire Danes, who plays one of TV's more tortured interrogators on Showtime's Homeland, is fine with that.
"I like my crazy lady," Danes, 32, said in a phone interview last week, just days before viewers would see her character, who's bipolar, devolve into a full-blown, career-threatening manic episode.
The performance will almost certainly make the Emmy-winning Temple Grandin star a fixture on next year's awards-show circuit — she's already been nominated for a Golden Globe — but Danes, it's clear, sees a lot more in Carrie than awards bait.
"She's kind of better at her job than most people. And she doesn't have much tolerance for bureaucratic nonsense," she said of the driven agent, whose quest to stop what she expects to be a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil presumably comes to a head in Sunday's first-season finale.
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Will there be twists to the very end?
"It's Homeland," she said, laughing. "Of course."
Even Danes, who said she had "a basic sense of the trajectory" of the show before shooting began, has occasionally been surprised.
Developed by 24 producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa from an Israeli show, it also stars Damian Lewis (Life) as Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody, a former al-Qaida prisoner whom Carrie, at first convinced he was turned by his captors, spies on illegally and then falls for.
"That weekend with Brody," in which the two antagonists briefly come together romantically and he tells her things he'd told no one, "that's pretty shocking," she said.
"That whole scene did my head in. I was like, what? And that's happening? And that's happening?" she said. It was "this wildly layered moment, all these competing feelings and then there's a gun. It was difficult to wrangle all of that, make sense of it."
And television being television — even on Showtime — there wasn't a lot of time to take it all in before bringing it to life.
"You get maybe a couple of days (with the script) before you start something. Maybe a little more than that. But, yes, it's very quick," Danes said.
Even if it weren't, it might be hard to keep up with Carrie, who is often inappropriate, but seldom predictably so.
"Yeah, she is compulsive," Danes said. "I think that she is, you know, a workaholic, to put it mildly; she is very consumed by her profession. And I think she does recognize Brody because they've had a lot of similar experiences. And I think she does genuinely fall in love with him."
That has made the scenes in which she realizes their interlude meant more to her than to him all the more poignant — we don't really think of CIA agents as wearing their hearts on their sleeves — but it has helped to make Carrie more than just a collection of symptoms.
"She's extremely lonely," Danes said. "In that profession, it's very difficult to cultivate lasting romantic relationships because you can't disclose so much of your experiences, you know. So much of what you do during the day is clandestine. So that's hard. And I think with her bipolar disorder, she's probably — it's probably caused a lot of damage in past relationships, so she's reluctant to make herself available to another one."
Professionally, Carrie is true to her own internal logic, Danes said.
"But she's myopic and she's impulsive. She's absolutely fixated on her goal, whatever that is. You know, she'll do anything she can to meet it. She's not very concerned with how other people are going to perceive her. ... I think she wants to be disciplined and contained and respectful and courteous, but she just can't contain herself all the time, and she gets herself in trouble. And she knows that about herself."
Even for CIA operatives who don't share all of Carrie's issues, "I think it's a very lonely life," Danes said.
"It's very erratic. It's not all that dissimilar to our lives (as actors), in that we can't ever know what we're going to be doing in the next few months. We travel incessantly. We have these isolated, disconnected experiences."