[Editor’s Note: This interview originally ran in June 2015 as part of an Emmys push for select candidates the Indiewire editorial team found deserving. It has since been lightly edited to focus on pertinent issues.]
"Homeland" has never been a show lacking courage. From its addictive, conspiracy-based first season, to its lead character’s concealed bipolar disorder, the Showtime drama isn’t afraid to take on the biggest stories and make them feel small, relatable and grounded. Season 4 took a special kind of courage, basically rebooting as one of the show’s co-leads was gone and the other shipped off to a new overseas posting.
Steering the ship on set was director and executive producer Lesli Linka Glatter, who helmed four episodes of the latest season, including the premiere and the finale. An Oscar and Emmy nominee, Linka Glatter won two DGA awards for directing "Homeland" in 2015 and "Mad Men" in 2010. Now, she’s left for an eight-month trip to Germany to shoot the fifth season of the reinvigorated CIA drama. Before she took off, Linka Glatter sat down with Indiewire in Los Angeles for an open discussion about how they pulled off a reboot in Season 4, what’s coming in Season 5 and what it means to be a TV director today.
That’s great to hear because you don’t know how it comes off. […] And with Claire [Danes], I think she’s an amazing partner in crime to have with this. She is the real deal on every level — you can tell she’s really articulate and so smart about character and material, and she’s funny.
Is that just a blessing for you as a director?
One always hopes you end up in a situation where you have a really fascinating story to tell with very compelling characters, and she is so complicated and layered and human and fallible and is strong, as is Mandy as Saul. The characters, to me, in "Homeland" are not one note in any way.
I think that was perfectly exemplified by last season because you’re coming in losing one of your co-leads. You’ve got to find something in the people that you have. You can’t just bring in other people and try to replace it. But it was all there, and Season 4 was a great season. Like you said, having someone there like Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin has to be a huge help.
I think we all challenge each other in the best possible way, and whoever has the best idea wins. It’s great, and the writers really do a great job and a lot of research. It’s a wonderful team to be part of, it really is. And this was exciting this year for me as a director because it was such a reset of the season. This was a new show. It was terrifying and exhilarating and then they sent us to Cape Town to make Pakistan, which we talked about a little at the Paleyfest. We so backed into that decision. We were going to be in the Middle East, we didn’t think we’d be in Africa to create Pakistan. It turned out to be amazing, and our crew was amazing.
Was there anything that hit you on the day while you were shooting or shortly before you were shooting where you just had to say, "Okay, we’ve got to make a change"?
Oh, every day. We kind of picked the area that looked the most like Pakistan from all of our research, which has a very Muslim population. That’s one of the reasons why we went there. All of a sudden I’d look and see something that was completely Africa, like a sign or a haircut, and you’re like, "Okay, someone bring over an Urdu sign." It was actually harder doing America there because everything is just odd enough that it didn’t look right. And that helped us with making Pakistan.
Did you have to build things to make it America instead of just finding things?
We found houses that looked close enough, but to find a house that looks American is a lot harder than you would think.
Even in the U.S., if you go from state to state, you’re going to find different constructions of housing, like California houses don’t look anything like East Coast houses.
It was exciting. It was a little bit like doing a period piece. You had to really think in this is what the playing field is, but if you look over there you’re in Africa. So it was an unusual challenge to have.
You came onto "Homeland" in the second season and you were serving as a director. In this fourth season, you really stepped up into the producer role. How did you get into that? How did you bridge the gap?
On various shows, I’ve been the producing-director, the executive producer-director, and if you were working with the material you love with the right group of people, it’s an incredible job to be doing. I came in as a director in Season 2 and I did this episode called "Q&A," which was written by the amazing and no longer with us Henry Bromell. Every now and then you get one of these scripts that you just go, "Oh my God." I just happened to be doing Episode 5. I got it and it terrified me because it was 40 pages in one room, and it was between Damian Lewis and Claire Danes. It’s the scene where Carrie has to break Brody, and this is a man who has been tortured in captivity for eight years; has been questioned over and over again. He knows how to do this. And what are those points to find the truth for each of those characters? And when you have two people sitting in a room, you don’t have anything to hide behind. No fancy camera move or anything is going to make that work, it’s those two people and those words and the truth of that moment.
The script was amazing, but I was scared. So I was excited by it, but I was also scared. I think any of us who do a creative job it’s always scary. Every time I do something new it’s like, "Oh my God, you’re on the line again." I guess I would worry if I didn’t feel that. The director who did the pilot and was the executive producer at the time I came on, Michael Cuesta, is a wonderful director and a wonderful guy. He said something that was great to me, he said, "Don’t be scared to be simple." I thought, "What a brilliant thing to say." Trust the material, trust the story that you’re telling.
Once we started filming the scene, I was sitting next to Henry, and we decided to — again, it was this huge monster of a scene, but it was divided into three parts. We could’ve conceivably broken it up — but we decided to try it almost as a play because it was so interconnected. Yes, you could stop, but it really was almost continual. It was a cutting away to things and then cutting back right to the moment. The take was like 32 minutes and we cross-covered it so I could see Claire and Damian at the same time. It was chilling. It felt like four minutes had passed. I felt Henry’s hand reach over and grab me, and we stood there — it was amazing. It was truly amazing. And then we did two more takes, I gave certain notes because of these really important transitions that had to be believable for both characters at different points. When does he break? When does she turn him? When does she ratchet up the conversation. It was really one of the profound experiences.
It sounds like it.
I was supposed to direct the first season, but I was on another show and couldn’t do it. And so that was my first episode and it was an amazing experience.
What do you do to prepare when you first get the call they want you to come direct this episode? Have you been watching all along?
That’s a really good question. So for me, I watch everything. If I’m coming in the fifth episode of the second season I watch everything up to that point. So I know what’s been done what the story, who the characters are, what the world looks like. I want to come in with all the information I could possibly have. When you’re coming in you have to tell the story you’re given, you have to tell it well. I think you have to know what the style is, you have to know what the genre and the world you’re entering, but you also have to tell the story that you’re given. So you have to really know the story because in TV directing, if you only have nine days to tell your story, you have to know how to divide your time.
You need to know what the dollar scene is and what the 25-cent scene is because it’s not all created equal. So if you don’t really know what your story is, it’s hard to figure out where to spend your time. But I’m going to try to figure out what are the three or four scenes that really turn that story. And then you have to move quicker on the scenes that don’t because I want to spend my time in that interrogation room. I don’t want to be doing that at the end of the night having done a few little scenes and now this big important thing I’ve left to the end of the day.
So you have to know your material. Then I ask a lot of questions. Hopefully I’m meeting with the showrunner, in terms of what’s important to them, how they see the world they’ve created and how I can service that story. And then you have to, as every director does, bring themselves to the party and hopefully elevate that material in the best possible way.
I wanted to talk a little about the Season 4 finale. It’s almost like a step back in the heavy twist department. Season 3 had such a huge finale where the ground just fell out from under your feet. Season 4 had that, but in a much more subtle way where now Carrie has to reevaluate herself. I guess my question would be where are they going to go from there? What’s the hook for Carrie going into Season 5? What’s driving her now that she’s kind of at least somewhat moved past the Brody factor?
Right, I mean I think one of the things that was so interesting to me emotionally for Carrie in the beginning of Season 4 is that she’s so completely disconnected emotionally. I mean, she is high-functioning in terms of work, but she has not dealt with anything in her personal life. She has not looked at the fact that she is in part very responsible for Brody’s death. And to go to sleep at night she has to put in the earplugs and the mouth guard and the sleeping mask and take the pills and take the wine. I mean, this is the only way she can find any peace, and it’s not much. So, you know, it’s her throughout the season coming to terms with what she’s done and who she is and having some sort of internal balance.
But the disillusionment with what she has believed in and staked her life on is the moral high ground — that we are indeed fighting the good fight. You know, when she walks into Dar Adal, and then she sees Dar Adal in the back of the car in Pakistan, and then Saul has indeed joined forced with Dar Adal, it’s — you know, yes the ends justify the means. It’s like "Oh my God," you know, the thing that she’s staked everything on — the mission — she can no longer believe in it. We’re now starting [Season 5] and, you know, there’s only certain things I can talk about—
Of course, of course, I don’t want you to give anything away—
No, you don’t want to know. Alex Gansa pitched me the season, and I was really excited about it. Because again, it’s going to other places. Like we can’t go back and now have Carrie in the CIA as another station. I mean, we just did that.
They’re so smart about the kind of questions they’re asking, character-wise. And I think we talked about it a bit at Paleyfest, but everyone on that stage, including Mandy — who wasn’t on the stage because I think he was performing that night — we all went to the CIA, which happens every season. You know, we don’t go to CIA [headquarters], we meet in an incredible 1700/1784 building in Georgetown and all these incredible people come and speak to us about every issue that they’re dealing with. Whether it’s cyberterrorism, narcoterrorism, ISIS, and it’s shocking and kind of horrifying and fascinating and all of that. So that’s where a lot of the ideas for the next season come from.
So you’ve had that meeting for Season 5?
We did, yeah, we did that in January.
Can you comment on what some of those big issues might have been, like the bigger picture?
The big picture? Putin.
You know, cyberterrorism. ISIS, of course.
But going in depth, I think one of the bigger things that was illuminating is [what] one of the people who was talking to us talked about; when ISIS messages disaffected Muslim youth in suburbs all over the world. Whether it’s Chicago [or wherever], I mean there’s an incredible article in The New York Times about what is attracting young people to ISIS. You know, Muslims and non-Muslims, and it’s this idea that you’re building utopia. You’re building the Muslim state. There’s a higher calling, and I see how that would be attractive. America had the message of freedom and democracy, but we haven’t actually shown that to be what we do in the world. So I think that’s a terrifying thing.
Do those discussions with the CIA ever get controversial? Do you ever get feedback from them saying, "Hold on now, this isn’t quite right"?
I think they see it as, yes, we are telling a story. We’re not telling a true story. We’re telling a story based on a lot of truth, but it still is a story. I think what they think we get right is the dedication to the mission.
You know, they definitely have said they wouldn’t have a bipolar CIA agent, but I’m sure that there are all sorts of mixed feelings depending on who you talk to who works at the CIA. I’m sure there’s some people who would hate it. I mean, obviously we want everyone to like it [laughs] but I’m sure that there are very mixed feelings about it.
At Paleyfest, there was a fun discussion on the Quinn/Carrie relationship, about who supported it and who didn’t. I have to say, I was pretty against it for most of the season.
I mean for me personally, I think they’re two such similar and damaged people. I mean, we joke around: he’s the assassin with the heart of gold. But they’re both very complicated people, and they understand each other because they’ve done such similar things. Now whether that yields a good relationship, you know that they understand each other. And I think probably, for me personally, their relationship lives in that deep understanding of each other. And whether that’s romantic, but you know, if you read anything about people in wartime they get together in those intense adrenaline situations. So I could definitely see that happening. I don’t know if I think it would be the healthiest relationship for either of them. [laughs]
It’s hard to imagine a relationship for them.
Yes, exactly. And I have to say — and I’m not speaking out of turn because this is the things that’s been said — Claire [Danes] and Alex Gansa and I did a Q&A which was really fun for the LA Times. When we meet Carrie, now at the beginning of Season 5, at least for a short while her life seems really good. She’s out of the CIA, she’s working at the NGO. She’s using her skill set, you know, of what she’s always used, but it’s not within the CIA, and she has a relationship, which seems pretty balanced. At least for a short while [laughs] until everything doesn’t work out the way it seems.
Was there a scene you were particularly proud of last season that didn’t get a lot of publicity? And maybe it’s not a huge chunk of the show or something that people immediately gravitate to, but something where you just said, "You know what? This is Season 4 for me. This is what I’m going to remember."
I mean one of the scenes for me personally — but I do think it got attention — the scene on the tarmac with Carrie and Saul together, for me, was one of the scenes that affected me profoundly. And it was in the writing, but it was in Mandy and Claire’s particular playing of that scene. What Saul would never want anyone to do for him, to be the cause of, and here he is being bargained? In a way he would rather be dead. The middle episode I directed, "From A to B and Back Again," when Haqqani shoots Aayan in the head and then Claire says "Drop it," and then Saul’s down there. Which would have, on a certain tactical level, been the move he would have wanted her to do.
So that is the right move on a mission, but she would never be a human being again. On an emotional level Quinn knew that she would never survive that. She could never kill Saul and have any sort of a life again. But then I think the build up of when she realizes she has to save him no matter what, and that she got that her soul would be gone. And when she says something to him about how we are not like that. We can’t do that, we can’t let a boy be the suicide bomb. And then walking, I don’t know, to me that was an amazing scene.
I feel like we’re finally entering an age, along with this "Golden Age of Television," that we’re really starting to focus on the individual directors of episodes.
Yes! Yes! Good!
Have you noticed that you’re getting more respect outside of the industry or more recognition?
I absolutely agree that’s happening. I think it’s been going on for a long time, honestly.
Do you think there was a turning point?
I do think there was a turning point. I mean for me, I came from another career. I was a modern dancer then I was a choreographer. The first actual series I did was "Twin Peaks." I mean what could be more iconic and less series-like. And, of course, David Lynch is an amazing director and he encouraged directors to make their movie. So I’ve always felt that about TV — go and make your movie. Respect the world you’re coming into, but go and make your movie. Because if you don’t, it will be ordinary. You have to elevate the material. All directors want to elevate the material. I think directors come in to the show wanting to do their best possible job.
But there are such good directors working in TV now. I mean it’s exciting, and I feel like being a good storyteller — whether you’re telling a two-hour-story where you have more time, or an hour story — you really need to know what story you’re telling. You almost exercise different muscles, having to do it that quickly, and I think that’s great for both film and TV. And I think there’s now wonderful crossover between the two that feeds both mediums.
So I think it’s helped both. There are these huge budget movies and then the tiny movies, and all those mid-range movies, they stopped being made. And so much of this complicated character material went to TV. And I think that’s, to me, where TV really just went up. The Netflixs and the Amazons and HBO and Showtime, of course, but AMC and FX; there are now so many places to tell interesting stories. That’s great for filmmakers. And because now TV has to look like movies. We’re used to seeing cinematic storytelling. You can’t go back to "Dragnet" from the ’50s where everyone enters from the same door and you change the painting. You can’t do that. You have to tell a visual story.
I’m glad you brought up "Twin Peaks." Obviously "Twin Peaks" was its own thing, set aside from what was traditionally television back then. What has changed for you — between shooting "Twin Peaks" and now working on "Homeland" — in the TV world when it comes to directing, when it comes to being on set, when it comes to expectations? What’s changed between then and now?
Well… what’s changed between then and now. You see, I look back at those things that I did from "Twin Peaks." There was really— I mean, "West Wing," "E.R.," early "E.R." was amazing in terms of the human stories, so I think there’s always been interesting storytelling on TV. Even things like "Freaks and Geeks." "Freaks and Geeks" was amazing, I mean a totally different kind of story. I love that for me personally, I’ve been able to work on a lot of different genres in TV.
I think now there are so many different places that you can tell good stories. When I started off doing "Twin Peaks" there were three networks. There was a limited playing field. That playing field is now huge, and I think it’s going to expand. If somebody has a good story to tell, I feel that people will find it, whatever network. I mean I hadn’t heard of AMC before "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" were on, and that put that network on the map because they were telling such good stories.
So I feel like the playing field has gotten bigger, the desire for more complicated characters. Network TV, I think, serves a different purpose now. I think they’re doing different things. I don’t think there’s a bad or a good, I think it’s whatever stories interest you. For me, I tend to veer more toward that kind of storytelling, to what’s on cable — personally.
A lot of us do.
And so I think the fact that you can make all these choices and you can watch it when you want to watch it [is a significant change]. "Twin Peaks," that era of the water-cooler, where everyone’s standing and talking about "Twin Peaks," do we still have that? Maybe a little bit. But not in the way it was happening then. John Wells is an amazing producer, and he really empowered directors to direct, so I feel like he’s always been a huge support of the director’s vision, and he’s a very strong writer and showrunner. But that doesn’t negate having a strong directorial vision.
I remember he framed— and I hope I get this number — it was the back of Variety, and I had done the season finale. I don’t remember what season of "E.R." but it was early on. But it was something like 48 million people watched the season finale. Nobody has those kind of numbers now, but you have all these different options and you don’t watch it when it’s on the air. So I think it’s just a seismic shift in how human beings take in information and storytelling.
So, obviously "Homeland" is going to take up all your time…
…for the next eight months.
For eight months [laughs] — which is a long time. But is there anything that you really wish you had time to dig into? Like is there a specific show that you’ve caught or that you’ve spoken with somebody about that you’re like "You know, this is something that would be great."
Well, there are things. I’m working on developing various shows myself, as well as a couple of movie projects, but to me it’s all about the material. If something needs to be in the film format, fantastic. To me it’s all about telling the best story. There are shows that are on the air or have gone off the air that I wish I had had time to direct. I never did "Breaking Bad." I loved that show, so I’m really sad I never got to do that. I was supposed to direct "Girls." I mean, what could be more different, "Girls" and "Breaking Bad?" But that’s what I love about working in TV.