“Homeland” is never short on shocks, and it shared a few with its biggest fans to start Paleyfest 2015. Kicking off the annual celebration of all things TV, co-creator Alex Gansa told the audience gathered at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, CA (and everyone watching at home via Yahoo Screen) that the upcoming fifth season would see some big changes.
“We’re going to jump two-and-a-half years forward,” Gansa said. “We are going to be shooting the show in Europe — probably in Germany — and Carrie will no longer be an intelligence officer.”
“She’s making beer and sausage,” said Claire Danes, joking about her character’s mysterious new profession.
Gansa and Danes were on hand along with a large swath of the Emmy-winning Showtime drama’s writing team. Patrick Harbinson, Alex Cary, Meredith Stiehm and Chip Johannessen, all executive producers and writers, joined Sean Callery, the show’s composer, Maury Sterling, who plays Max, and Lesli Linka Glatter, an executive producer and director, on stage to share their thoughts on the Season 4 reboot as well as what’s to come.
To start the 90-minute Q&A, Gansa announced Johannssen and Cary won’t be back for Season 5. He did not say why they were leaving — both writers have been with the show from the beginning, with Johannsseen receiving four writing credits last year — but we did find out later that Season 5 is tentatively scheduled to premiere “the last weekend in September.” Showtime president David Nevins provided the answer from his seat in the audience, confirming the series would return September 27 (assuming it keeps its Sunday night slot, which is a safe bet).
Though these big announcements are certainly the “breaking news” elements of the evening, the rest of the discussion was equally informative in regard to the past season (and beyond). Head to the next page for some of the highlights, including the Carrie/Quinn debate, sexism on “Homeland” and the origin of Claire Danes’ “cry face”: [some Season 4 spoilers to follow]
Every Male Writer (Except the Showrunner) Didn’t Want Claire & Quinn to Kiss
One of the hotly-debated elements of Season 4 was the “will they or won’t they” relationship forming between Quinn and Carrie. Audiences got their answer by season’s end, but the couple separated before the final credits rolled. Moderator Julie Chen (“The Talk”) asked the panel who was in favor of the romantic entanglement and who wasn’t, and all the male writers raised their hand except Gansa.
The only major supporter turned out to be Meredith Stiehm. “I was a fierce advocate for it,” Stiehm said. “I really felt like there was something in the air from Day 1. […] I think that people who live like that don’t have a lot of counterparts and [find it difficult to] have relationships with civilians who aren’t living extreme lives. It’s a lonely life. […] I just felt it was inevitable that they should and could come together.”
Cary disagreed, stating, “I just felt that in a thriller about CIA operatives, it always felt like kind of high school romance stuff, conceptually.”
“Meredith wrote a card that said ‘Carrie and Quinn kiss’ and put it in Episode 1,” Johannessen said when remembering the in-office debate. “And we slowly moved it again and again until it ended up in Episode 12.”
For her part, Danes said she thought the relationship was “sudden” but was handled “intelligently.” “Because they are so similar, they were kind of repellent,” she said. “They would repel one another and attract one another.”
That’s How Claire Danes Actually Cries
During the audience round of the Q&A, a fan asked Danes what she was thinking about and how she was able to make what’s now commonly known as “Carrie’s Cry Face.” Exasperated but laughing, Danes gamely responded, “I swear to God that’s just what my face does. […] I remember on ‘My So Called Life,’ actually, they wrote it into an episode and even then… that’s just how I cry!”
“She loves children.”
Danes, Gansa and the writers were asked about two separate-but-connected points of controversy from Season 4; namely, the scene where Carrie nearly drowns her baby and when she sleeps with a man in his late teens.
To the latter point, Stiehm argued there wouldn’t have been any controversy if Carrie was a man. “In a way, it was a sexist reaction,” she said. “Would you feel that way if it was a 35-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman? […] I didn’t like that reaction, that, ‘Oh, I didn’t want to watch that.'”
The sequence with the baby was approached with incredible caution. Originally, the shot lasted for 15 seconds with the camera representing the baby’s point of view and being fully submerged for the full take. Gansa said it was quickly determined in post that 15 seconds was too long, and they needed to shorten it. To do so, they simply reversed the footage so it appeared the baby was only in the water briefly.
When the baby topic was first broached, Danes cracked a joke, saying “[Carrie] loves children.” But when pressed about Carrie’s mindset in Season 4, Danes opened up. “I know that they’re going to kick the shit out of me every year,” she said. “That’s the deal. I say that facetiously, but we all like extreme stuff. We don’t like extreme stuff for the sake of it, and I was so excited about how Carrie was presented at the beginning of this season. It was truly brave because she was so emotionally shut down and unavailable. It was such a realistic response to grief.”
“There are very, very few representations of motherhood that are at all controversial on television, and I know personally it’s a very complex experience,” Danes continued. “I don’t know if there is a greater taboo than an unloving mother.”
Alex Gansa Uses a Belt to Lock Himself Down When Writing “Homeland”
Gansa joked it was “like a wedding ring,” but didn’t get much further into his peculiar process. Though when he announced later than Johannssen and Cary wouldn’t be returning for Season 5, Danes joked, “Where’s the belt for them? We need two belts!”
How To Decide Who Lives and Who Dies
There have been more than a few surprising deaths on “Homeland” over the years. When asked about the decision-making process, Gansa said, “It’s decided in what will provide the biggest bang for the buck in that dramatic moment. […] I personally have the worst job because I have to call the actor and tell them [their character] is not going to live.”
Earlier, Chen awkwardly asked Sterling how he felt about Max living and Fara (Nazanin Boniadi) being the one to die. “I’ve heard rumors…,” he said. “I’ve heard Alex Gansa’s wife might have saved me.”
“She did,” Gansa confirmed, before saying “the trick” to deciding which character lives and which dies is considering the scene that follows their death. In the case of Max and Fara, he determined it was better for Carrie to have to confront Max about Fara dying than the other way around.
“Every successful television show is a fucking miracle.”
So states Alex Gansa when asked about how he was able to find the perfect people to work on “Homeland,” from the writers through the actors.
After making the above statement, he said, “If we knew how to recreate it, we’d be doing it over and over again. It’s ineffable. It’s something you can never predict. I know people hate to hear success explained away as luck, but this is luck, big time.”
Here’s hoping the lucky streak holds strong without two of the original writers.
Watch the Paleyfest Panel below: