I’m one of them. I tell Harewood how the recent bank holiday weekend turned into a Homeland marathon as my wife and I watched eight episodes in quick succession. This is perfectly normal, Harewood assures me, laughing: “In America, Homeland plays without adverts. It’s on Showtime and plays for a straight hour and people have Homeland parties. They sit in all day and say, ‘Well, Saturday’s Homeland day’. And they show all 12 episodes in the same day.”
Other than the fine acting, compelling action and sharp scripts, one of the reasons for the show’s success has been the way it has questioned the moral imperatives of US foreign policy during the war on terror.
Harewood says: “It’s created quite an anxiety among people, particularly with the Americans. It’s such a sensitive subject having the all-American hero being a baddie. It really does ratchet up the anxiety levels with the Americans, but it seems to have done the same thing here.”
When he read the storyline, in which a US Marine (played by fellow Brit Damian Lewis) may, or may not, be a jihadist, did Harewood fear patriotic US viewers would run a mile?
“I think the writers did,” admits Harewood. “There’s a certain amount of terrorism fatigue. If you look across the spectrum of post 9/11 movies, or movies that have dealt with terrorism, they haven’t really worked. I think the writers kind of felt there was going to be that fatigue, but in between shooting the pilot and the series, Bin Laden was killed and I think they felt that bookended the 10 years, this whole 10 years of American reaction to 9/11.
“I have been reading a lot of books and the gloves really came off in the days after 9/11. The CIA and America basically stomped all over the world and really took revenge. It’s impossible to under-estimate the effect on the psyche that those attacks had in America, when questionable things happened in the days and years after 9/11.
“I think what Homeland is seeking to do is to question whether everything that was done was right or correct. I think what we did brilliantly (in Homeland) was to show there is a huge grey area between what was right, what was necessary and whether it has been successful.”
Harewood concedes he did not know much about the CIA before he landed the role of Estes. “It was such a phantom of an institution. I had heard about it but I didn’t know about it,” he says.
The actor read The Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA, and Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, about the war on terror, for an insight. But he says he struggled to get a grip on the character of David Estes. His outlook changed when he read the final two scripts of season one and learned of Estes’s complicity in a disastrous drone attack, overseen by the vice president.
“All the way through, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Something’s missing here. I don’t quite know where this character is’. All the way through the shooting of the first series, I didn’t feel comfortable because I didn’t feel I knew who this guy was. So for me personally getting the whole storyline with the vice president was a huge relief for me. Then I realised he has sold part of his soul to get the job that he wanted. I didn’t know about that (the cover up) until the very end.”
But does he know the answer to the big question? Does he know the identity of the Al Qaida mole inside the CIA?
“I worked it out. It’s all there,” says Harewood.
“I said to one of the producers, ‘I think I know who the mole is’. And when I said who it was, he said ‘You are absolutely right.’ The whole tagline is ‘listen carefully, watch closely’ and that’s exactly what I did.”
I did the same thing but am still no clearer.
“That’s what is so great about the show. People really didn’t know where it was going to go. For a TV programme to pull that off is great.”
So does the double agent inside the CIA become apparent in Season 2?
“If I tell you, I’d have to kill you,” says Estes. I mean Harewood.