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Coming home to good old Rupert Friend
Nikhil Taneja  25th Oct 2014

Rupert Friend in Homeland.

ritish actor Rupert Friend talks to Guardian20 about playing ruthless CIA assassin Peter Quinn in the TV series Homeland and tells us something about the "nefarious" character our very own Nimrat Kaur plays this season.

Q. There are several major changes this season on Homeland. What does that mean for Peter Quinn?

The idea of having the one career my whole life was anathema to me. I also knew that in and of itself acting was never going to be everything for me. I just knew it was going to be a great way of experiencing adventure, frankly.

A. At the end of last season, we were left with feeling that Quinn was very much done with the CIA and with that whole life. He was feeling very ambivalent about his job, and so, in this season, he deliberately distanced himself from that line of work and also from Carrie, because I think it's pretty obvious that Carrie and Quinn have this sometimes disastrous effect on one another, where it's like a dangerous black hole; once you're in it, then bad things happen.

But of course, when Carrie needs him again, she is someone Quinn can't say no to. And that is the beginning of the unravelling, so to speak, and that has many disastrous results for him personally.

The good news is that if you are a fan of Peter Quinn, you're going to be very happy because he is definitely much more front and centre this season.

Q. I've read how you did extensive research before getting into the role. How did you prepare for a role that revealed so little about the character initially?

A. It was completely different [from films], my first experience with television. In films, you're given a script where you see the arc of all of the characters and you can try and get inside the skin of somebody. With this, it was like walking off a ledge and not knowing how to fly or whether you can jump — it's a complete leap of faith. So, for me, it is super-interesting knowing as little as possible.

Q. You're a big fan of seeking out all kinds of experiences, from building your own house to being a lyricist for a band. Would you say that these are by-products of your being an actor or did you become an actor because you're interested in eclectic experiences?

A. It's a good observation. I think they are intertwined, and I've never considered which came first. I can tell you that the reason I came into acting was that I wanted to experience as much as possible. The idea of having the one career my whole life was anathema to me. I also knew that in and of itself acting was never going to be everything for me. I just knew it was going to be a great way of experiencing adventure, frankly. The other cool thing about acting is that I get to suddenly go and learn a whole bunch about something entirely new; for example, how to take apart a gun with one hand. That's also why I write. I love the idea that there really are no limits to what you can do as a writer or, for that matter, as a director. Stanley Kubrick once said, "If it can be dreamt, it can be filmed."

Q. I want to ask you about one of the most crucial moments for Quinn in Homeland, when he accidentally killed a kid last season. You've earlier played a Nazi in The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and had a similar disturbing scene with a kid. How do you prepare for and cope with such dark scenes?

A. With the two things that you've referenced, it was important for me to play with the kids, and hang out with them at a zoo, and help them psychologically, so that they were able to see the difference between the man and the character. Because, however good the film or show turns out to be, if you've scarred a child for life psychologically, was it worth doing? Kids are fantastic: they are the best at imagining things, so if you pitch a kid a game — for example, "I'm the cop, you're the robber" — they just go with it, without question. The problem is that they are, I think, very susceptible to being unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not. So in The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas, I explained to the kid that when we were shooting, my character was real and I was a Nazi, and whenever we stepped out of the house, only Rupert existed.

Q. Indian actress Nimrat Kaur is working in Homeland this season. How has your interaction with her been?

A. Fantastic! Oh yeah, she's wonderful. She's got a lovely energy, and you know, I'm sure she'll play someone nefarious and multi-layered incredibly well. She seems to be very excited about it. Nimrat is playing an intelligence officer for the Pakistani secret service, and she plays a very, very interesting character called Tasneem — like everyone else around, she isn't quite what she seems. She plays a very powerful, very manipulative woman, so you know, it's worlds away from her role in The Lunchbox. Although I've met her, we haven't had a scene together yet.

Q. Let's talk about what you're up to next. You're doing a comedy for the first time, Alex Holdridge's Meet Me in Montenegro.

A. You know, I would really, really like to do more comedy. The few people who know me and love me know that that's very much the heart of me. I think I have quite a serious face, which is a shame, because I've got quite a silly side to me. I really like making a fool of myself. I am a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, I think she's fantastic. She has a way of being serious within comedy, which I love, and I would love to do something like that.

Q. You've also made a short film called Steve, starring Colin Firth, and you were planning to direct a feature film co-starring Emily Blunt. How's that shaping up?

A. Yeah, that is going to be my first feature as director. We are slated to begin production at some point next year, I think. It's a story of two people finding their way across America while falling in love. But the film's got a lot of twists and turns, and it's got elements of suspense.

The genesis of Steve was that a lot of interesting people are seen as eccentrics or outcasts or misfits; I know I certainly was. And it always felt to me like, just because you don't shake hands in the right way or you don't know pleasantries, it doesn't mean you're not worth knowing. Steve went to many film festivals and people seemed to enjoy it regardless of their culture, because it was about not fitting in, which I guess everyone recognises. So Colin called me earlier in the year and said, "What do you think about a feature?" So I'm in the process of writing that as well, and Colin is very excited to play that role again.

Q. You're also doing your first big, no-holds-barred studio action film, Agent 47 (of the Hitman franchise), to which Paul Walker was attached before his unfortunate demise. Has that added any additional responsibility to the role for you?

A. I think the tragedy of Paul's death is something that should be kept with his family and loved ones to mourn and not forced into the misfortune of his not having played the role. The main thing is to wish the best for the people close to him and then go do the best job we can, which I'm sure they would want us to.

As for the role itself, I began to do my own stunts as Quinn very early on Homeland, and I've always loved the physicality of characters. You know, I have never played anyone who has a whole world created for them especially and has had a whole world of fans who've grown up with him. So you are stepping into the shoes of someone whom people feel they know very well. He's also someone who has already been played on screen once, so people have been wondering, "Is this a reinvention, is it a homage, or is it a reboot?" Truth is, I don't know the answer yet myself, but we'll find out soon.

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