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Homeland’s David Harewood on Being Surprise-British and Playing ‘Bad Estes’

David Harewood. Photo: Getty Images

[Spoilers ahead.] Usually when a character as shady as David Estes gets killed off a show, it feels like a satisfying comeuppance. But when the character’s killer is a terrorist and the death is part of a horrific bomb plot, you’re not exactly cheering. From the minute Estes launched Operation Kill Brody, he became the closest thing to a villain on Homeland without being an outright terrorist — you could always count on him to thwart Carrie or Saul with his self-serving, bureaucratic, morally dubious ways. Sadly, we can count on his villainous ways no longer. Vulture spoke with David Harewood from his native England about playing such a vilified character and why he thought season one was more intense than season two.

DavidHello, how are you?

Good. How are you doing?
Oh, I’m good, kind of tired, I’ve been filming all day. Worn out.

What are you filming right now?
I’m filming a short film for Sky TV, which is one of our subscription channels here. It’s just kind of a short that a friend of mine is working on and directing. It’s very, very funny. It’s based around Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame.

I bet a little comedy is nice after Homeland.
Yes, it’s very welcome, I have to be honest with you.

I thought I’d never be saying this after the way Estes was behaving all season, but poor Estes. I feel bad that he’s gone.
Poor Estes at last, at last! Somebody feels sorry for Estes. I was having these arguments all week. On Twitter everyone was calling him Bad Estes, hashtag Bad Estes. And I was saying, “Hang on a minute: Brody’s shot Tom Walker in the face, he took out a tailor, he’s killed the vice-president, and somehow I’m the bad guy?” Extraordinary.

When did you find out that Estes would be killed off and how did Alex [Gansa] break the news to you? 
Oh, probably a couple days after the Emmy win, I got a call from his office saying Alex wanted to speak to me about script developments. And Alex has never called me about anything, so I had this sense of doom. And a couple of days later he called me and basically said to me, “Look, you know this is hard to say … ” You know, I was very disappointed but I think that twenty minutes after, I sat down and wrote him an e-mail just thanking.

Such a roller coaster: You got the Emmy win and then the bomb drops, I guess, literally.
Literally, yeah. It was very, very disappointing, but I have to look at the positives. It’s been a great two years and it was kind of my first American job — I’d never worked in America before. So I’m really looking forward to the future now. Going back and getting my second, third, fourth job in America. It really opens America to me in a fantastic way.

It’s actually a very British cast: You, Damian Lewis, Rupert Friend. Who’s the most British out of all of you?
Who’s the most? Oh, I think Damian. Damian’s probably the most British out of all of us.

Are Homeland fans ever surprised that you’re British?
British people are surprised that I’m British! It’s extraordinary, I get tweets every day from British people saying, “I had no idea you were British.” Which is frightening to think that I’ve been acting in this country for 23 years. The accent is obviously working well.

Going back to the Bad Estes idea: Was he bad, or was he really just doing his job?
It’s always difficult to argue these points because obviously you see it from your character’s point of view, but I could completely see his point of view. I could see that Carrie was slightly a maverick, somebody who acted on impulse, and she needed to be controlled and she needed to be managed very well, and I don’t think that Saul was doing that. So I think that, yeah, Estes was justified in always keeping an eye on her. Likewise, I think he was completely justified in locking Saul up and trying to keep him out of the picture. But at the end of the day, Estes is just trying to cover his ass, you know. He’s very selfish, he’s looking out for himself. I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to show some other dimensions of him? But I guess that’s not what it was about. He’s ultimately just a very self-serving political animal. The thing I’m most distressed about is that I never got to have my date with Roya Hammad. She asked me out on a date …

You’re right!
And I was so looking forward, but unfortunately they didn’t write it.

I know some people are comparing seasons one and two, saying season one was kind of quieter and season two was dealing more in implausibilities. Did it feel different to you?
It didn’t feel quite as intense. Season one was crazy intense; every time you got a new script you sat down and you’d read and were just astonished by it. I think season two was a little … I think the intensity had slightly changed. I don’t think it was quite as intense, so that’s the only way I could really describe it. And I know people have questioned the implausibility and things like that, but really — I mean, here in the U.K. the show is just huge, it’s huge. People really, really care. And I know there’s a bit of an issue with people in America, but people here are really just lapping it up.

I’m curious what you mean by intensity. Do you mean the quiet moments? The intensity between people? Or is it something different?
I think the narrative was just a much more — it was a stronger narrative. It was so complicated … there were all these different aspects of the story that we knew were going to come together, whereas I think having exposed Brody in episode five, none of us really knew quite what was going to happen. It seemed like, it just didn’t seem very tense. It just didn’t seem very taught, very tight. It became more about family and love, I suppose, and that wasn’t quite what season one was about.

Was the line when Saul calls you Javert written with the Les Miz movie in mind, do you know? Was there an awareness that the movie would be coming out?
I don’t think so. I think it was probably more along the lines of a tribute to Mandy. Mandy would know what that means. I loved working with Mandy Patinkin, I have to say.

Mandy told us that there was a lot of singing on the set. I don’t know if you ever joined in on that?
Yeah, we sang together for the pilot a couple of times. I’ve never worked with such a happy group of actors. They were all so — they worked so well together. I’m going to miss it terribly, honestly, I’m really going to miss it.

A couple of Vulture editors are hoping for a Homeland musical episode, even if only as a joke. Do you think that will happen?
[Laughs.] God, I hope not. I hope they never go anywhere near. I saw the musical of Grey’s Anatomy and I thought that was probably [one of] the worst pieces of television that I had ever seen in my life. So I hope we never go down that road.

Homeland’s David Harewood on Playing ‘Bad Estes’