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Stars capture show’s intrigue

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / September 30, 2011

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Claire Danes and Damian Lewis are excited about their new roles in the gripping Showtime drama “Homeland,’’ premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. But in a recent chat with TV critics, the actors proved that even a series that deals with terrorism, torture, and the after-effects of war had not erased their senses of humor.

When asked her feelings about recent mascara commercials she shot as a spokeswoman for a cosmetics company running at the same time as “Homeland,’’ Danes joked, “I’m going to trap those terrorists with my very long lashes.’’ And when responding to a question about why he seems so well suited to playing intense cops and military men on American television, as he did in “Life’’ and “Band of Brothers,’’ the British Lewis quipped, “I think it’s the early Noël Coward that I did in the West End.’’

Perhaps the comic relief is necessary given the issues that “Homeland’’ chronicles, as Danes’s CIA agent Carrie Mathison tries to prove that Lewis’s Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody has been turned by Al Qaeda after years in confinement.

Danes, who won an Emmy for the 2010 HBO film “Temple Grandin,’’ says she was drawn by the contrasting nature of her character. “She is incredibly bright, at times dangerously bright, and formidable and focused, even compulsive, even myopic. But she’s also very, very sensitive and vulnerable. And that juxtaposition is interesting.’’

“My first roommate in college was a CIA officer for a little while. She’s the most innocuous, benign person, of course,’’ says the former “My So-Called Life’’ star. “I was telling her ‘I’m going to play a CIA officer, and she’s bipolar.’ And her immediate response was ‘Oh, she sounds very isolated. That’s a lonely character.’ And she is, and it provides her this incredible perspective and incredible vantage point. But it also causes her suffering, and she needs to resolve that. And I think that’s really interesting.’’

As for Lewis, he has the knotty task of portraying his abusive confinement and his emotionally complicated return home to his family. But he says he was never fazed by the grisly torture sequences. “This character is so compelling that it feeds the psychology of the piece. It helps me because a lot of it appears in flashback, and I enjoy the way in which it informs the character going forward. I don’t mind filming that stuff too much, weirdly.’’

Sarah Rodman can be reached at