For everyone who mourned the loss of Nicholas Brody at the end of Homeland's third season, the hit Showtime series would like to point you in the direction of Peter Quinn. A stoic foil and confidant to Claire Danes' Carrie Mathison, Rupert Friend quickly filled any male lead holes left by Brody. But it was a role that almost didn't come to be; it took Friend seven audition tapes—including one shot out of focus—before he finally landed the part. "After the sixth one, I was just like, 'I’m fine, I’ll do something else.'" Friend recalls. "My agent begged me to do one more, and that was the one. Two weeks later, I was on set." The rest is TV history. Here, Friend talks about his first on-screen role, which saw him acting opposite Johnny Depp, his Homeland character, and why Daniel Day-Lewis is his ultimate cinematic crush.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be an actor?
Quite old, relatively speaking. I didn’t have a realization of wanting to be an actor; I had a realization of not wanting to do one thing solely for the rest of my life. the way that the education was structured in England was such that these young children are asked, "What would you like to do at University for three years?" Basically these young teenagers are being asked to decide what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives before they’ve even had a chance to explore the world, which I’ve found ridiculous and still find very strange. It became crippling to me, this decision of, "What are you going to do?" And the only job that I could sort of think about that was different every day and challenged you in different ways every day was acting. You didn’t have to be a lawyer or an astronaut. You could be both. I haven’t actually gotten to be either yet, but there's still time.
Do you remember your first audition?
Actually, the first thing professionally was The Libertine, which was my first job. I’d never seen a film camera before. I didn’t know what a call sheet was. I didn’t know what marks were. And you’re opposite Johnny Depp and John Malkovich and Samantha Morton. I was beyond nervous. I had to make out with Johnny, mutually masturbate with Johnny, get run through by a pike, and die in front of him. It was such a deep-end baptism by fire.
Did you miss the stage after you started doing films?
No, I’ve never missed the stage. I love film because I love the capturing of accidents. Some of those incredible moments that have chilled us when we watch them or perform them, come not from having honed or refined something but from something instinctive, something primal; something accidental or serendipitous, and I think that’s where I thrive. I also know that there have been thrilling theatrical performances. I went to see Mark Rylance in "Jerusalem" three times in three different theaters. He was so inventive and fearless, and I love that kind of courage when actors make those bold choices. It’s always exciting.
Speaking of courage, let’s talk about Peter Quinn, your character on Homeland. How did that role come to you?
I made a tape and sent it in, but it was made on a point and click camera where the ratio was wrong, so it was out of focus. I was wearing the wrong thing. I filmed it against a door that I later learned they told me looked like I was in a mental asylum. I did seven separate audition tapes for this once scene. After the sixth one, I was just like, "I’m fine, I’ll do something else." My agent begged me to do one more, and that was the one. Two weeks later, I was on set. I’d never done television. I’d never signed an option for multiple years of a series. I’d never done something where I hadn’t read the script.
Do you feel the prescience of some of the storylines of the show and what is going on in the real world?
People have asked us for the right to have crystal balls. They do consult with the intelligence community before they start writing a season on what is going on, and typically the intelligence community is a little bit ahead of us, certainly, and the news sources, and maybe even the government. So there’s that, but also the writers only write a handful of episodes before we start. So by the time we’re halfway through a season, they’re writing them and handing us the pages on the day. In that way, it puts you right on your toes and it does feel much more like a dance of some kind, rather than a prepared rhetoric.
The character you play is such a good person but at the same time, such a complicated, difficult person
He lived a life that he couldn’t share with anyone, and one of the things that struck me as very tragic about him is that he’s never trusted anybody. The idea that you’d go through your whole life and hit your mid-30s and never have had the trust of another human being is incredibly sad for me, for him.
Were you sad to say goodbye?
I was sad because I’ve never gotten to know somebody so well who is not a real person. We didn’t get to see how this guy was memorialized. He asked not to have anything official and he wouldn’t have been allowed to anyway because his work was never acknowledged because it was basically on the gray side of the law. He says in the letter that he wrote, "Don’t put a star on the wall for me or say some dumb speech," but I was very interested to learn, how did Carrie mourn him? How did Saul, how did Dar, Max, these people who had known him, and in some cases maybe even loved him, but knew they couldn’t publicly commemorate him, how did they celebrate this man? I’ve just felt since the season finished, this outpouring of love and support, and in some cases fury, from very loyal fans who I think are conducting their own memorial for this character in their own way, which is beautiful.
Did you ever have a fictional crush of your own?
My first girl cinematic crush was probably Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Coming out of the sea with your little knife and this idea of agency. You’re sort of a bad ass. You’re not some kind of damsel in distress. She was tough. And then [Marlon] Brando. The first time I saw A Streetcar Named Desire, I was probably twelve and my mom sat me down in front of it. I wasn’t thinking about acting at the time; my interest was that somebody could become someone else—not pretend to or demonstrate that they were—but actually become, and that led me onto the work of the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis who is today still my hero. Seeing My Left Foot and then Last of the Mohicans moments later and realizing it was the same person, it’s still kind of mind-boggling to me. I still look for that transformative quality in actors. I adore it, as opposed to the sort of more movie star thing where people create a brand and then just sort of keep doing it.
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