NEW YORK -- It could be, no TV drama has ever given viewers such a damaged pair of protagonists as Brody and Carrie on "Homeland."
Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody was a prisoner of war in Afghanistan who returned home a national hero -- and, covertly, a terrorist turncoat (having been turned by al-Qaida during his 8-year imprisonment).
Carrie Mathison was a CIA agent whose obsessive inability to prove Brody’s betrayal, coupled with her bipolar disorder, led to her dismissal from the agency and a mental breakdown.
During this Showtime series’ gripping first season, Carrie and Brody played a cat-and-mouse game of global intrigue, swapping roles as one, then the other, seemed to gain the upper hand. Along the way, they had a brief, tumultuous love affair.
On Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT, "Homeland" begins its second season, boasting a haul of Emmys that includes the best drama award and trophies for best actress and actor for stars Claire Danes and Damian Lewis.
Six months after last season’s action, Brody is a newly elected U.S. congressman and a prospective vice presidential candidate still in thrall to al-Qaida. Carrie now works as a teacher and continues her recovery, still reeling from her painful conclusion that Brody was innocent all along.
"The writers have carried off this trick -- haven’t they? -- of creating two engaging anti-heroes," says Lewis during a recent interview.
Speaking as if an audience member, he sums up the show’s shrewd symmetry: "Carrie Mathison can save us, and we WANT her to save us. But her illness and her ambition at times creates a self-absorbed monster who will stop at nothing just to achieve her goals.
"Brody, on the other hand, is barely
defensible because of his endless lying and the fact that he represents such danger. But
there’s sympathy for him, because he’s a victim as well."
Sympathy! For the man who, only at the last second -- stunned by a plaintive telephone call from his daughter -- scrapped his plot to assassinate a room full of government bigwigs with his suicide vest bomb. Instead, he re turned home to his loving wife and two children, still committed to the cause and beyond redemption, and with no one the wiser.
"He’s developed sociopathic tendencies and an ability to compartmentalize his life: He can be one person in one situation, another person in another situation," says Lewis, looking pleased. "For an actor, that kind of ambiguity and complexity is tremendous fun."
Before "Homeland," the London-born Lewis, 41, was known for his role as an American war hero in the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" as well as for the remake of "The Forsyte Saga" and the NBC whodunit "Life."
Lewis in person is charming, with a gift for mimickry and possessing a certain prep-school polish (the word "whilst" rolls off his tongue).
And, of course, he is leading-man handsome, with ginger-red hair and penetrating blue eyes he puts to good use as Brody. But beyond his status as a heartthrob, Lewis is rightly hailed for the precision of his acting as, on "Homeland," he juggles Brody’s many personalities and moods within a narrowly defined emotional range.
Lewis insists he was surprised to land an Emmy Award for his work.
"There were more reasons not to win than there were for me to win," he says, adding, "I’m over the moon."