As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs June 12 to June 26 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.
He belongs in the Jack Bauer category of TV hero: Peter Quinn, the Homeland paramilitary officer who — spoiler alert, if you’re not caught up! — died in the Season 6 finale, sacrificing himself to save the President of the United States and his colleague/love interest, Carrie.
Joining the show as a guest star in Season 2, actor Rupert Friend quickly turned Quinn into a fan favorite. Viewers were crushed when he seemed almost certainly dead at the end of Season 5, after a sarin gas poisoning while on assignment. And while it was great news that he was alive when Season 6 premiered, he was a very different Quinn, his body and mind badly damaged by the gas, his spirit low, and drugs and alcohol his method of choice to deal with the devastation.
Yahoo TV talked with the Emmy-worthy British actor about his final season as Quinn, including his thrill to have the chance to show what a wounded warrior can do after suffering injuries, what he thinks ultimately severed the bond between Quinn and Carrie, and the story of how he wrote one of the series’ most memorable and beloved segments with Quinn’s Season 5 letter to Carrie.
I’m sure you’ve become very aware of how beloved Peter Quinn is to viewers, especially after the Season 6 finale.
Yeah, I’ve been overwhelmed by the fans’ response. I’m not a big social media, or frankly even Internet, guy, but we just couldn’t help but be exposed to the outpourings of love and remembrance for this character. Sometimes anger. Very, very strong emotions from people, and I guess I realized just how loyal both Quinn’s fans and also mine are, and that was a very wonderful thing to experience. I was very grateful for that.
What do you think it is about him — why did we become so invested in this character?
Can I ask you? Presumably, you follow the show. What is it about this guy?
I think it’s that he made so many sacrifices, and that we wanted so desperately for him to find some… I guess happiness was too optimistic for him, after everything he had been through… but I think we certainly hoped he would find some peace. I think the audience, to the very end, hoped that would be true. He was a funny guy a lot of the time, as well. There was really just a lot to love about him. He was smart and no-nonsense, loyal, and, as you said in another interview, he was more self-aware than any of the other characters.
Yes, I think he came to be. When we first met him back in Season 2, he was kind of a wisea**, kind of cocky, and I think he just knew he was good at his job, but couldn’t talk about his job and didn’t care. He had almost like a kind of frat boy quality about him, in a way. He just behaved as if there were no consequences. What I loved following him through the seasons was seeing his conscience and his soul and his moral code develop, to the point where he questioned his position in the black ops society, what he was being asked to do for money, his relationships, both professional and personal. Toward the end of Season 6, he was really questioning the morality of somebody who would risk his life, awake him from a coma, and [doing] so cause these injuries to his body and mind. Carrie doesn’t seem to understand why that’s morally bankrupt. That, to me, is a big flag of how Carrie and Quinn have really grown apart morally by the end of Season 6. I think one of the things that I loved about him is he wasn’t — we have this expression in the U.K. — a “goody two-shoes.” I don’t know if that exists in America. Do you have that here?
Yeah, so he wasn’t a goody two-shoes. He wasn’t just an amazing guy who was saving kittens from trees every weekend. He was a cold-blooded killer for money, and he was at times cruel and at times incredibly efficient and effectual in his work. Yet, you always sensed underneath all that, that he had this heart of gold, that he’d be an amazing friend, if only he could learn to trust somebody. My heart broke for him when I realized that he died not ever having found that person. Dar Adal betrayed him, Carrie betrayed him. He had a few one-night stands, and they’re not worth the paper they’re written on. He didn’t really have a friend. He didn’t know his child. It made me realize how lucky I am to have relationships that I trust, because this guy didn’t even get close to that.
His story is very tragic. Do you see him as a hero, though?
Absolutely; he’s absolutely a hero. He’s my hero, and he is someone who pays heroically, in the Greek sense of the word. Especially at the end there, he could perform the ultimate selfless act. I think heroes understand that there is a greater moral code than just putting the self first. There is a sense of, whether it’s your country or peace or just what’s right, they put what’s right before their own interests.
Is it true that you wrote Quinn’s goodbye letter to Carrie at the end of Season 5?
That is true, yes. I’ll never forget… I was actually in Paris. [Showrunner Alex Gansa] had phoned me and said, “Listen, I’ll be honest with you. I’m so slammed here, and I have to write this letter, and I don’t know what to do. I’m running out of time, and I have to write another episode. Do you think you could have a crack at it?” I said, “Sure.” I wrote the letter, sent it off, and kind of thought, “I’ve never been asked to contribute before, and they’ll just say, ‘Thanks a lot, but no thanks.’”
I was in Paris when the episode came in. I was sitting in the Jardin des Tuileries. I remember it very clearly, reading the new episode, and I got to the end and my heart just skipped a beat, because they’d printed the whole thing, word for word. And they called the episode “A False Glimmer,” which is a direct quote from the letter. I was like, “Wow, this episode is titled [with] my words, and it ends with my letter.” It was an incredible moment.
I think a lot of fans felt very angry that we didn’t get to see Quinn’s memorial service. That letter is the only thing that really gives us a bit of what that would have been like, a bit of closure.
I haven’t watched Homeland at all, but we watched the finale, like a respectful thing to do for Quinn, actually. [My wife] Aimee and I watched it as sort of a sendoff, and it was a bit jarring that nobody showed us how anyone celebrated this guy, the few people that knew him. As he says in the letter, “Don’t put a star on the wall for me, don’t say some dumb speech.” Then I think, “Okay, so how did these few people, who are not allowed to publicly celebrate him, remember him privately? What did they do? Did they go somewhere magical and special and sacred to him, and did they say some words? Did they pour a little whiskey on the ground? What happened?”
I missed that, and then afterwards, no one spoke about him. Carrie didn’t speak, Saul didn’t speak, Dar didn’t speak. Then I started thinking, “Hang on a second. If we didn’t see his body, no one checked his pulse…” Do you know what I mean? I’m like, “Maybe they dragged the President out of the car, took her to a safe place, and then what we don’t see is that they pulled Quinn out of the car and rushed him away.” He was only shot in the shoulders. Do you know what I mean? I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. Now, I’m going to feel really stupid giving all these death interviews.”
Is that really a possibility? Are you going to get another call from Alex, do you think?
On this show, everything is possible. The end of Season 5, I was taken aside and given a few thoughts by Alex. Then, I came back in Season 6, and it was very different, but I came back. I’ve been told it’s absolutely the end, but yeah, I agree with the fans. It’s funny, though, I also feel like maybe the fans remembering this guy in their own way is the best memorial that he could have had.
Quinn was going to die at the end of Season 5, came back in Season 6, in such a huge way. Do you think he should have died at the end of Season 5, or are you glad for all of the things that you did get to do with the character in Season 6? That he got to do even more heroic things, and portraying those injuries in such a realistic and respectful way — veterans and their loved ones have reached out to you about how much that meant to them, the way that you portrayed that.
First of all, thank you, because portraying a modern returning veteran, with modern injuries, truthfully was the top of my agenda. It’s something I will never understand, sacrifice in a way that veterans sacrifice. The only thing I can do is to try to pay tribute honestly, and that was a hugely important thing for me. I’m so grateful that we got a chance to tell the end of Quinn’s journey in this completely different way, to take this beloved action hero guy and make some realistic, circumstantial changes to his life. As you mentioned, I was in touch with veterans, with PTSD survivors and sufferers, with people who had strokes, with specialists in aphasia, with doctors from Veterans Administrative hospitals, doctors who specialize in chemical warfare. I also put on 20 pounds — I wanted [to show] that idea that if you sat in an institution, eating crappy food, you don’t exercise, you’ve just given up on life, and you’re just this kind of lump, you’re not the fit soldier that you used to be. There was a lot of stuff that I did to help that. It didn’t take any effort — wearing the hair, and not washing it, and just kind of being really quite gross, horribly scraggly beard and all of that stuff, just to really show that feeling of giving up that he had at the beginning of Season 6, that he has to overcome.
The response has been amazing, as you said, from the people that matter the most, which are the people that feel represented by this character. I’m very proud that we’ve had a hero in television — a major character in a big, popular TV show — who has basically been an action hero, while he’s semi-paralyzed, struggling with linguistic programming, and perhaps is unable to really formulate language he needs, and he can’t use both hands. We haven’t seen that before, and yet there are soldiers out there who are being wounded and continuing to fight. We know that happens, we just don’t get to see it. Whether that’s fighting in a battle, or coming home and fighting against prejudice or social exclusion or the inability to get work, or, how are you going to work if you’ve only got the use of one hand? That’s a fight that soldiers face. For soldiers, the fight doesn’t stop when they come home. The fight just changes, because we’re not really ready, as a society, to welcome soldiers in an effective way.
One of the best things about Quinn’s story in Season 6 is that the focus really became about what he could do, that he was still Quinn. He still had all of Quinn’s capabilities, and he found a way to be able to utilize all his skills.
Yeah, and I’m glad that that came across, because Quinn’s always been a man with great agency. He’s someone who can do. If you’re in trouble, if you need something, he’s someone I would want to call. That never went anywhere, and watching him go from giving up, and smoking crack with hookers in slum dens, to going, “No, I am the guy that can load and level a gun with one hand. I am the guy that can engineer a hostage scenario with trained military operatives, with one arm and one leg working” — all of that was real. There are no tricks. Everything that happened, one-sided as it were, happened with just one arm and one leg.
Just thinking about where the character started, you were a guest actor, and now to all the things that we got to learn about him, and all the things we’ve seen him do and go through… the series has been his story as much as anybody’s. I would guess that it’s tough to let go of him.
Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever fully let go of him, just because there’s something pure at the heart of Quinn, which I love. I think when you’re lucky enough to play somebody who has that effect on you, my privilege is I get to choose to take that with me. If I was to play somebody horrific, and I’ve certainly done that, I get to choose to say, “I don’t want any part of this. I’m washing my hands of this. This was a character that served a story, and that’s the end of that.” With this guy, there is so much strength and agency and goodness underneath, that I guess I feel it’s my job to carry that forward a little bit.
Having played this character who was so layered, and really has become a Jack Bauer-level hero, is it tougher to think about your next role? Do you find yourself comparing other roles to Quinn? And do you now maybe want to go do a comedy, or something just very different from Quinn, from Homeland?
Yeah, it’s a good question, and yeah, the answer is it’s a tough benchmark to follow. I think the mistake would be to compare roles to this one. To start, I got to play this guy for five years, in real time, which I think was about seven years in TV land time. That’s a privilege that you never get in the movies. You might play someone over the course of their life, but you’re going to do it in three or four months. There’s a depth there that is exciting in and of itself.
And yes, I would say to do something completely different — I think most actors are looking for that. I was lucky enough, before Season 6 began, I played a role in Armando Iannucci’s dark comedy The Death of Stalin, with Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, and Michael Palin, who are all heroes of mine. I’m effectively the clown in the movie. I’m the ineffectual, drunk, spoiled son of Joseph Stalin. It’s ridiculous, I make a complete fool of myself every time I’m in the movie. And it was joyous. That was before Season 6, and now I’m looking at what to do next, and looking for something that is, yeah, either layered and wonderful and interesting, and/or completely different.
What if you did get a call from Alex Gansa this summer saying, “False alarm there, we do want to bring Quinn back again in some way.” Would you consider it, or would it depend on what they wanted to do?
I think the fans would riot. I would not be responsible for their actions. Yeah, I would want to know in what capacity. I would expect it was realistic, because we stuck to that all the way through. If you’re talking about a zombie Quinn, it’s not really a good thing; an angel, a ghost Quinn, all of that stuff is a little soap opera, but the writers are too good on Homeland to ever do that, so I wouldn’t worry about that.
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