Lesli Linka Glatter talks about her Emmy-nominated direction of Showtime’s Homeland
Lesli Linka Glatter almost didn’t become a director. She had a sliding doors situation and, had she gone into a different coffee shop, she might still be a dancer or choreographer. A chance meeting with a stranger in Tokyo would change all that. Today, her resume spans over 20 years of work in film and television. She has worked on such shows as Mad Men, The West Wing, and E.R.
Glatter joined Homeland in Season 2 and has since continued to shoot tense, exciting, thrilling episodes of the show. Her continued excellent direction led to another Emmy nomination this year. It is her fourth nomination for direction of a drama series. I recently caught up with Lesli Linka Glatter in the midst of a location scout to talk Homeland and the whole Emmy scene.
That’s really good to hear.
Your journey is something notable. You started off as a dancer, and here you are, Emmy-nominated director.
It’s been an incredible journey, exactly that. One of the things that amazes me is that nobody has the same path to doing what we do. Everyone’s path and journey are completely unique because we all come from whatever set of experiences we have and you bring it to the mix. It’s extraordinary.
That’s so true, and you see that when speaking to filmmakers and, as you say, that journey is never the same twice.
I ended up because I was a modern dancer, a choreographer and I spent all of my twenties overseas. I was in London and Paris, and then I got a grant to teach dance and choreography in the Far East. Had I not lived in Tokyo, Japan, and made a choice between which coffee shop to go into, one on the right or one on the left, I would have never directed. The story that I was told that became my first film was something that was told to me by an older Japanese gentleman. I had met him by chance, so had I gone into the coffee shop on the on the left, I would still probably be choreographing which is extraordinary because I love storytelling. I love what I’m doing. I love that I get to collaborate with an extraordinary group of artists who all have a point of view on a story that makes it singular, we’re all on the same page, telling a story. Again, we’re just beginning with Homeland Season 6. We have all this different input coming in, and a very compelling story to tell. You never get tired or bored because it always keeps you on the edge.
You came into Homeland on Season 2. What was that like coming in at that point?
When [Homeland producers] called me, I was already on another show as an executive producer and director. I was unavailable. When I saw the season airing, I thought, “Oh my God! This is amazing.” We’re all in storytelling and we can almost always figure it out. Was he a terrorist? Was he not a terrorist? Was she saying something that was absolutely true? Or was she crazy? What was going? I would end an episode being sure that it was going to go a certain way, but sure enough, they’d taken a detour.
I loved that about the story. When I was able to come in and direct the show, I ended up getting an extraordinary script. It was called “Q & A.” It was 40 pages in an interrogation room. When I read it, I freaked out and thought, “What am I going to do? How am I going to do it?” Then I realized I’d be in the room for 40 pages with the fearless Claire Danes and the amazing Damian Lewis with the scene that took twists and turns. Here you have a guy that has been held captive for eight years. How are you going to turn him? What are the turns that he has to make to open up? What does she need to do to get him to talk? Those were extraordinary things to be dealing with. That’s what I walked into, was this amazing piece of writing, and these incredible actors.
What’s also extraordinary is the mark you’ve made on the show. You own it.
Well, thank you. Luckily, I work with a great group of artists. Alex Gansa is an amazing collaborator who creates a great working environment where he encourages everyone to bring their A-game. Truly the best idea wins. When we went from the end of the third season, it had to be a completely new show, a reinvention. What was the show going to be? To be involved with that is incredible.
TV has time constraints. It’s not like you have a two hours to tell your story. How do you manage to pack tension into an hour and still tell your story?
On Homeland, we go through a lot of story which is the style of the show and really exciting on the storytelling level. One of the things for me having done both, because we have episode restraints, we shoot an episode in nine or ten shooting days, which is really short given we’re making an hour show. It’s very challenging so you really have to know what your story is about. If you only have that amount of time to shoot in, you have to know how to divide your day up. If you don’t know what your story is about, you’re not going to know where to spend your time.
You were filming under the Reichstag when the Paris bombings happened, and you changed the story. What made you feel compelled to change?
It was horrifying. We were telling the story about a terrorist attack in a European city. Getting up that morning and going to the subway, we gathered everyone together, and it was very difficult. Yes, there were adjustments made because how could you not? One of our directors, Michael Offer lived close to where the shootings took place and he would have to pass the corner where there were bullet holes. My assistant’s sister was sitting in one of the restaurants, so it felt very close. One feels a lot of responsibility with that. We are telling a story, but it’s a story that is based on a certain amount of research on the world we’re living in.
Let’s talk about the finale with Quinn and Allison. The things we never saw coming. It was quite a way to end the season.
[Laughs] Homeland has a very large graveyard and with every one we kill off there’s always a lot of sadness. Quinn is with the military of sorts. What happens to these guys that serve and try to protect us when something happens is a great thing to explore?
I can’t say a word, but Quinn is not dead.
Going back, you’ve done features. Now and Then I loved. Would you go back to feature film?
Oh sure. For me, it’s all about the material. I made a choice that I’m going to do TV. I had four movies fall apart before shooting, but what came my way was amazing writing in TV. How lucky am I that I get to do this? From Mad Men to Justified, these are great shows that tell complicated stories. I’d be thrilled to go do a movie. I’m chasing the material and not the format. If the best material comes to me, then that’s where it’s going to be.
On the subject of Mad Men, that was great. (Leslie directed “Guy Walks Into Advertising Agency”)
That was either going to be a disaster or something great because you had the lawnmower coming into the agency cutting off someone’s foot, but it turned out great. I love being challenged with these difficult stories, and how you find the balance. Homeland is about being authentically real, emotionally as well as storytelling.
What were you doing the day of the nominations?
I was on a scout in New York. I had no idea. I was blown away and thrilled for the show as it honors everyone. Dave Klein was with his daughter in the middle of Idaho with no cell service, so he didn’t know. It was such a wonderful celebration.
What’s the lasting appeal of the show?
That’s a great question. I think the appeal for me, personally, is that it looks at both sides. It doesn’t say this is how you should think or feel. It allows you to make decisions. Last year, Nina Hoss was questioning Laura, and they’re talking about the privacy issues. They’re on opposite sides of the issue, and they’re both correct. For me to try to do that and present all different sides of the issues is very exciting. Also, we have very compelling, multi-faceted characters. Carrie is so complicated, to be able to have that richly layered character, to Rupert who brought so much to Quinn. On so many levels, you get to dig deep.