From Homeland to NBC’s Law & Order True Crime – The Menendez Murders, director Lesli Linka Glatter loves looking at all sides of the stories.
It’s 2017, and Lesli Linka Glatter still has to talk about female directors and the gap that exists in the field. She just received her fifth Emmy® nomination for directing “America First,” the season finale of Showtime’s Homeland. The sixth season returned to New York and challenged Linka Glatter as far as portraying a city that wasn’t all about showing historic landmarks. It also featured a female president with storylines such as fake news and conflicts with the intelligence agency. Those plot points eerily parallel what’s going on with our current administration and news cycle.
I caught up with the Emmy-nominated director who was on the set of NBC’s upcoming Law & Order True Crime.
You’re on set working on the Menendez Brothers. How’s that going?
The Menendez Brothers are interesting. It’s such a story of privilege and how in the beginning the privilege helped them because they were rich privileged kids. The cops didn’t do a gun residue test on them, and if this had been a poor kid, immediately they would have known that they did it.
In the end, the privilege hurt them because they were seen as the rich kids who killed their parents. Neither is correct and you have to look at all sides of it, and those are the stories that interest me.
What I love about Homeland is we are always looking at both sides of an issue, and there’s not a right answer to any of this.
We spoke last year, and we were in the middle of an election year. Then we had the election. How did that affect what was going on with Homeland and what changes did you make?
Needless to say, we had a female president on Homeland, but we very consciously did not make a Hillary clone. Elizabeth Marvel is nothing like Hillary, and that was a very conscious choice. I don’t ever think I thought that Trump would be elected, quite honestly. We’ve always been a show that people have viewed as pressing, but you can’t try to chase that. You can only deal with the issues at hand.
When Trump was elected, it was a huge shock. There was some resetting with that. We brought Alex Jones in earlier with that fake news storyline. That was based on research, and I was concerned wondering if we had gone too far with this. In reality, of course, we didn’t.
The whole fake news, Russia news scandal was, “Oh my God.” The president at odds with their intelligence community is ironically what we’re in the middle of. One of the things I love about Homeland is we reinvent the wheel year after year, and that’s what keeps it exciting for me personally and for all of us. I have to add it never gets easier as we are never going back to the same city or the same sets or the same story. We’re always reinventing, and that keeps it fresh.
Again, there was a moment of re-examination of what we had set up so far and where we were going to take it to. Our President has some Trump in there too, and she’s a very complicated character. I love that we have a world of complicated characters who exist in shades of gray.
What was it like taking the show back to New York?
It felt totally appropriate to complete the circle to come back to the USA. Sadly, also to come back to the city where we’ve had the worst terrorist attack in our history, and it felt sobering.
We spend billions of dollars on counter terrorism since 9/11. Any death from anything is sobering. We’ve had a handful of deaths from terrorism, but they’ve all been homegrown terrorists.
From gun violence every year, we have hundreds of deaths. It’s ironic that, by keeping people scared, there’s this whole business that has grown. That’s not to say be soft on terrorism, and I’m not saying that at all. But by being back in New York, it’s a chance to look at all sides of the issue.
Another thing for me as a director that was exciting and challenging is that there are 54 shows shooting in New York now, and how do you find your way of shooting New York that is unique. That was very exciting to have that challenge in that, what is the look and feel of our New York, of Homeland‘s New York.
There were so many images that stuck with you.
That’s great to hear. One of the things for me was that the island of Manhattan is now, in many ways, the dream that most people can’t attain. For us, it was something in the distance. It’s unaffordable for most. So, when we were in it, it’s not a Manhattan of iconic landmarks. It was much more on the ground.
We have the Constitution and checks and balances of the Federal Government that will keep us safe. Look at what we’re going through now? Is our system strong enough to survive what’s happening with this President? I hope our institutions are strong enough, but I actually don’t know.
What about that final scene of the season? There was so much to it in terms of significance. What made you choose that particular shot?
There was something about Carrie, after believing that this president was really going to make a difference and she’d suffered this experience of having someone try to kill her. She was someone fighting the good fight. To find she had put her faith in someone, and she always has valued her instincts and missed the boat on this. So, to come out and to be walking by the Capitol and to see this idea of the government that she might never feel the same about.
This image, that even in the worst of times, we have the Constitution and checks and balances of the federal government that will keep us safe. Look at what we’re going through now? Is our system strong enough to survive what’s happening with this President? I hope our institutions are strong enough, but I actually don’t know.
That’s what it feels like to me. Here she is looking at this building that is the symbol of justice, truth, and equality and all these ideals we hold dear. What are we left with? There’s a great disillusionment there. I think ultimately we’ll find hope in this. Also, it’s an image that’s so powerful from the pilot of Damian Lewis where he was standing out in front of the Capitol.
You went full circle.
What was different since the last time we’ve spoken?
Being America based. The CIA as an institution is an operation that operates primarily overseas. Having a story that was quintessentially American was a big shift for the season. We were looking at our own government rather than other another country’s situation. It was about bringing it home and looking more internally. I think Carrie did that on a personal and governmental level.
Let’s talk about the tone shift. One second you have a car chase and the next, you cut to a calm moment. How do you manage that perfect balance?
Thank you for that. It’s about being very clear on who’s point of the view the scene is being told from and staying with that being character driven, even though it’s an action sequence. I love doing action, but I only like doing it if it tells you something about the character. If it’s just to blow up a truck, well we’ve all see that happen so fantastically, and that’s not so interesting to me. When it illuminates something about our characters, then that’s an amazing thing, so I think point of view is critically important.
What was the most exciting aspect for you this season?
Let me think. One of the things I love about Homeland and what’s a quintessential Homeland scene is when two characters have completely opposing views of a situation but they’re both right, so there’s no one right way to see something.
One of the scenes I found incredibly moving was between Saul and his sister where they talked about the situation in Israel. It was character and politics, and they were completely on opposite sides of it. So, that’s a quintessential scene I love.
I loved doing the finale even though it was horrifying for me to kill off a character that I absolutely adore. I adore the actor and did not want to see him go.
That was devastating.
I’m still devastated and looking at the whole idea of the wounded warrior and what happens where you have these highly trained military men and something happens, and they’re never going to be the same again. In no way were we saying someone is wounded, and they’re not worthwhile. Not at all. Quinn, in many ways, found things about himself that he never could have or would have any other way and was completely a powerful character, but he was very clear with Carrie in the penultimate episode with her and said, “You have to let me go.”
I think he made the ultimate sacrifice not just for the character, but anyone, in that he put someone else about himself. It was a very heroic and horrifying ending.
I’m glad it was me. Ironically, his last day of shooting was in this skanky parking garage, and we ordered wonderful champagne to toast him off. What could have been more Homeland than us having this final toast to Rupert in this garage?
It was heart-wrenching. Many people had mixed feelings about his demise, but I think Carrie was profoundly moved forever by that. I don’t know if she’ll ever recover from that death.
It’s going to be interesting to see her journey moving forward.
Yes, because they were the people that understood each other the most. They could never be together as a couple. That moment when she’s looking at his photos, the first time Claire did that, I could hardly contain myself. It’s not stuff you can talk about or give a sermon too. It’s so much.
His performance was great. He was put through the wringer with Quinn this season.
His performance was profound and he dug deep. He did so much research, and I thought it was extraordinary.
I can’t believe I have to ask you this question, but you’ve been in the field a long time and we’re still asking why is gender still an issue when it comes to directing?
Oh my God, I wish I could tell you. If you had asked me 25 years ago if we’d still be talking about this issue about women directors, I would have said absolutely not. This will be a non-issue by then. The fact we are still having this is still surprisingly shocking to me. I think it should be an equal playing field. I don’t think it should be harder for our daughters to direct than for our sons. It should be the same.
I’m honored and thrilled to be nominated at all, but how amazing is it there are three women nominated! I think that’s fantastic.
I’m very proud of our season. I’m grateful I get to work on this show with compelling characters and the amazing Claire Danes who is phenomenal. I’ve said it before, but she has certainly made me a more fearless director. Alex Gansa is our showrunner and a joy to work with. He creates one of the best working environments. It’s always challenging and provocative. I love that.
We are in the golden age of storytelling. All of the shows nominated are amazing, and I’ve never seen this level of storytelling. That’s thrilling for everyone and to be a part of that is exciting.
Have you started Season 7?
I start on August 5th. I’m about to sit down with Alex. A lot of the season comes from our yearly trip to DC where we meet with the intelligence community, and this year was unlike any other year. I can tell you that. I can’t wait to see how they’ve taken that information, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.