"Homeland" creator Gideon Raff has had a lot on his mind this week. On Sunday, he shared an Emmy award for outstanding writing on "Homeland," and as the week progressed he watched the leaders of Israel, Iran and the United States hold center stage at the United Nations discussing instability in the Middle East.
In an interview with TheWrap on the eve of the show's second season debut on Sunday, Raff voiced his desire for peace but also said, "I hope everyone in question will do everything in their power to avoid war and to avoid a nuclear Iran."
As for the role of the "Innocence of Muslims" video that has been blamed for violent unrest in the Muslim world, Raff expressed skepticism.
"I'm not positive that it's that dumb and insensitive movie that inspired the violence," he told TheWrap. "Someone is inciting the crowds to hate and it's a shame."
For Raff, an Israeli citizen who grew up partly in Washington and has spent years in Los Angeles, the specter of war is nothing new.
While writing the scripts that would inspire "Homeland," he thought of his own experience as an Israeli paratrooper and how close to home violence feels in Israel.
He also marveled at how little attention the deaths of American soldiers received.
Military service in the country is mandatory, and terrorism is a constant threat.
"Whenever something happens to a soldier, we feel as if it happened in our household," he told TheWrap. "When I wrote the show here during the Iraq War, you never saw coffins of dead soldiers coming back home. You never saw funerals on the national news. This is something you see on a daily basis in Israel. Maybe it's because this country is so big and there's so many people that the story of a soldier dying doesn’t make the headlines."
The series he wrote and directed, "Hatufim," is known in English as "Prisoners of War." It became the basis for "Homeland" after he translated his scripts from Hebrew so his agent could pitch them to American producers. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, fresh from "24," saw the potential and developed the series for Showtime. Raff is an executive producer.
"Homeland" returns for its second season Sunday, exactly a week after winning an armful of Emmys for its first one. Besides a win for best drama, the series earned a best dramatic actress Emmy for Claire Danes, who plays CIA agent Carrie Mathison, and Damian Lewis, who plays returned POW Sgt. Nicholas Brody.
We talked with Raff (left in the picture above, with Gansa and Gordon) before the Emmy wins. He explained how "Prisoners of War" addressed struggles Israelis aren't always comfortable discussing — and how "Homeland" looks at issues many Americans never have to face at all.
The first season of "Prisoners of War," which debuted in 2010, is available for viewing on Hulu. The second season begins airing in Israel on Oct. 15.
Are you concerned about the rising tension between Iran and Israel?
Of course I'm concerned about it. I hope everyone in question (Israel, Iran and the world community) will do everything in their power to avoid war and to avoid a nuclear Iran.
In the very week you won the Emmy, Presidents Obama, Ahmadenijad and Netanyahu all addressed the United Nations. What is your reflection on this and how your fictional world is spilling into the real worl?
I'm Israeli and gay. Not Ahmadenijad's favorite combo … I think in shows like "Homeland" it becomes very clear that there are no winners in war, just losers. We should do everything in our power to avoid war to bridge our differences."
When you see the violence in the Muslim world over the anti-Islam YouTube video, does this inspire thoughts regarding 'Homeland"? In some ways one wonders if the post 9/11 world has become a hair-trigger society that –like in the show –can shatter our normal world with frightening speed.
I'm not positive that it's that dumb and insensitive movie that inspired the violence. Someone is inciting the crowds to hate and it's a shame.
"Homeland" streamlines "Prisoners of War" a bit in that "Prisoners of War" focuses on two returning POWs, and "Homeland" focuses mainly on one.
Yes. We realized that a big difference between the Israeli audience and the American audience is that this is a huge, huge topic in Israel. It's almost a taboo. The lives of prisoners of war after they are returned is almost never discussed, never explored. That's part of why I wanted to make this show. I realized there is a world of drama no one's tapped into. And we are so obsessed in Israeli society with bringing back the boys. We go out to the streets for it. We campaign for it. We demand our leaders pay a high price for it. We pay a high price for it.
But once they're back, that's the happy ending we need, and we don't want to hear about their post-traumatic stress disorder. We don't want to hear about what they have to face. For some of them, it's just the beginning of the journey and harder than captivity itself. I wanted to make a show about coming back and having to deal with all that.
In America, that whole exploration is less relevant than [asking about] the people coming back: Are they good or bad, are they terrorists or not? In the original show, the guys coming back, we know from the very beginning that they're hiding a secret … But the heart of the Israeli show is the re-integration into Israeli society. Meeting the family. Meeting the wife that has been waiting for so long. And have you dated anybody?
In order to make more room for Carrie Mathison's investigation, we turned it into one prisoner of war coming back.
Do you think Carrie's surveillance of Brody is more relevant in the U.S. than in Israel?
In America, after 9/11, and after the death of bin Laden, and after two wars, one of them fought, a lot of people think, on false pretenses, and definitely post the Patriot Act, there are a lot of these questions about what can we do to our citizens in order to prevent the next attack. These questions are very relevant in America today, and that's why it's so brilliant to have Carrie work against the CIA. She's adamant that he's a terrorist, and she would do anything to stop him. The audience thinks she's crossing a line and she's going too far.
In the Israeli version, the investigation is from the Israeli [version of] the CIA. We kind of exposed how the system did the surveillance and followed these prisoners of war after they came back and spied on them and that became a very controversial topic in Israel. People just didn't know about it.
But also there's something very paranoid about Carrie's behavior. That's why it was a brilliant idea — it didn't come from me — making her bipolar. That's not from the original show. I thought that was very brilliant … You had a lead character that you don't know if you can trust or not. For the majority of the American population, that's how they feel right now.
Do you think the American or Israeli audience is more open to exploring itself?
I think we're both very open to that. Both societies. When "Prisoners of War" first came out in Israel it was very controversial when people heard that we were dealing with this subject. The discussion of whether we should even be allowed to talk about it was in the headlines.
Once the show aired and they saw that we were dealing with the subject with the utmost respect, that all subsided and the show became the thing. But I think in America there's a long tradition of dealing with these open wounds.
I guess one of the differences would be that "Prisoners of War" is a huge success but on an Israeli network, and "Homeland" is a huge success but on cable. I don't know if you could be that subversive on a network.
You interviewed returned prisoners of war to write the show, including one who was returned after the release of many people accused of terrorism. Can you talk about how they feel?
Many of them feel very guilty … One of them said something that I'll never forget …
Israel released 1,400 prisoners with what we consider blood on their hands for his release. He said that for years later every time a bus exploded in Tel Aviv, every time there was terrorism in Israel, he thought that the people who were released for him were back to terror and doing this.
Can you talk about your own military service?
I was a paratrooper for three years. When I was in the army we didn't have, thank God, full-blown war. But it was when the first Intifada [Palestinian uprising] happened in the occupied territories and unfortunately I served a long time over there.
It's really scary. We often think of American soldiers overseas, or Israeli soldiers. And really, it's just kids. It's just kids with guns. That's why sometimes they do good things and sometimes they do bad things. Today when I look at soldiers in the Israeli street they look like kids in costumes. They're so young, with such a responsibility. It's a horrible, horrible thing to be in combat and be in war and be in these situations where you rally have to make life and death decisions and moral decisions.
Whenever I look at pictures of horrific things that soldiers do or that have been done to soldiers I always feel sorry for everybody involved because politics throws them into these horrific situations where really it's just 18-year-old kids.