A year ago, North Carolina was buzzing about The Hunger Games, which had just wrapped a super-secret shooting schedule and was well along the path to crushing other movies dreams at the box office.
Production of 20th Century Fox Televisions Homeland, by comparison, was a mere curiosity in Charlotte. It was cool to catch a glimpse of Claire Danes here or there as crews worked through the summer of 2011, but the series was rather anonymous as it prepared to debut on the Showtime cable network in October.
It took just 12 episodes over 2-1/2 months for the psychological thriller to go from new kid on the block to the one running it.
Critics exhausted every possible glowing adjective to describe the series, audiences bit their nails down to nubs while watching, and Sept. 23 seven days from the Season 2 premiere, which aired Sunday Homeland dominated the drama categories at the Primetime Emmy Awards with an authority not seen since Hill Street Blues swept in 1981.
People had no expectations of us. It wasnt as though there was a lot of hype, British actor Damian Lewis told the Observer last week, after beating out Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) for Best Actor in one of the nights biggest upsets.
Now, of course, were a little bit more in a goldfish bowl. Everyone feels the pressure to deliver something as good or better, and I think that does make it harder. But at the same time thats a high-class problem.
Charlotte = Anytown, U.S.A.
For the uninitiated: Homeland is about unstable C.I.A. officer Carrie Mathison (Danes) and former P.O.W. Nicholas Brody (Lewis), who may or may not be an Al Qaeda sleeper terrorist. By the end of the first season, its revealed that he actually, plenty of you are probably still getting caught up, so we wont tell.
The show is set in the Washington, D.C. area, but filmed in Charlotte for practical reasons. For starters, its easy to maneuver cast and crew around the city because of its small size (relative to New York and L.A.), and the weather tends to cooperate.
I come from England, where it rains just about every single day, said David Harewood, who plays C.I.A. Counterterrorism Center director David Estes. Theyve had a particularly bad summer so Ive really enjoyed sending pictures home in my shorts and sitting by the pool.
A far bigger reason the show wound up in Charlotte is because the state offers generous tax credits (also a deciding factor for Lionsgate and The Hunger Games). The movie and TV industry can get a refund on 25 percent of salaries and money they spend on taxable items in North Carolina, up to $20 million per project. Its one of the most competitive tax breaks of its kind.
To top it all off, our uptown looks a little like parts of Washington and our suburbs look a lot like northern Virginia.
It really captures the mainstream suburban America look, which is perfect for our series because its called Homeland and its about the threat to that, said executive producer Michael Cuesta. It gives you an anywhere-in-America look and people can relate to it.
The Brody familys northern Virginia house is in Mountainbrook near SouthPark mall; their daughters school is actually Queens University of Charlottes campus; the Cambridge Corporate Center in north Charlottes University Research Park stands in for the C.I.A.; and (spoiler alert) an assassination attempt that serves as Season 1s climax was filmed at the old courthouse complex near McDowell and Third streets.
Other locations have included Lake Norman, Historic Rural Hill in Huntersville, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, uptowns Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Zacks Hamburgers on South Boulevard (where they used an overturned car that caused rubbernecking last Tuesday), and Mooresville. Lots of Mooresville.
Mooresvilles played for like a Last Picture Show-like town, Cuesta said. Its played for quite a few rural-type one-stoplight main-street type of towns that have been written into the script. ... I used it once for a scene that a character had to run away to Texas, I used it for a quick scene where a character was apprehended over the border in Mexico weve used it for quite a few things.
We hope not to run through all your best locations by Season 3, Cuesta said, laughing.
Charlotte = Pleasantville
It seems like almost everybody in town knows someone who knows someone who knows an extra, or has a friend who works with woman who lives down the street from one of the many Homeland shooting locations.
And though Claire Danes sightings still send locals into a tizzy, in many ways, the cast has become part of the scenery in Charlotte. Lewis and Harewood both named Good Food on Montford off Park Road as a favorite restaurant. Harewood breakfasts routinely at the Midnight Diner on the edge of uptown. Lewis says he and his family like to hop on the light rail to get into uptown when they visit.
Uptown in particular has grown used to film crews (Cinemaxs forthcoming series Banshee was all over the area this summer, too): A large base of operations marked with Homeland and 20th Century Fox logos was set up at Tryon and Third streets last week, but passersby barely gave it a second look.
It seems like the people of Charlotte have never really been star-struck by us, but have been interested, Cuesta said. Theres not a lot of paparazzi types. I dont see gawkers or anything like that. Claire, who (often) has to deal with that on a daily basis, has been quite anonymous in this town.
People are really, really polite. I call it Pleasantville. I mean, being a New Yorker this city is just so easy and pleasant.
Damian Lewis = a star
The big story here, of course, is Lewis. In an instant last Sunday, he went from that guy from Band of Brothers to a giant killer the guy who took out Walter White. (Walter White the meth-making anti-hero on AMCs Breaking Bad, played by three-time winner Cranston.)
It happened in slow motion, Lewis said of hearing his name called. I heard the D and the rest of the name just sort of came out as though I was underwater, muffled, from a distance.
In his 85-second speech, the Londoner thanked co-creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, Cuesta, Fox, Showtime, the cast pointing out Danes and Morena Baccarin (who plays his wife) in particular and wife Helen McCrory. He left out just one little detail.
I promised the crew Id mention them if I won, Lewis said. Oops.
I took the Emmy back to Charlotte and they all pretended to ignore me when I got back on set. I stood there, and I shouted out, And also, thanks to the best crew working in TV today! And they went, Yeah, whatever! he said, laughing.
It could have been worse. If Id got the crew but not my wife, that would have been altogether more serious.