‘Homeland’ brings Claire Danes to the Charlotte Observer

Claire Danes rolled her head around on her neck in slow circles as cameras made last-minute adjustments, and then – just like you’d imagine it happening in Hollywood – someone called out, “Action!”

With the precision and intensity of an Emmy Award-winning actress, Danes punched out a seemingly flawless take that lasted less than three minutes.

After the director yelled “Cut,” a bystander turned to a camera operator and asked, “Are they gonna do it again?” The crew member nearly fell over laughing.

For the next 31/2 hours, Danes and four other actors ran through the same short scene for the upcoming season of hit Showtime series “Homeland.” Over and over and over. More than three dozen times. From several different angles. In the most authentic-looking location the producers could find to stand in for a newspaper office: the Observer newsroom in uptown Charlotte.

Production on the third season of the Twentieth Century Fox show – which is primarily filmed in and around Charlotte but is set in the D.C. area – resumed a week ago.

“You’re standing in for The Washington Post, although the Post won’t let us use the word ‘Post,’ ” said executive producer Alex Gansa, adding that he was thrilled to be able to shoot in a real newsroom. “You just can’t replicate the real thing. Also, there’s a history to a room that is hard to reproduce, especially from square one.

“This has the benefit of being lived in for a lot of years, and it shows. And especially on ‘Homeland,’ we really try to make things feel like they’re real. To make them feel like they’re real life.”

“Homeland” is a thriller that revolves around bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Danes) and suspected terrorist Nick Brody (played by British actor Damian Lewis). In the scene shot at the Observer, Gansa said, “Carrie’s come to a reporter to try to exonerate Brody, to try to find an ally in her cause to prove him innocent.”

All told, it took the cast and crew more than 12 hours to create the three-minute scene.

Set decorator Summer Eubanks of Charlotte and a team of seven assistants arrived in the newsroom just after 8 a.m., and within an hour had stripped and redecorated four desks with props – photos of fake families and pets, Post-Its, important-looking files, stuffed animals, sculptures, clocks and more.

Another show staffer loaded screenshots of computer programs and desktops onto several monitors, and wired two TVs to run loops of a fake news broadcast in the background.

Danes – who won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her performance in Season 1, and repeated at the Globes for Season 2 – was the only principal cast member in the scene. She acted opposite Fiona Choi (in the role of a reporter), Adam Vernier (in the role of a D.C. police officer), and two other extras.

Shooting took place in the center of the newsroom during a period when journalists are typically busy meeting deadlines.

“I would have preferred a different time of day, and I was concerned because I told them we do a whole lot of transacting between 1 o’clock and about 5 o’clock,” Observer managing editor Cheryl Carpenter said. “But that was the time they felt they needed to be here.”

Still, when Danes walked onto the makeshift set at 4 p.m. Tuesday, most of the transacting being done by Observer staffers involved craning their necks to get a better view of the 34-year-old star, surreptitiously taking cellphone photos and tweeting to friends that they were in fact standing 20 feet away from Claire Danes.

Three hours later, though, some of the luster of the proceedings had worn off, as the actress growled, “This is bull----!” for about the 100th time. The repetitiveness, by this point, had driven most of the gawkers either back to their cubicles or home to their families.

“I was exhausted for them at the end of it,” said Observer crime reporter Cameron Steele. Because her desk was just a couple seats away from the action, she – and several other newsroom employees – fell into a background-acting role by virtue of proximity. “So I felt like a star. My sisters and I can’t wait to watch it and see if I made the cut.”

Season 3 of “Homeland” is scheduled to premiere on Sunday, Sept. 29, and for those keeping score at home: “This particular scene,” Gansa said, “will be in the second episode.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer