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January 23, 2017

A Woman's Place

Actress and activist Elizabeth Marvel takes over as President of the United States on the new season of Homeland.

Melissa Byers
  • Showtime
  • Showtime
  • Showtime

Elizabeth Marvel has done it all.

She has worked in film, television, theater, parts large and small, and has made an indelible impression in all of them.  Although she is based in New York, she has “worked all over the place.”

In just the past few years, she has worked in Baltimore for Netflix’s House of Cards, Canada for Fargo, and now back in New York for the latest season of Homeland, where she is playing president-elect Elizabeth Keane.

The actress and activist has had a good recent run of political roles, playing two women running for president, one successfully, Elizabeth Keane in Homeland, and one unsuccessfully, Heather Dunbar on House of Cards.  Although she enjoyed both roles, she is reveling in Keane.

“Who doesn’t want to play the leader of the free world?” she says.  Although comparisons to recent events may be inevitable, Marvel says that Keane is “one of a kind. She’s an interesting animal, a maverick. There are no other examples like her.”

Playing the president dovetails nicely with Marvel’s activism. She was active in Pantsuit Nation during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and she is hoping that her portrayal of a successful woman president will send a clear message.

“I love messaging that a strong female leader can be actualized. It’s exciting. If my work can inspire people to engage, I’m encouraged.”

Keane is a clearly different character from Heather Dunbar of House of Cards. “House of Cards is Shakespearean, and Homeland is more like a docudrama. Elizabeth Keane is a winner. While Heather Dunbar was put through the meat grinder of politics, Keane has managed to beat the system. Keane is exultant, and her energy is completely different from Dunbar. “

Marvel’s own energy is well-suited to television. “I tend to have a fast metabolism, and I like to work fast,” which is how television is made. Marvel also appreciates being in the medium at this time.

“This is a wonderful time to be a woman in your 40s in television. My commodity seems to be playing the smartest woman in the room, which is fun.

"We’re in a golden age of TV, with great content and an artfulness that plays out best in long form narrative. The quality of the writing is wonderful, all these young playwrights working in the medium.  It’s like the Medici era for the arts.”

Entering a show in its sixth season could be nerve-wracking, but Marvel praises her Homeland cast mates.  “With Homeland, each season is its own entity, so it’s less breaking in with an established cast and more of a re-adapting for everyone. The first day at the table read is nerve-wracking, of course, but these people are such excellent players, that I feel completely at home.”

And, like Marvel, Homeland has moved around a lot, each season taking place somewhere new.  This season, the move to New York is new for the cast. “It adds a new element, and everyone is so open and engaged. Working with F. Murray Abraham, Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes is a joy.”

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