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Photo of Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes sitting on a panel.

Mandy Patinkin, who plays Saul Berenson, Claire Danes, center, who portrays Carrie Mathison, and director Lesli Linka Glatter discuss how espionage is portrayed in their television series Homeland at Mason’s Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security.

Getting Espionage Right in the Reel World

The idea for the final program of the first year of the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security’s “Truth Tellers in the Bunker” series was to do something a little more light-hearted than the previous, very serious programs that examined the timely theme.

Hayden, the former head of the NSA and the CIA who is now a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, invited the cast and producers of the Showtime network’s hit show Homeland to talk about espionage in popular culture.

More than 600 spectators crowded into the ballroom at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to hear stars Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, as well as director Lesli Linka Glatter and co-creator and executive producer Howard Gordon, discuss the characters and the context of the show in the larger scheme of entertainment and contemporary politics.

Gordon agreed that season seven is informed by the turmoil of the 2016 presidential election and the specter of Russian meddling.

“We’re all fictionally tilling the soil of the world we’re living in,” he said, to which Danes added, “I don’t think we [in the fictional world] can compete with reality.”

Patinkin said he spends time with real intelligence officers to develop his character.

“I’m looking for the heartbeat of those individuals,” he said. “I look for their human nature…And we owe it to our audience to say something poetic at the end of the day.”

Patinkin said the season finale is special for him.

“Our writers have given us an extraordinary moral at the end of our ‘novel’ for the season,” he said. “And I was so grateful for it.”

Hayden, who is a consultant on the show, said he is proud that the fictional show is built on authenticity, despite the occasional bending of the rules to conform to fictional needs.

“Everything in the foreground might not be quite right,” he said, “but everything in the background, it’s right.”

This story was written by Schar School of Policy and Government Communications Manager Buzz McClain. Read more Mason news.