From visionary director Sam Esmail (the creator of Mr. Robot) and Eli Horowitz & Micah Bloomberg, the creators of the critically acclaimed podcast of the same name, the psychological thriller Homecoming follows Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts, in her first starring role in television), a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center who helps soldiers deal with returning home from war. As she works with a young veteran named Walter Cruz (Stephan James) and they bond over his desire to rejoin civilian life, the two also develop a complex relationship while working through his experiences. Four years later, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) finds Heidi working as a waitress and living with her mother (Sissy Spacek) in a small town, his questions about her departure from her old job begin to unravel the reality that she has come to rely on.
At the Los Angeles press day for the TV series, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with actor Shea Whigham, who talked about wanting to work with Sam Esmail, getting to read all of the scripts and have the podcast to refer to prior to shooting, his approach to his character, and how Carrasco is different from the type of characters he typically plays. He also talked about what’s made Joker such a special project to work on, why who’s directing a project is always important to him before he signs on, and who’s still on his director bucket list.
Collider: How did this come your way?
SHEA WHIGHAM: To be honest with you, I didn’t even listen to the podcast before I said yes. It was Sam Esmail. I’d known Sam’s work, and I jumped at the chance to work with Julia [Roberts]. I tell people that I’ve had a chance to work Sam Esmail, Damien Chazelle and Cary Fukunaga, and those guys are working on a different level. Sam is incredible. I’m very fortunate and lucky.
How much of this story did you actually know, before shooting it? Were the scripts all finished?
WHIGHAM: Once I signed on, I immediately dove in. They had all ten [scripts] done, and I had the podcast for reference, too. I wasn’t much of a podcast guy. Oddly enough, I did this and something in Dirty John, which is another podcast, so they’ve been very good to me. With this one, I sat down in one sitting and just gorged on it. There’s some great stuff coming out of podcasts. The trick is always, how do you open it up? How do you make it visual? You have to have someone like Sam, who goes, “Okay, I know what to do with this.” That’s one of his many strengths. He also lets things breathe, as far as acting. He loves actors. As an actor, I’m always interested in men and women, where there’s a deep amount of empathy and kindness, but a capability of enormous volatility, like Daniel Day-Lewis. You meet him and he’s kind, but he can go to other places very quickly. Sam is the same way. A lot of times, the darker individuals, their material doesn’t always translate. Sam is this guy where you meet him and you don’t think Mr. Robot would come out of him. That’s interesting to me. He walks into any room, and he’s the smartest guy in the room, without trying.
How was it to adjust to his approach on this, as a director who puts the camera in places that you wouldn’t necessarily expect one?
WHIGHAM: I’ve worked with David O. Russell. I’ve worked with Marty [Scorsese]. A guy like Sam doesn’t want to do something that’s been done before. That’s boring to someone like him. I found that it’s invigorating and enthralling. He loves actors. I told him that I thought I had a bead on Carrasco, and I said, “It’s gonna take a lot of trust.” It’s like microsurgery, for me, to get it right. If you’re not careful, you could slip into caricature, but you also have to walk up to the line because he’s not a sleuth and he’s not a private investigator. He doesn’t always know the questions to ask. He just wants to get down to the bottom of this truth. That’s interesting to watch.