“You Have to be in it for the Long Haul,” Homeland’s Lesli Linka Glatter on Female Directors in Hollywood
Talking to Lesli Linka Glatter, the ebullient director of the Showtime hit series, Homeland, is like talking to an old friend you haven’t heard from in awhile. She hates the idea that the two of you have to rush, and through the interview, she thoughtfully answers questions with enthusiasm and wisdom.
Linka Glatter’s resume is pack full of familiar hit TV material that one wonders where she found all the time. Did she direct at least one episode of every hit show ever made? They include: The Walking Dead, Ray Donovan, Nashville, Justified, The Newsroom, West Wing, House, Masters of Sex, Weeds, True Blood, NYPD Blue, Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks, The Good Wife, ER, Weeds, of course Homeland and the list is still not complete.
The director has also received multiple Emmy nominations for her work on the series, as well as an episode of Mad Men called “Guy Walks into An Ad Agency.” And she is also a recipient of the coveted Director’s Guild (DGA) Award for same the episode.
Inspirer recently talked with Linka Glatter about her work on the show, how Homeland’s continual dilemmas play in the real world, mentoring to help aspiring female directors go the distance, and her renewed-for-a-second season series, Six.
What is different or especially challenging about directing Homeland in 2017?
We’re dealing with some things that have been very exciting for me to look at, with the state that Quinn is in now. How do we deal with wounded warriors in our country? What happens when someone has served and they have been injured? That’s not a very pretty picture and certainly being back in New York is very sobering, the place of the first terrorist attack on American soil and looking back at the overreaction and the reaction to 9/11. Some of it — obviously the threat of terrorism is a huge one — but there is also over a $120 billion dollars spent in counter-terrorism so there is a lot at stake with keeping us terrified. It’s a huge business.
One of the things I’ve loved about Homeland is that (on) each side that you look at, there’s a truth, there’s not one right answer to this. You have to look and weigh all sides to each issue. Often we’ll be doing a scene and two completely different characters have opposing views and they are both correct. That’s fascinating. Of course we’ve just been living through the 72 days of transition with a new government and we get to look at that. That’s always very interesting and sobering and exciting.
You have globe-trotting characters but you haven’t gone everywhere with the show?
I have loved the globetrotting of Homeland. We were in South Africa for Season 4 and Berlin for Season 5. I think one of the extraordinary things about the show is that we are both American and international. It gives the show a more interesting point of view.
I was not on as an executive producer the first season. I was doing that job on another series at the time and wasn’t available. I came on as a director in season 2. I did an episode called “Q&A” which was about 40 pages in an interrogation room with the amazing Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. That’s a classic Homeland scene where both characters have completely different agendas and different points of view.
It was just the most thrilling thing. I was terrified when I first started because I thought, ‘OmiGod, what am I going to do?’ Two people in a room with 40 pages and it turned out to just be an extraordinary experience.
Love how your Twitter description mentions you’re a mom with an exclamation point! What are your thoughts on the women can have it all philosophy?
I think yes, of course you can have it all, I don’t think it’s easy but I don’t think it’s easy for men to have it all either. One is constantly a balancing act. When my son was young and I had be away because I was directing, I felt pulled in 50 thousand directions. When I was at work I felt badly about not being at home and when I was at home I was thinking about work. One is constantly balancing that out but it can be done.
I know so many women directors that are moms and like everyone says, I wouldn’t trade having done this for anything. It’s the greatest experience and I’ve learned so much. I think I am a better director because I have been a mom and a parent. It all seems intertwined to me now.
You’d already accomplished a lot before becoming a director, what made you decide to become one?
I was a modern dancer and choreographer and I was sent to Tokyo, Japan to teach, choreograph and perform. I was literally on a street corner in Shibuya, and I wanted a cup of coffee and there was a shop on the left and a shop on the right. I picked the one on the right and in that coffee shop met an older Japanese man who was in his seventies. I was in my mid-twenties at the time and we started talking and this man became like my Japanese father/mentor. He was an extraordinary person. He’s no longer with us. He had been a Buddhist monk. He spoke 12 languages fluently and he had been the top foreign war correspondent in Japan so he had been all over the world.
He eventually told me a series of stories that happened to him and that became my first film. Had I not walked into that coffee shop, if I had gone to the coffee shop on the left, I don’t know if I would be directing.
I didn’t do it immediately, it was four years later when I finally met a film director, told him the stories and he said, “That’s a film. You should really think about that as a film.” As life goes, you meet a fork in a road and you take a path. The minute I did it, I thought, ‘I know this is my next chapter.’
You’ve directed for film, network, cable and premium cable, how does each differ and do you have a preference?
I think it’s all about telling a good story and knowing what story you are telling. People say we are living in the Golden Age of Television and it truly is, and what’s happened in premium cable TV, cable, Netflix and Amazon, is that you have to make it look like a movie. We’re in a world where visual storytelling is an essential part of the story. It’s not like old-fashioned TV where everyone can walk in the same door and you change the painting behind them. It was a master over a closeup. We’re visual storytellers regardless of the delivery system, whether it’s on a screen or an IPad and I think that is great for all of the different delivery systems, all the different mediums.
I want to be honest to the story and the characters. Would it be great to have more time? Absolutely! You have to know what the [one dollar] scene is and what the 25-cents scene is because if you don’t have all the time in the world, you need to know where to put your energy.
You don’t want to be directing the most important scene of your show at 9 p.m. when you are supposed to be wrapping at 11. You need to know the most important scene and put that up early in the day. If you need five hours to shoot that, well you’ll have to move quicker on other things.
You are mentoring female filmmakers through your work in the Director’s Guild (DGA) and also working with the Sundance Director’s Lab. What are the biggest challenges women face?
Things have not moved in a way I had hoped or imagined. I think you have to be absolutely committed and tenacious and for all the people that say no, all you need is one to say yes. If you want to be a storyteller, there are many paths to doing that now because of the technology available and being cheaper.
Working inside the Hollywood system, you have to be in it for the long haul and in the middle of it remember the joy because it is difficult. I’ve been mentoring women directors for years. I really believe if you’re in a position to grab the hand of the next generation, you need to do that.
I [started mentoring] when I was at the (Creator of ER, current TV showrunner, Shameless) John Wells’ company. Years ago he had a mentoring program and it was very, very successful. Even before that time I always had people shadowing me and I would make phone calls for people all the time, try to help them get hired, do whatever I can do to have this not be an issue because honestly, if you’d told me when I first started directing, that we’d still be talking about this in 2017, I’d would have said, ‘absolutely not, this will not be an issue’ and the fact that it still is, is really surprising.
I think we all have to be a part of the solution. If you’re in a position to hire, you have to make an effort.
You studied at the American Film Institute (AFI) workshop, Steven Spielberg was one of your mentors, what was one important thing he taught you?
This past year I was given an award from AFI and I actually was able to thank him for the incredible generosity he showed me in the beginning. I was about to start shooting my first job for him, (for Spielberg) and I had horrible stress nightmare, like actors dreaming they’re going onstage and they’re naked. I got to the set and it was people I’ve never seen, crew I’ve never seen, working on something I’d never read — the worse possible scenario and I told him about the dream.
I thought, ‘Now he’s going to be horrified, here’s a guy who’s trusted me and put his faith in me,’ and he leaned in and said: “You know Lesli I’ve had that same dream every time I start something.”
It was one of the most kind things that anyone could have ever done. He also told me something I use every day on the set. He said, ‘When you’re watching a scene and something’s not working, if you tell your instincts to shut up, they will and they won’t talk to you anymore about that scene.’ I learned you always have to keep that channel open to your instincts because they will tell you whether something is working on not. You have to trust those instincts.
You’re not slowing down and you’ve got a new series; Six.
It’s on the air and the thing I’m excited about now is that I have two other series in development and another film that I am working on. I love being a storyteller.
Homeland’s Season Finale is April 9.