This interview contains spoilers for the latest episode of Counterpart.
Perhaps when Counterpart first introduced Clare, some viewers thought she would be a relatively minor character, acting as Baldwin’s handler as the assassin made her way through her target list. In the latest episode, however, Clare, played by Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland, Scandal), is shown to be a much more central figure than we first anticipated. Far from your typical sleeper agent, Clare reveals her back story in a way that portrays her as both a sympathetic victim and a steely-eyed manipulator. Speaking to us from the set of season two filming now in Berlin, Boniadi helped us figure out what makes Clare so complex as a character.
One final warning: don’t read further if you haven’t watched up through episode 7 of Counterpart; spoilers lie ahead.
Den of Geek: Clare has experienced plenty of tragedy, but she also displaced her other self quite ruthlessly. How do you feel about the way that Counterpart presents Clare as someone the audience knows they shouldn’t be rooting for but they do anyway?
Boniadi: I love that. I love that she isn’t a one-dimensional villain. I mean, if you think about it, on the outside, she should be despised because she essentially is the one who’s threatening all of the protagonists on the show. But the thing that makes her great is — I love this quote — one man’s rebel is another man’s freedom fighter. And I see her in that light. She isn’t a one-dimensional villain; she’s doing it from this place of conviction because she thinks it’s the right thing to do.
With regard to killing her other, I think that while it might seem cold-blooded from the vantage point of the audience where you’re sitting there and you’re saying, “Okay, well, look at how she seems like she’s filled with hate.” That hate has been instilled into her from childhood. And if you watched episode seven, you’ll see that she’s been radicalized, and this is all she knows. She’s been taught to hate. That line that Mira says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Let your skin grow thick with hate,” that is a powerful line because she’s been conditioned to believe that this is the greatest good for the greatest number and that’s the danger of radicalization.
I love that the show is showing the sorts of radicalization outside of the context of religion because this kind of brainwashing happens throughout society and at different levels, and I think it’s important to not judge people. If you really have empathy for people’s upbringings and their past, you’ll see that they haven’t chosen this past. It’s almost like a predetermined destiny that they have. They really had no other choice, and this is their fate. It’s tragic, but it gives you a deeper understanding of the character, and that’s why I think people empathize with her.
Some characters even seem to revere Clare, such as the one known as “The Ringleader” played by Lotte Verbeek. Why is that?
Clare is kind of the chosen one in Mira’s eyes, who is the head of Indigo, and there’s been a lot of talk at indigo… there’s an underground murmur of Shadow and who shadow is and what she’s been entrusted to take care of and do on her mission. And Clare being Mira’s chosen one is the thing that creates this sort of reverence with the rest of the people coming over from the other side to help with this mission. And I think even Clare herself is sometimes taken aback by the effect she has on other people. Sometimes she’s caught off guard as to how people respond to her.
Clare doesn’t always seem to have that really strong conviction that some of the other conspirators like Pope and Lambert have. Is Clare’s handling of Baldwin, for example, meant to show her full of doubt, regret, uncertainty, that sort of thing?
It’s not so much that she’s not dedicated to her mission. I think she’s fully dedicated to the mission, but I think she also knows how to play this other side. And so with that comes a little bit of empathy… or not empathy, but more kind of an understanding of what it is to live in Peter Quayle’s world. And that doesn’t take away from her loyalty to Indigo or the mission, but what it does do is it gives her a layer that someone like Lambert or Pope don’t have.
People like Baldwin and Lambert seem to feel perfectly comfortable undressing in front of Clare. Is that meant to show her discomfort or their lack of modesty or both?
I think they’re very comfortable in their own skin. You see that trying to catch up with Clare Quayle’s life and losing her virginity, it’s not something she’s fully comfortable with because as you saw with the slap that Mira gave her when she started to have feelings for young Spencer in Indigo, she’s been taught that feelings, whether it’s feelings of the flesh or feelings of the heart, are just not supposed to happen.
So I think when she sees flesh or when she sees anything that might remind her of her own humanity or her own sexuality, she shies away from it. It’s not because of her modesty; it’s more about her discomfort because she doesn’t really know what to do with those feelings or those human experiences.
At the end of the episode Clare says, “I never had anything of my own,” and it almost implies that things may be different now that she’s a mother, especially naming her child Spencer. Is she growing to love her life a little bit on this side, or is she playing Quayle?
That’s a really good question. I think it’s a little bit of both. I don’t think anything will come in the way of her mission. The one weakness that she has is her baby, and that’s a soft spot that she has because it’s the one thing that only belongs to her. It’s not the other Clare’s; it doesn’t belong to indigo; it doesn’t belong to anyone but her. That baby is hers.
I think it’s brilliant that the writers introduced this baby because otherwise she’d just be so devoted to her mission that nothing would really be able to get in her way. But here is a crack in her armor, and I find that fascinating because I think as you’ll see her develop over the course of season one and season two, that is really the one thing that humanizes her. If her trajectory is ever going to change, it’s that child that’s going to change her.
Your Middle Eastern heritage doesn’t come into play like it has with other characters that you’ve played in Homeland and other shows. Do you like the fact that this show is so multinational and doesn’t really explain why we’ve got British alongside Germans alongside Americans and so on?
It’s truly a global show; it’s very much of a melting pot. I love that because, especially now being in Berlin, there are people from all over the world who live here, especially that international feel at the political multinational level because this is an organization that is sort of like the UN, a multinational type organization. So it makes sense to me that there would be people from the US and England and Germany.
On a personal note, when I first got the job, I spoke to [executive producer and writer, Justin Marks] and I said, “You know, hopefully you don’t change my name because of my ethnicity to a Middle Eastern name because the last thing I want is ‘Oh, she’s the villain; now she’s Middle Eastern, and she has a Middle Eastern name.’ If the name of the character was Clare to begin with, I’d like to just play her as Clare, and I’d prefer not to draw any attention to her race or ethnicity.”
And he said, “Absolutely! We don’t have any intention of making this a Middle Eastern character or drawing attention to that.” The beauty of this role is yes, she’s a villain, but she could really have come from any part of the world. It’s not her race or religion that defines her. And that’s very refreshing for a Middle Eastern actor to play because Hollywood does have a tendency of casting Middle Eastern actors in these villain or terrorist roles. And so yes, I love playing this multifaceted villain who isn’t of Middle Eastern or Muslim descent or identity.
Boniadi assures us that there are more twists still ahead for Clare even after her character took center stage this week. As she spoke to us from Berlin, Counterpart was continuing filming for season 2 in which Clare undoubtedly still plays a central role. What will be the fallout of her unmasking by her husband, Peter? To see how her story arc and the rest of the grand conspiracy unfolds, be sure to tune in to Counterpart on Starz every Sunday at 8/7c. Three episodes remain in season one, which we’ve consistently reviewed favorably.