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Lesli Linka Glatter on Parity for Female Directors, Understanding the Menendez Brothers and ‘Homeland’

Lesli Linka Glatter

Lesli Linka Glatter may have begun her career as a dancer, but now she’s more famous for choreographing some of TV’s most powerful episodes. An accomplished director, Glatter has lent her keen eye to “Mad Men,” “Homeland,” and now NBC’s new true crime series: “Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.” She’s also partnering with the network on a new initiative to support female directors.

Why is the lack of parity among female directors still an issue?

If you asked me when I started directing over 20 years ago, I would have said no, thank God it won’t be an issue [in 2017]. But it still is. With people like NBC and Ryan (Murphy) and Ava (DuVernay), who are walking the walk, it’s time that this isn’t an issue anymore. To me, it makes no sense. Women and diverse directors are incredibly skilled and have lots of stories to tell and only add more complexity and material to stories. It should be an equal playing field. It shouldn’t be easier, but it shouldn’t be harder for women to direct. It should be the same. It’s not easy for anyone, but it should be the same.

The excuse often heard from male showrunners is that there aren’t enough qualified female directors.

I hear that all the time and I don’t understand that. There are many. The pool is wide and deep. It’s great to nourish new talent and new directors, but there’s a whole level of midcareer directors we don’t want to forget about either. I have to say, I think it’s an excuse. I think if you are only looking at a handful of directors who work all the time, you’re not looking deep enough. Especially now when you can pick up a camera and make a movie.

Maybe if we keep talking about it, change will happen.

It does feel like there’s more of a commitment, and I hope we see that being the case. That’s essential, the studios and networks getting behind it. Listen, I love men. This is not anti-men at all. It just needs to be more balanced. It’s inclusion. What about the picture of all the male legislators discussing women’s health? (Laughs.) If it wasn’t real, it would make you laugh.

Terence Patrick for Variety

What drew you to taking on the Menendez brothers series?

I keep trying to get away from this dark material. I’m really funny! I’d love to go do a project in Italy where the big decision was pesto or arrabiatta. But I am getting pulled into these complicated, layered character stories where things are not what they appear to be. What I remember about this case is the rich kids who killed their parents. But then I read the script, and started to do research. There is so much more going on with this story than I ever imagined. And that’s always the case with a story that intrigues me. How many layers can you peel away from the onion to get to what’s really going on?

What’s one thing you learned?

That you have to look at what someone’s background is in terms of their behavior. That’s not an excuse to have killed their parents. There’s no excuse for that. It was a horrible crime. The way that they did it, there’s got to be something behind it. You don’t shoot someone 10 times with a shotgun unless there’s a huge amount of anger. The lesson is, be sure you look deep enough. Be sure you keep asking questions. Don’t accept things on a superficial level. In the beginning, the fact that these boys were rich kids helped them. But then in the end it hurt them. This is the life of Beverly Hills, the fantasy. And the fantasy is not quite as wonderful when you start peeling away.

Before every season of “Homeland,” you and the rest of the executive producers make a trip to D.C. to do some intelligence gathering. Did you do that again this year?

Needless to say, with this particular administration, it was a very unique trip. Because our country has never been quite in the place it’s in right now with this particular president. It was fascinating.

Will that be reflected in this season?

Yes. Again, you can’t chase the news. You can’t try to imitate reality because the reality is now something I could never have dreamed of. But from that intelligence gathering trip to D.C., they go into the room and come out with something really intriguing. I don’t think there’s any sort of crystal ball in that writers room, but they certainly ask very compelling questions about the human condition and politics and where we are and what’s happening in the world. Every day I wake up, I can never imagine what’s going to be in the news that day.

Given that, how can you stay ahead of the news?

I don’t know if you can try to outdistance that and stay ahead of it. I think you really have to focus on strong characters and a compelling story and things that bring up issues to discuss and looking at both sides of an issue. It would be really hard to try to outguess what’s going on now. I can’t imagine how one could do it. Because every hour something else is happening. Scaramucci was in office for 10 days. Could you make that up? You just have to be sure you’re telling a compelling story that looks at a lot of issues. I think that what I love about working on “Homeland” is the stories have a lot of high stakes, whether it’s emotional or political or physical. I’m always interested in people being put in extraordinary circumstances where they’re forced to deal with who they really are. And that always interests me. I want to believe if the bombs started dropping, I would save both of us. I’ve never been tested like that so I don’t know if I’m going to be a total coward or crawl under the table. I want to believe my higher self would come out. Those kinds of stories really fascinate me — what are we really made of.

This is the penultimate season of “Homeland.” What do you think the show’s legacy is?

It’s about having such a complicated female character at the heart of the show and the show exists in this world of gray — not in right and wrong, not in black and white, but shades of gray. Looking at both sides of an issue. Creating dialogue. I’m not sure there’s been a political thriller at least in television that has sustained that kind of questioning. And I love the fact that this continues to do it.