Television Director Lesli Linka Glatter Balances Local Life and Traveling to Work on Her Emmy-Nominated Television Episodes
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
When the Palisadian-Post caught up with Lesli Linka Glatter, she was in the kitchen of her Alphabet Streets home. It was a Saturday. On Monday, she was off to Budapest, Dublin and Paris to scout locations for her next project.
Not atypical for the veteran television director and producer, who, last year, spent nine months in Morocco filming the final season of “Homeland,” her main bread-and-butter since 2012.
When the eighth and final season of “Homeland” begins airing on February 9, it will mark the end of a much-lauded transitional series in this era of peak television.
Since 2011, fans of the Showtime political thriller have come to know and love unconventional, jazz-digging CIA agent Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, Mandy Patinkin as her CIA mentor figure Saul Berenson and, in the earliest seasons, Damian Lewis as Marine officer Nicholas Brody, who we constantly question if he was turned by Al-Qaeda and implanted back into American society, where he poses a growing threat as he becomes a rising political star.
There was also Rupert Friend as a special ops agent and F. Murray Abraham’s memorable recurring turn as old-school CIA Black Ops, Dar Adal, among many others.
“We last left [Carrie Matheson] at the end of last season on a bridge in Russia where she’s being traded back to Saul Berenson after seven months of being incarcerated in a Russian prison,” Glatter said.
Starting season eight, Carrie is at Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany healing from the ordeal, while Berenson is in Afghanistan, poised to advise President Warner on negotiations with the Taliban when he realizes he needs Matheson’s unique expertise.
One of the show’s executive producers, Glatter has directed four episodes per season on the high-octane adaption of the Israeli series “Prisoners of War.” The series has come a long way from its point of origin.
The Hollywood version of Gideon Raff’s drama has long outpaced the source material and never closely followed its Israeli counterpart, but creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon were certainly inspired by it.
And, according to Glatter, Gansa, the series’ showrunner, has never lost inspiration: “Alex is a brilliant writer and the best partner in crime imaginable.”
“Every year, we reinvent the wheel in a different country with very different themes,” Glatter said. “That’s been thrilling and challenging but it never gets easier as we are always starting over every year.”
She added that the subtext of her series begs the question: “What has America learned since 9/11? If something happened again, would we react differently?”
“When you’re dealing with charged political material, you have to listen to all the criticisms from other cultures—no one in ‘Homeland’ is wearing a white hat or a black hat, it’s all shades of gray. We try to get it right,” she continued, “but do we always get it right? No, of course not. But our goal is never to demonize any culture.”
Glatter’s instincts have been on-point. Her directorial skills for “Homeland” have snagged her three of her four Emmy nominations, for episodes “Q&A,” “From A to B and Back Again” and “The Tradition of Hospitality.” (Her fourth nom came in 2009 for the “Mad Men” episode “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.”)
And with work on “Homeland” behind her, Glatter is not slowing down anytime soon. She is currently directing and executive producing “The Banker’s Wife,” an eight-part mini series for Amazon with showrunner Meredith Stiehm about corrupt banks, the banks that do business with dictators, gun runners, drug cartels and money launderers.
She will also serve as one of the executive producers on the upcoming Netflix series “Pieces of Her,” based on the 2018 Karin Slaughter novel.
From Lone Star State to Hollywood Stars
Dallas-born Glatter grew up in Texas, where her father worked as a union organizer for the International Ladies Garment Union.
“It was not easy growing up liberal in Texas, and my parents were very loud liberals,” she recalled.
Glatter started out professionally in a completely different aspect of the entertainment industry as a modern dancer and choreographer, having worked in Paris, London, Tokyo and New York, as well as contributing to the seminal 1980s William Friedkin film “To Live and Die in L.A.” and the video for Sheila E.’s most famous single, “The Glamorous Life.”
“I had directed theater, but I was a choreographer,” she said.
Glatter said that there is no doubt that her past life helped her develop her directorial skills and confidence, including when it comes to staging action sequences on shows like “Homeland.”
“I spent 10 years overseas,” she continued. “Two-and-a-half years in Paris, two-and-a-half years in London, then I got a grant to teach, choreograph and perform throughout the Far East, based in Tokyo, and working at places from the Balinese Dance Academy to the Peking Opera School.”
It was while in Japan when “I was told a series of stories that totally changed my life,” Glatter recalled. “I was in a very crowded part of Tokyo and I wanted a cup of coffee … there was a coffee shop on the right and one on the left, but I arbitrarily chose the one on the right and I know it sounds crazy, but it changed my life forever.”
She spotted a counter at one of the restaurants; only one seat left. The old man sitting next to it spotted her.
“He waved me over and I sat down with him,” Glatter remembered. “I was 25, he was maybe 75. He turned out to be this extraordinary person who had been one of the top foreign war correspondents and, spoke perfect King’s English and was currently the head of cultural affairs for the Asahi Shimbun.”
Three years later, the gentleman she had befriended and his wife had become parental figures to her.
“He told me a series of stories that happened on Christmas Eve, even though he was Buddhist, during different wars and about human connection,” Glatter shared.
She knew right then that she had become custodian to some extraordinary lore which she felt compelled to relay forward.
“I had to pass them on,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t through dance, but it took me years to realize it was a film.”
It was after that she had applied to The Directing Workshop for Women at American Film Institute in which she made “Tales of Meeting and Parting.” Unfortunately, with time and budget, she was only able to share two of the six amazing stories her mentor had told her. However, the 30-minute short film “ended up getting nominated for an Academy Award,” she said.
Speaking of “Amazing Stories,” it was the mid-1980s Steven Spielberg-produced anthology series on NBC which not only became her big break as a television director, she learned the ropes by shadowing Spielberg himself.
“We all know that Steven is a brilliant storyteller but he’s also an incredible person and so very generous,” Glatter remembered. “He taught me how to be a conscious filmmaker.”
Glatter’s next show was to helm four episodes of “Twin Peaks” (1990-91) for a filmmaker with radically different aesthetics, David Lynch.
“When I saw the pilot for ‘Twin Peaks,’ it was one of the most extraordinary and original things I’ve ever seen,” she recalled. “Both of these men are visionary filmmakers. To go from Steven Spielberg to David Lynch, oh, my God, what an incredible learning experience, but ultimately one has to learn to develop and trust your own instincts.”
With Glatter’s rise as a television director, the medium itself has grown, in both quality and quantity.
“When Hollywood stopped making that mid-level, character-based film, it all went to TV,” she said. “TV is now so amazing, so complicated and layered.”
She commended Netflix for contributing to the globalization of entertainment and teaching Americans how to appreciate foreign fare.
“Ten years ago, I don’t think many Americans would watch a show with subtitles,” she said, singling out the acclaimed Israeli show “Fauda,” which is in Hebrew and Arabic.
For the past 20 years, Glatter has enjoyed living in Pacific Palisades, where her son, a “very successful session bassist,” Nick Campbell, grew up while attending Canyon Charter Elementary School and Crossroads, but she has also watched it change.
“I was living in Hollywood,” she said. “When my son was in kindergarten, we moved to the Palisades.”
At the time, she was married to husband and artist Clayton Campbell, and part of what precipitated the move was for him to live closer to the Santa Monica-situated 18th Street Arts Center which he ran.
Originally residing near Marquez Knolls, today she is a stroll away from Caruso’s Palisades Village. She also laments the voids created by several notable absences, such as the former Pacific Palisades Farmers Market on Swarthmore every Sunday.
“I miss Village Books,” she said. “It was like the ideal small bookstore where you can go and find the best title. I miss it terribly. I miss Mort’s … Mort’s was Mort’s. I miss the whole funky Palisades, but progress is progress, you can’t hold things back.”
Nevertheless, while working in Morocco last year, she developed some profound homesickness.
“The Palisades is the best kept secret,” she said. “It feels like we are in a small town but part of the big city.”
It’s in her down time at home when she tends to binge on shows, some recent favorites including “Fleabag,” “The Crown,” “Succession,” “Chernobyl,” “Unbelievable,” “Better Things,” “The Bureau” and the aforementioned “Fauda.”
However, she’s going to miss working with her talented “Homeland” writers, crew and actors, she said.
“It’s a gift for a director,” Glatter said. “Claire is my partner in crime, as is Mandy. Murray has in particularly the most wicked sense of humor. They are all actors who dig deep into their characters. I’ll miss that level of commitment and questioning and probing.”