CHARLOTTE, N.C. – I stopped by Nick Brody’s house Monday afternoon. He wasn’t home.
He wasn’t there because he’s on the run. The feds are looking for him. He’s in cahoots with terrorists, you know. He’s in hiding.
Also, Nick Brody wasn’t home because Nick Brody isn’t a real person. Nick Brody is a character on Homeland, the Showtime series that won three Golden Globes Sunday night. The actor who plays Brody, Damian Lewis, picked up an award for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
Nick Brody’s house isn’t really Nick Brody’s house. But it’s a real house. Vicki Tetreault lives here. She was smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee when I rang the doorbell .
Most people don’t ring the doorbell. Most people just slow down and take a picture. Some people get out to snap a shot. Around Christmastime, Vicki says at least 25 people drove up in front of her house to get a picture. At least 25. There were more this year than last year. Vicki lives on a street that ends on a cul-de-sac. She knows why they’re there.
“Last year I thought I’d put a sign out sayin’ 'Brody doesn’t live here,' you know?” she says, and then laughs. “So they know that he isn’t really in the house.”
Vicki is 64. She works from home, doing medical transcription. She grew up in this house, from fifth grade up until college. She moved back in to take care of her father when he got sick. After he died, her son moved in.
It had always been a quiet house in Mountainbrook, a leafy neighborhood about a mile southeast of the SouthPark Mall. Vicki’s parents built the house in 1960. It was a long ranch wrapped in brick, with a wide chimney and a carport and a neat yard.
Then one day, a guy came to her door. Said he was from a production company that was shooting a pilot. Vicki asked who was starring in it. Claire Danes, the guy said. She decided he was legit. If he’d said it was Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, she would have thought he was full of it.
He came inside and took some pictures. Later he came back and asked her if the production company could film at her house. They’d looked at 40 houses. Vicki’s wasn’t their first choice, she said. But it was the one they went with. It was a one-story. It meant they didn’t have to lug cameras up stairs.
They repainted the front of the house. They glazed the brick to make it look darker on TV. They took down wallpaper. They repainted the kitchen. They added a silver-colored light fixture above the table in there. They took out her furniture. They moved theirs in.
They shot interiors and exteriors of the pilot episode in the house. They put Vicki’s furniture back when they left. Then Homeland got picked up for the full season, then a second and a third, and the crews came back.
They’re really nice about it, says Ann Niehaus, president of the Mountainbrook Civic Association.
Production assistants put cards on the doors of houses in the neighborhood to let them know when they’ll be shooting. Off duty police officers run security. The camera guys had cherry pickers out there a few times to get some shots from up high. They had to prepare for some crowd scenes.
“They had port-a-potties on flat beds!” she said.
Now, they mostly shoot outside. They might come inside if they need to show a shot of somebody walking up the driveway toward the house, or if somebody comes to the door. They shoot the rest of the shots on a set designed to look like Vicki’s house.
“I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s identical,” she says.
Isn’t that kinda weird?
It’s not exactly identical. There are differences. Set designers made the work-room off of the carport bigger. They made the kitchen bigger. There’s no bathroom on the set. There’s no pantry. On the set, they knocked down a wall between the den and kitchen, one they had planned on knocking down before the pilot.
“They were going to take that wall down, and I about had a heart attack, but I wish I’d let ‘em now,” she says. “When I see it on set now, it looks really good.”
I ask if she takes design cues from the fake house on TV that’s based on her real house. “I do,” she says.
Vicki usually isn’t around when Homeland is shooting. She packs up her dog Domino, a basset-lab mix (“Just a mutt,” she says) and goes out to her brother’s place in Matthews. Domino barks too much, and that ruins the sound. Sometimes crews come in the morning. Sometimes they shoot from midnight until six, she says. The neighbors get location fees too, so they don’t put up too much of a fuss.
Vicki’s met Damian Lewis. She’s met Claire Danes. She doesn’t have any pictures with them. “I hate to be too much of a tourist, you know.”
Homeland will come back in a few months to start shooting season three. They’ll need more exterior shots of Nick Brody’s house. They don’t do as much shooting in Mountainbrook as they used to. The neighborhood’s used to it. “I think we’ve kinda gotten over it a little bit,” Niehaus says.
The cars and the picture-takers still come. Vicki says she doesn’t really mind. “Well, I’m used to it now,” she says from her front porch, looking at the street. “What can I do, you know?”
She’d like to go visit her fake house on set soon. Mandy Patinkin still hasn’t had any scenes at her place, so she hasn’t met him. Yet. Things have changed for Vicki. But they haven’t changed much.
“In your dreams you think, well, let something nice happen to me. Let me win the lottery or let me win this or that,” Vicki says. “And lo and behold one day I get a knock on my door and there’s a location manager at the front door.”
NOTE: An earlier version of this story said indoor shots of Brody's house were filmed in Los Angeles. They were filmed in Charlotte.