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New York Times / Life - Entertain

Playing the President and Protesting One, Too

Elizabeth Marvel returns as President Keane on Season 7 of the political thriller “Homeland.”

Elizabeth Marvel outside the offices of New York Senator Chuck Schumer joining a protest in support of DACA. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

The actress Elizabeth Marvel knows how to play a president. She knows how to protest one, too.

On a slush-caked Wednesday afternoon in January, Ms. Marvel, who plays President Elizabeth Keane on “Homeland,” stood on Central Park West, accosting passers-by. “Care for a hand warmer?” she said repeatedly. “Sign a petition?”

She and several anti-Trump activists had clustered around a giant inflated moneybag, collecting signatures to encourage the owners of the Trump International Hotel & Tower near Columbus Circle to drop the Trump name.

“It’s to block Trump’s brand,” she said to a 30-something couple in puffer jackets as they signed her page. “He shouldn’t be benefiting from this. Not while he’s in office.”

Dressed in work boots and a set of Carhartt quilt-lined coveralls, Ms. Marvel, 48, didn’t look so presidential. She had spent the last few days in Richmond, Va., shooting the latest episode of “Homeland,” and had caught an Amtrak train home to New York that morning. (Her travel reading: Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which she called, “madcap, surreal, very gonzoesque.”)

She had come straight from the train to the signature gathering. Not a lick of on-camera makeup remained.

Only a few people recognized her, mostly from her multiseason arc on “House of Cards,” in which she played another embattled politician, though fans of the FX series “Fargo” and the movie “The Meyerowitz Stories” got a thrill, too.

Offscreen, she has a wide-legged stance, a waggish smile and a way with free hand warmers. She complained about “getting people’s attention in the age of earbuds,” and joked once or twice about going “for the hard sell.” But she kept smiling. Her petition page filled quickly.

Ms. Marvel across the street from the Trump International Hotel and Tower, trying to get people to sign a petition to have the building remove the Trump name. An Rong Xu for The New York Times

A Quaker (she was nicknamed the Quaker Assassin on the set of “The Bourne Legacy,” in which she played a military hit woman), Ms. Marvel tries to perform an act of service every week.

Since the 2016 election, a lot of that service has been political. A year ago, she participated in “Cut Piece for Pant Suits,” a performance piece in Madison Square Park in which 10 women, including herself, invited the audience to cut off pieces of the performers’ pantsuits using scissors. “It was a very intense experience,” she said. “And a profound one.”

She and her husband, the actor Bill Camp, call their government representatives every morning, and she attends marches and shares in political actions with a group of actresses she affectionately calls her “power coven.”

Ms. Marvel refuses to participate in social media. “I’m not interested,” she said. “As a creative person, I need to be unconscious of opinions or I’d have a very hard time making things.” So her friends call and text her when a protest surfaces.

She tries not to let her feelings about the current administration — the real one, not the “Homeland” one — become too heated. “To practice nonviolence in your thoughts, it’s a goal,” she said. So she meditates, she prays, she does yoga every morning. “I try to be useful when I can,” she said.

For a few weeks in the summer, Ms. Marvel was the target of a protest herself, when she played Mark Antony in the Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar,” in which a Trump-like Caesar bled out on the Senate floor, a gesture that caught the attention of Breitbart News. Some protesters rushed the stage, and the cast was assigned full security details.

Because of her social media blackout, Ms. Marvel wasn’t immediately aware of the controversy. Then she learned about the death threats. “There was a lot of aggression aimed at me, because I was a woman playing a man’s part,” she said. That her character is in sympathy with Caesar? It didn’t matter.

“Something about the way I explore power” can really rattle people, Ms. Marvel said.

As for playing a woman in power right now, “it’s a fascinating exercise,” she said. “Young women seeing women on TV as leaders, it’s a good thing at this moment.”

“Homeland,” which returns for Season 7 on Feb. 11, will pick up after President Keane, whom Ms. Marvel calls “a political animal, a fighter and a survivor,” has escaped an assassination attempt and ordered a purge of the state department and the intelligence branches.

“It’s a very hot, dangerous landscape that we are walking around in the season,” Ms. Marvel said. “It’s not dark corners and shadows. It’s blazing fires.”

After 40 minutes of buttonholing pedestrians, Ms. Marvel returned her pen and clipboard and headed to the next action, a rally in front of Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in support of legislation that offers Dreamers (young undocumented immigrants) a path to citizenship.

Mr. Schumer’s office on Third Avenue was about a 30-minute hike, but Ms. Marvel insisted, cheerfully, on “walking in this freezing cold.” She walked briskly, stopping into a juice bar for a warm turmeric-heavy drink.

She arrived at Mr. Schumer’s office around 5:30. The trees were still hung with Christmas lights and wrapped in burlap against the cold. A makeshift platform had been assembled, and Dreamers and their allies — some of whom Ms. Marvel recognized from a rally a month ago — stood up to tell their stories.

As a woman from the New York Immigration Coalition spoke, Ms. Marvel clapped and hollered and accepted anti-Trump fliers. She took a sheet with Mr. Schumer’s phone number, too — not that she needed it.

Then another woman stood up. “What do we want?” she said.

“A clean Dream Act,” Ms. Marvel shouted with the crowd.

“When do we want it?

“Now!”

“Thank you and follow us on social media,” the speaker said.

Ms. Marvel shrugged. “I can’t do that,” she said. “But I show up.”

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