Lesli Linka Glatter: The Hardest Working Woman in Television

Julian Sancton

Lesli Linka Glatter—who’s likely directed episodes of your favorite show, be it Twin Peaks or Mad Men or Freaks and Geeks—calls in from the Berlin set of Homeland’s fifth season.

How are you finding Berlin?

It’s extraordinary. The first week I got here I ended up way in East Berlin, in this complex of crumbling studio buildings with the most interesting art. You’d go underneath a falling-down stairway and there’d be this incredible piece back there. There’s something happening all the time and artists are flocking here.

How are you working Berlin into Homeland?

Germany has some of the strictest privacy laws of any country. It’s why so many hackers—“hacktivists,” let’s say—are based here. So it makes it a perfect place for our kind of show.

You were a part of this so-called “golden age of TV” from the beginning. What’s been your experience of it?

I was incredibly fortunate to have my first real series be Twin Peaks [1990–’91]. I thought, TV’s amazing! Look at what’s done on network TV—can you believe it? And then I found out that, no, that’s not exactly the case. But with so many tentpole movies being made, as well as the small ones—that middle range of movies has all migrated to television. The kind of subject matter and complex characters that are now being explored on TV is truly thrilling. And I feel lucky that I’ve been able to work in every genre. I’ve been able to do things from Freaks and Geeks to The West Wing to Mad Men to The Walking Dead.

Steven Spielberg was an early mentor of yours. Do you remember any of his advice? 

He said things to me that resonate every day I’m on a set. Like, When you’re watching a scene and it’s not working, your instincts will tell you that. They will say, “You have not cracked the truth of this scene.” Maybe your blocking isn’t right. Maybe you haven’t gotten down deep enough into the subtext. Whatever it is, if you tell your instincts to shut up, they will. And they won’t talk to you anymore. And that was an incredible thing to be told as a young director.

You came from a dance background—does that make its way into your directing?

I’m sure that it does, because I see the world moving. An action sequence is like a dance sequence for me. Blowing up a truck just to blow up a truck—not so interesting. But if it moves the story along or puts your main character in jeopardy for a reason that makes sense, I’m all for it.

Much is being said about the lack of opportunities for women in film and TV. What needs to change?

It should be an equal playing field. Fifty percent of film-school students are female, and something happens in that transition [after school]. The system is pretty entrenched, and I think the studios, the networks, producers who hire have to open their eyes. I think that women are incredibly well suited to directing. Gender doesn’t determine how you tell stories, but you always bring every part of yourself to your storytelling.