LOS ANGELES — When Rupert Friend stepped out of wardrobe on a recent Wednesday, he wore a filthy checked shirt, baggy tweed pants and boots that looked as if they could have been used as chew toys.
“Basically, we do everything you’re not supposed to do on a leading man,” said J.R. Hawbaker, the costume designer, as she adjusted a button.
David DiGilio, a writer and producer, added: “We said, ‘Don’t let him look good.”
He still looked good.
Mr. Friend, a fan favorite for his work on “Homeland,” was on a shoot for “Strange Angel,” a CBS All Access show that begins streaming June 14. It is inspired by the weird but true tale of Jack Parsons, a handsome rocket engineer in 1930s Los Angeles who joined a sex magic cult known as the Agape Lodge. (L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was among its guests.)
Mr. Friend plays Ernest Donovan, the next-door neighbor who introduces Jack (played by Jack Reynor) to the cult, “a place where you can be the man you always dreamed of being.”
If you’re looking for a man to lead you astray, you could do worse than Mr. Friend, who specializes in rebels, rakes and hit men. He’s that rare Hollywood animal, a starring actor who feels genuinely dangerous, onscreen anyway. “I don’t bite,” his character says in “Strange Angel.” Then he does.
Earlier that day, Mr. Friend, 36, had bounded into the conference room at the Paramount Pictures lot, near the sheds where “Strange Angel” shoots, wearing clothes that actually fit: a frisky corduroy suit and shining shoes.
He gave the office space a quick once-over (“It looks like you’re interviewing me for a job,” he said) before folding himself into an ergonomic chair and cracking open a mini bottle of water. In person, he is unreserved, often wry. When the motion-sensor lights kept blinking off, he said, with a deadpan, “Very energy efficient.”
So what’s a nice guy like him doing with a bad-boy résumé like his? Blame that face. “The Cro-Magnon” look, he calls it — wide forehead, frostbit eyes, a chin so square it must make mathematicians swoon. Even before he was cast as Peter Quinn, the C.I.A. assassin he played for five seasons on “Homeland,” people would assume he’d come to kill them.
“It stopped them picking fights,” he said.
That face was a brilliant fit for Quinn, introduced in Season 2 as a coldhearted operative with a soft spot for Carrie Mathison, the show’s lead, played by Claire Danes. Alex Gansa, the showrunner for “Homeland,” said that he had cast Mr. Friend, then a relative unknown, because “he had these leading man looks and yet there were deep currents running underneath.”
Quinn was meant to die in Season 5, a victim of sarin gas poisoning. But when he learned that his character would perish, Mr. Friend was asked to draft the not-quite-a-love-letter that Quinn leaves Carrie from his deathbed: “Just think of me as a light on the headlands, a beacon, steering you clear of the rocks.”
“It was so beautifully composed and wonderful,” Mr. Gansa said, that the producers brought Quinn back for Season 6. “In a way he saved himself.”
The Quinn who returned was a damaged man, weakened by a stroke, tormented by his shortcomings. Fans were drawn to Mr. Friend’s mix of reserve and vulnerability, his portrait of a man soldiering on despite serious PTSD.
When Quinn finally met his end, taking a hail of bullets to protect the president-elect, some fans were so incensed that they bought a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter, shaming the producers for, among other things, Quinn’s incapacity “for loving and being loved.”
“Strange Angel” is Mr. Friend’s television resurrection, and it’s a series he initially resisted when his agent sent along the synopsis. He had played enough hard men, enough dark hearts. Just because he has a type doesn’t mean he likes it. “I don’t really want to spend five years sacrificing virgins,” he said.
Mr. Friend grew up in a small town in Oxfordshire, England. After finishing high school he played in a band, spent a gap year traveling and then enrolled in drama school, mostly because he thought acting meant he wouldn’t have to do the same thing day after day.
While studying at the Webber Douglas Academy he was cast as Johnny Depp’s lover in “The Libertine,” a biopic about the Earl of Rochester. Then he played the lady-killer in “Pride and Prejudice,” Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Jane Austen romance, starring opposite Keira Knightley.
He and Ms. Knightley dated for several years, though they were careful to avoid mentioning each other in the media. For a long time, Mr. Friend had a contentious relationship with reporters. If you read old interviews, you’ll see he did use to bite. (In a 2008 interview with The Observer, he sits down with the reporter and dismisses the meeting as “so boring.”)
His cynicism extended to his peers. He watched some of his acting colleagues “chase a kind of fame that I wasn’t chasing,” he said. They’d find a type and play it again and again. “And then that was it. Fine. Done. Now I’m going to Malibu. Goodbye,” he said.
Mr. Friend could have easily fallen into that trap himself. In between “Homeland” seasons, he played another assassin, in the action film “Hitman: Agent 47.” The other day he was reading a script, he said, and his wife, the athlete and activist Aimee Mullins, overheard him murmuring, “‘Oh, man. Another troubled character.’ And she was like, ‘They always are.’”
But Mr. Friend is trying to show the world that he’s more than just a dour face. His Twitter and Instagram avatar is a sweet cartoon bear (from the English cartoon Rupert Bear), and many of his posts are love notes to his wife.
After “Homeland,” he took on less predictable roles. In “The Death of Stalin,” a farcical look at Soviet history, he plays Stalin’s punching bag of a son. In Julian Schnabel’s coming “At Eternity’s Gate,” he plays Theo van Gogh, the loving brother of Vincent.
“He’s nothing like he was in ‘Homeland.’” Mr. Schnabel said. “I think he’s a sweetheart.”
In his next movie, Paul Feig’s “A Simple Favor,” a noirish thriller about mommy bloggers, he turned down a lead and instead requested the smaller role of a self-obsessed fashion designer named Dennis Nylon. Mr. Feig said he “was completely shocked because it is kind of this ridiculous part.”
And Mr. Friend can now be found on the Paramount lot, cuddling a goat, crashing a motorcycle, playing the ukulele, doing whatever else “Strange Angel” requires. After reading the scripts on an Antarctic vacation, he discovered that Ernest wasn’t really a dark character after all, or at least not entirely. He was a seeker and a poet, “the kind of guy who asks you for a beer and you know it’s going to end in jail, but you want to go anyway,” he said.
Later that day, Mr. Friend arrived on location at a three-story, Craftsman-style manor in theWest Adams district in central Los Angeles that stands in for the Agape Lodge. (The original lodge was in Hollywood.)
He was there to shoot a two-minute scene in the kitchen, in which Jack confesses professional doubts while Ernest bakes up ritual wafers made with flour and menstrual blood.
After rehearsing the scene, Mr. Friend emerged from the house with a frilly white-and-green flowered apron tied around his shabby tweeds. Peter Quinn would never have been caught dead in it, and the cast and crew took note, diving for their smartphones as Mr. Friend sauntered over to the craft services table for some salami.
One of the actresses, Bella Heathcote, who plays Jack’s wife, Susan, snapped a picture. “You should send that to your wife,” she said, showing it to Mr. Friend.
“I already did,” he said.
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