Chris Cooper relishes his new role: man of mystery

Chris Cooper as Leonard Geist in Season 2 of "Homecoming."
Chris Cooper as Leonard Geist in Season 2 of "Homecoming."Ali Goldstein/Amazon Studios

The first season of “Homecoming," which premiered on Amazon in 2018, was a military mystery, a character study, and a trove of long scenes between Julia Roberts and actors such as Bobby Cannavale and Stephan James.

Roberts, who also executive produced the show, played a social worker helping veterans at a facility run by the Geist Group.

Or so it seemed.

The drama, adapted from a podcast, was a serialized puzzle to the end, and one of the big questions was: Who was Geist? Who was the enigmatic man pulling the strings from beyond? The seemingly larger-than-life boss was often discussed, but never appeared.


Season 2 of “Homecoming” — which premieres Friday — begins the big reveal with a new chapter of the mystery.

Geist is played by Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper, of “Adaptation,” Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Roberts, who is still an executive producer for the series, does not appear in the new season (you’ll have to watch Season 1 for details), but Cooper joins the cast with Janelle Monáe and Joan Cusack. James, Cannavale, and Hong Chau reprise their roles.

Cooper, who is quarantining locally (he lives with his writer-actress wife, Marianne Leone Cooper, in scenic Kingston, which he said is a good spot for long walks), spent a press day on Zoom talking about what it was like to play the character who haunted Season 1. He also talked about what programs he’s binge-watching while social distancing at home.

Q. How did you get introduced to “Homecoming”?

A. [My agent] turned me on to this series, with Julia Roberts, that first season, and it had everything — everything — that I had been looking for. Because I had been kind of scared of these series that can go, if they’re popular, a year and another year, and the actor doesn’t know what direction they’re going to end up in. I think that’s so risky. But I saw that first season with Julia and I loved the half-hour drama. I really appreciated that the scenes could breathe; they weren’t rushed. And about the third episode into the first season I started saying, "Where have I heard this music?”


Q. I wanted to talk about the score!

A. I thought it was so brilliant. They opened up the sound vaults and are using this old Hitchcock background music and [the score from Francis Ford] Coppola’s “The Conversation.” I’m not sure if they did it this season, but the feel of the music is the same, and I really appreciated that. [Note: Amazon says the new season has an original score with a similar mood, composed by Emile Mosseri.]

Q. Am I wrong to think that there was something stage-like about the series? It had been a long time since I’d seen a scene with two people on two sides of a desk, having an extended back and forth. It felt like such a treat.

A. I always fall back on this phrase: So much of what attracts me [to film] is the old-time feel, the old-time movie. The simplicity of it. And what I’m looking for, what got me interested in acting, was human behavior. It’s not explosions and car chases. The films I was brought up on in the ’50s and ’60s and so on, they were very human. And that’s what attracted me [to this].


Q. This character you play — he’s like this great and powerful Oz throughout the first season. I won’t give spoilers, but the first episode of Season 2 ends with this expansive shot of him . . .

A. Beautiful shot.

Q. Can you talk about this character? Without spoilers, of course.

A. Having seen the first season, Geist is presented as this all-powerful mystery guy. And I assumed that the viewer would think, “Oh, this guy is like this. He’s a corporate head. Let’s see him in his suit and throw his power around." We came up with a different idea of how to present him. He doesn’t work out of the office. His farm — his different crops — are just at the back end of Geist industries. He prefers to be in the field with his hands. And that leads to the idea that, well, he’s kept his eyes off the business, and these underlings are pulling some real shenanigans.

Q. When I watched Season 1, Julia Roberts was the big draw, but then there were these other standouts. Stephan James and Hong Chau. You share scenes with great talent.

A. I had wonderful scenes with with Hong, who plays Audrey. I’m surprised Joan Cusack and I haven’t worked [together] before. But we had a ball together. We had some lovely scenes.

Q. You talk about the material you want to perform. But what do you guys watch when you’re home?


A. We’ve discovered this series called “Babylon Berlin” [Netflix]. Unbelievable. It’s remarkable. And then we’re watching “Unorthodox” [Netflix], which we loved, and what else? Oh, Elena Ferrante — “My Brilliant Friend” [HBO].

This interview has been edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at meredith.goldstein@globe.com.