source:new york daily news
Four hundred and sixty-eight years after his death, Henry VIII remains hard to beat as the most famous British king ever.
That doesn’t mean, says Damian Lewis, that we really get him – despite the widespread and not inaccurate agreement that he ate a little too much saturated fat and he discarded wives the way teenage girls discard yesterday’s fashion styles.
Lewis plays Henry VIII in “Wolf Hall,” the six-hour BBC Two adaptation of the best-selling novel by Hilary Mantel and its companion work, “Bring Up the Bodies.”
“Wolf Hall” premieres April 5 on PBS in the States and runs Sundays through May 10.
“Henry VIII was a Renaissance rock star,” says Lewis. “But he was also a very accomplished, intelligent man. He loved history, archery, dancing. He was an architect. He spoke several different languages.
“I think we’ll show people a better-rounded Henry than they may think they know.”
Henry will also have a more filled-out colleague in Thomas Cromwell, who is the main character in the show and who functioned as the rough 16th century equivalent of Henry VIII’s chief of staff.
He was the fixer, the man who got things done — under the subtle but significant pressure of knowing he could be exiled or worse if he failed.
Played by Mark Rylance, Cromwell is a brilliant enigma, a lawyer who understands the intricate and ultrahigh-stakes game of chess that was palace politics.
“Cromwell was described as one who looks like a wall,” says Rylance. “People never knew what he was thinking. He was a man who folded his arms.”
Rylance plays him accordingly, with a less-is-more approach that reflects Cromwell’s technique for serving a decent, but impulsive and unforgiving ruler.
I think Cromwell wanted to do good,” says Rylance. “But he was surrounded by dangerous people, so the crucial issue was how he navigated that.
“To do good, he had make some compromises. It’s not for me to judge whether he was a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ man, but remember, he came from humble beginnings. He was a blacksmith’s son. So I think he was sympathetic with real people.”
Also critical was a warning passed to Cromwell by his predecessor and mentor, Cardinal Wolsey.
“What Wolsey told him,” says Lewis, “was ‘Be careful what you put in the king’s ear, because once it is there, he will fixate on it.’”
That was no small concern when dealing with matters like Henry’s obsession with having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so he could marry Anne Boleyn — who is played here by Claire Foy.
When the Pope wouldn’t go along, Henry declared himself head of the Church of England, enabling him to annul the marriage himself.
This was less a theological coup d’etat, says Lewis, than a practical strategy for getting what he wanted.
“He was struck by Anne,” says Lewis. “But he also just wanted a normal life. He didn’t want marriages arranged for political alliances. He wanted something romantic. He wanted a courtship, like most other people had.”
Nor was it only in love, suggests Lewis, that Henry secretly envied some of lower-born subjects.
He wanted some of the things that he saw ordinary people had,” says Lewis. “He wanted to be part of a group of like-minded people who shared hs interests and whom he could talk with.
When you’re the king, selected by God, that’s hard.”
Lewis, 44, is best known in the U.S. for playing Nicholas Brody on Showtime’s “Homeland.” He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe and yes, he says, that’s still the main reason he gets stopped on the streets here.
“People will shout, ‘Brody!’” he says. “Maybe it will never stop. That’s a nice thing. Although I know Alec Guinness complained that some people only knew him as Obi Wan Kenobi.”
After “Wolf Hall” airs, Lewis will be heading back to Showtime for a series called “Billions,” a contemporary drama in which he will play a high-powered New York hedge fund manager who squares off again Paul Giamatti’s U.S. attorney.