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Radio Times Magazine Interview – Oct 2, 2019

Could the Next James Bond Be Ginger? The Famous Redhead Rules Himself Out

by Kristy Lang | Radio Times Magazine | Issue: October 5-11, 2019

In a five-star hotel suite high above the City of London, Damian Lewis and I have a ginger bonding moment. As a fellow redhead, I’ve long admired his rise through the acting world. Not many gingers get leading-man status, but after starring in series such as Band of Brothers, Homeland and Billions, Lewis is big in American.

We’re meeting to discuss his first venture into the world of documentaries, fronting and producing a series about spies on the History channel.

Lewis, now 48, was born in London but was sent to boarding school at a young age, which, he thinks, would make him a very good spy.

“If you are sent away from your family at the age of eight, it gives you a rigor, a dissociative quality that is extremely useful for spies because they have to be able to shut down parts of their emotional life. That’s why the British secret services actively recruited public schoolboys. Guy Burgess is the most extreme example of that. He was flamboyant, charming and mostly drunk – how he didn’t reveal what he was doing is a mystery to me.”

Three series of the American spy thriller Homeland means Damian Lewis has done a lot of thinking about the psychology of being undercover and leading a double life.

He devours books by John le Carre, Ben Macintyre and Charles Cumming. He’s been to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and had long conversations with senior operatives about what makes them tick. Preparing for the role of Nicholas Brody gave him license to prove their emotional make-up.

“Clearly there has to be a degree of the sociopath in you, but the ability to compartmentalize is critical.”

Lewis has acting credits that span stage, TV and film, but fronting a factual series is something quite different. Damian Lewis: Spy Wars is an eight-part series that uses archive footage, extensive interviews with former agents and dramatic reconstructions, with each episode exploring a different espionage story from the past 40 years. Every so often the actor pops up to talk to camera, looking effortlessly elegant in a cashmere polo neck and blazer, like James Bond on a day off.

Lewis got involved because his younger brother Gareth is a co-producer on the series.

“He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to work together?’ and I thought, why not? But look, I don’t want to be a TV presenter. I just liked the idea of these eight stories set in the spy world and agreed to come on out of curiosity, really.”

Working on the series brought home to Lewis how banal, low-fi and amateur espionage can be. He explains with boyish enthusiasm tow commons pieces of spy craft.

“There’s the dead drop, where you wrap some documents in a bin liner, stick it under a tree, walk away and then another guy comes by later and picks it up. Then there’s the brush pass, which you’ve seen a thousand times in thrillers – two men walk in carrying the same suitcase and leave carrying the other’s bag.”

Lewis’s main gig at the moment is Billions, an American TV drama in which he plays a dodgy Wall Street hedge-fund manager pursued by Paul Giamatti’s New York District Attorney. Aired on Sky Atlantic, Billions, with its portrayal of the American super rich has been dubbed by some US critics as the Great Gatsby of our age. The production values are high and Lewis spends six months making each series; he starts shooting the fifth series in November.

“There will be a small overlap next year because Helen starts filming Peaky Blinders in March before I’ve finished shooting Billions in New York – but I’ll try and fly back as often as I can. In terms of the family, we’ve done it in a number of different ways. My kids have been to school in New York and sometimes we film over the holidays, which means summers for them on the beach in Long Island.”

Does he bump into fellow Old Etonian Dominic West, who has been doing a similar juggle flying his wife and children out to Long Island every summer while he was filming The Affair?

“There’s a bit of that, usually getting into trouble somewhere,” he says, smiling enigmatically.

Having met both actors several times, I can imagine them sinking a few drinks together while they compare notes on being Brits in America.

Getting cast in a long-running US TV series can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s a guaranteed income. On the other, an actor can find themselves legally contracted to playing the same role for years. I wonder how Lewis feels about being trapped in the mind of Bobby Axelrod, the ruthless, self-made billionaire he plays in Billions?

“It can be liberating playing someone like that, but after six months I find myself wanting to shed the skin and look for an antidote, something completely different.”

Recent antidotes include playing screen legend Steve McQueen in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood and Dream Horse, a British film that has yet to be released. The latter is based on the true story of a former mining village in Wales in which a group of locals clubbed together to raise a racehorse on the local allotment and against all odds produce a champion.

“It was a joy to make, so uplifting – think Billy Elliot and Brassed Off meets Seabiscuit,” says Lewis, who is half-Welsh and spent many childhood holidays there.

The best family holiday he’s had with his own children was when they rented a camper van and drove Wales for a week.

“It was just us, the kids and the dog. We played rounders on the Pembrokeshire cliffs in horizontal rain. It was brilliant.”

I suggest that if two screen stars want to go deep undercover and not be spotted by the tabloid press, a Welsh campsite is a good place to hide out. He chuckles.

“I got a couple of strange looks, but that’s all.”

Finally, no conversation about spies and going undercover could possibly overlook the most famous fictional spy of all. Lewis has all the traditional credentials to play Ian Fleming’s 007. He’s a charming, urbane, public schoolboy who looks good in a suit. Is he in the running to replace Daniel Craig? He rolls his eyes.

“By the time they finally finish making the next Bond film, I’ll be old, decrepit…but on the other hand, from a diversity point of view, don’t you think it’s about time we had a ginger Bond?”

Hardly a day goes by without a new contender for the next James Bond, or an opinion on what sort of Bond should carry the torch after Daniel Craig’s last squinty sojourn as the 007 agent.

Should James Bond become Jane Bond, or should we move away from the conga line of white men who’ve inhabited the role since the Sixties?

Well, according to Damian Lewis, there’s something we’ve overlooked for more than five decades: there’s never been a ginger Bond. Not that he thinks he’s the one to take up the mantle, mind.

“By the time they finally finish making the next Bond, I’ll be old, decrepit,” he says. “But on the other hand, from a diversity point of view, don’t you think it’s about time we had a ginger Bond?”

Radio Times Online Version:

by Craig Jamieson | Radio Times | October 1, 2019

Hardly a day goes by without a new contender for the next James Bond, or an opinion on what sort of Bond should carry the torch after Daniel Craig’s last squinty sojourn as the 007 agent.

Should James Bond become Jane Bond, or should we move away from the conga line of white men who’ve inhabited the role since the Sixties?

Well, according to Damian Lewis, there’s something we’ve overlooked for more than five decades: there’s never been a ginger Bond. Not that he thinks he’s the one to take up the mantle, mind.

“By the time they finally finish making the next Bond, I’ll be old, decrepit,” he says. “But on the other hand, from a diversity point of view, don’t you think it’s about time we had a ginger Bond?”

Flame hair notwithstanding, Lewis actually has a pretty strong case to join MI6 – his work on the spy thriller Homeland saw him at CIA headquarters in Langley, finding what makes real-life spies tick.

And, in his most recent project with brother Gareth, Damian delves into real-life espionage stories from the past 40 years, combining archive footage, interviews with former agents and Damian’s uncanny ability to rock a polo shirt and a blazer, like a bank holiday Bond.

But, as Damian explores in Damian Lewis: Spy Wars, real spy-craft is far from the romanticised glamour of Bond. And, ultimately, much less forgiving.

“The reasons for turning traitor or being a hero,” says Lewis, “are often quite grubby or banal. Clearly, there has to be a degree of sociopath in you, but the ability to compartmentalise is critical.

“The great thing about Bond is how bad a spy he is, and how brilliant he is in recovering his position. Bond makes endless mistakes. That’s what’s fun about him.”

Read the rest of the original article at Radio Times