21 June 2011
Damian Lewis: I split my eye open while duelling with Ralph Fiennes
Actor Damian Lewis talks to Metro about the worst job he’s ever had, starring in a musical and anti-ginger prejudice. The 40-year-old stars in the forthcoming BBC drama Stolen.
What research did you do into trafficking for this role?
I went to a police trafficking unit and spoke to the man who set it up. Trafficking goes on all around us. There are people being trafficked in and out of the country at an alarming rate and it’s difficult to bring prosecutions because they often come in with valid passports. After they arrive they’re smuggled off into the shadows and face exploitation.
Was it disappointing when your US police series Life was cancelled?
Yes. The work was terrific and the creator of the show is incredibly talented. I had a wonderful character and the storylines were interesting. It was fun living in LA for a couple of years but you work very hard and very long hours. I was starting a family and was away from them a lot. Goodness knows how people do it for seven years in those long shows. Cable shows are different because they have shorter runs so you have five months of the year to do other things.
Why did you want to become an actor?
Acting was something I instinctively did and liked. I was happier acting than doing anything else. I was disenchanted by the idea of university and decided to try for drama school. I came out of drama school, got work, kept working and I’ve been incredibly lucky since.
Was there a particular performance that inspired your interest in acting?
I put on a production of The Long And The Short And The Tall with some friends at school and played Wackford Squeers in a production of Nicholas Nickleby. My dad used to take us to see West End musicals as holiday treats – things like Guys And Dolls. I loved the theatre as a kid and still do.
What role has had the biggest impact on your career?
Band Of Brothers was the first American thing I did and it had all the marketing power of HBO behind it. It was the first thing I’d done which was a global hit. I’m recognised for that more than anything else and people are passionate about World War II and what the veterans did on our behalf.
Have you had any onstage mishaps?
I cut my eye open on stage while duelling with Ralph Fiennes. It was at the end of the fight between Hamlet and Laertes and we had this extraordinary duel choreographed for us. The pommel of my own sword came back and whacked me on the eyebrow. I felt it split open. I had to fall to the floor as part of the fight and Ralph turned around to see blood pumping out of my face. Ralph continued with his lines, then whispered: ‘Christ, are you alright?’ We carried on to the end of the show, then I went to hospital to get stitches.
What’s the worst job you’ve had?
Selling car alarm systems in the Elephant and Castle. I had to convince people they needed new car alarms and occasionally give a demonstration. I did it for two months.
Have you ever faced anti-ginger prejudice?
No. But I get letters from little boys who write to me saying they get teased at school about it, which makes me angry. People still think it’s OK to say: ‘Alright, ginge?’ or ‘what are you looking at, ginge?’ and I don’t have any time for it. I’ll definitely come to someone’s help if they’re upset by it.
What else would you like to achieve in your career?
Maybe a musical. Just continuing to do what I’m doing. You have to juggle things with a family and my wife’s very successful so I have to fit in with her. I’m about to direct my first short film so maybe there are things on the other side of the camera that I’d like to do. Acting remains interesting as you can always get better at it.
Stolen can be seen on BBC1 in July.