Everyone’s talking about…
by Duncan Turner, The Observer, September 30, 2001
Damian Lewis in Band of Brothers
When Steven Spielberg decided to produce a mini-series based on the real-life heroics of US infantrymen in World War II, getting into the cast was the hottest ticket in town. To much surprise, Old Etonian and RSC graduate Damian Lewis emerged with the leading role.
Band of Brothers tells the story of a company of US paratroopers who landed in Normandy in 1944 and fought their way across Europe, ending up at Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden in the spring of 1945. Lewis plays the company’s commanding officer, Major Richard Winters, and his performance led the New York Times to praise his ‘big Burt Lancaster eyes and grave face’ that allow him ‘to evoke Winters’s humanity and accessibility, as well as the mystery and reserve that emanate from all good leaders’. His Pennsylvanian accent is impeccable and his speech and gesture have the terse economy of the battle-hardened soldier.
If Lewis’s performance is so convincing, it is perhaps because he and his fellow actors had their theatrical pretenses knocked out of them at an army boot camp prior to filming. Captain Dale Dye, the ex-Marine responsible for the authenticity on war movies including Platoon and Saving Private Ryan, whipped the new recruit into shape, and is fulsome in his praise: ‘He was terrific in training, busted his butt… there’s something in that little ginger shit’s eyes.’
Lewis’s first major television role was in Peter Kosminsky’s Bosnian drama Warriors, although he is probably best remembered for being Dervla Kerwan’s cuckolded husband in Hearts and Bones. He left after the first series, though, and is currently filming a new adaptation of The Forsyte Saga.
It seems the experience of Band of Brothers has toughened him. He expressed quiet dismay at the more histrionic manner of the series’s co-producer, Tom Hanks. ‘He certainly does cry a lot… It’s unbelievable. Forget the Oscar ceremonies – he even cried at our premiere in Normandy, or was on the verge of tears, anyway. He’s a very emotional man. ‘But that’s good,’ he remembers to add.
Band of Brothers starts on BBC2 on 5 October.
Five things you need to know about Damian Lewis
1. His favourite actor is Robert de Niro.
2. The first time he met Spielberg he had a terrible hangover.
3. He objects to theatrical types calling him darling or sweetheart .
4. He spent a week in Paris with the war veteran whose part he plays in Band of Brothers.
5. He thinks Band of Brothers will be seen as one of ‘the most significant undertakings of the decade’.