A minute with … Damian Lewis
by Tim Oglethorpe, Woman’s Own, October 8, 2001
A former Eton schoolboy, British-born Damian is set for international stardom for his role as American war hero, Dick Winters, in Steven Spielberg’s 10-part 65 million TV series Band of Brothers. He’s currently filming an adaption of the 1960’s television hit The Forsyte Saga
Tell us about Band of Brothers.
My character, American Dick Winters, is a leader of a crack paratrooper unit which paved the way for the Allied advance across Europe during the Second World War.
How tough was the preparation for it?
They treated us, as much as possible, like real soldiers. We spent 10 days in boot camp in Aldershot. It was tough -getting up at 6am, doing 80 press-ups, going for a run, taking a cold shower and then continuing the day in much the same way. But I think it was necessary to do. It created a bond among the actors playing the soldiers and it also made us physically fitter.
Was having to endure the boot camp environment a bit like being at Eton?
There were similarities in that a bunch of young guys were taking instructions from above! But it was filming the Forsyte Saga that really took me back to my school days. As my character, Soames, I have to wear stiff, white collars and it immediately took me back to those days at Eton when, as a 13-year-old, I’d be bumbling with my collar and getting reprimanded by matron for not getting it right.
Is anyone else from your family involved in showbiz?
My brother, Gareth, writes film scripts, but William works in the City and my sister, Amanda, is a homeopath. It was my father who inspired me to become an actor. He’d take us to the theatre regularly. While he was working in America, which he did for five years, Dad was spotted by a film producer dancing in a Chicago nightclub and invited out to Hollywood to dance in movies. He didn’t go – he already had a good job. But he’s really a frustrated actor.
You’re a Brit playing an American in Band of Brothers. How did the American members in the cast feel about that?
I was surprised they didn’t pick an American to play my part and I was very apprehensive about it before I began. But, apart from one American guy who gave me some gyp early on, it was fine. I worked on the accent, had dialect lessons, and by the time it came to filming the other guys weren’t thinking, ‘Here’s a Brit doing a good American accent.’ At least I hope they weren’t!
Tell us about meeting Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg, the huge names behind Band of Brothers.
It was so embarrassing – the first thing Tom said was, ‘Thanks for flying all the way across the Atlantic to meet us. You must be really tired.’ And I said, ‘Yes, my arms and shoulders are really stiff from having to hold the joystick all that way!’ It was a ridiculous joke, and Tom looked at me as if I was a complete idiot for a few seconds and then said, ‘Doh, Damian, you really had me going there!’ Thankfully, Tom has a great sense of humor, but it was a really bad gag and I still don’t know why I said it.
How will you handle the fame that’s about to come your way?
It’s hard to get a grip on it, like knowing there’s been a 50ft model of me in Times Square, advertising the US TV screening of Band of Brothers. Now that’s pretty strange. I’ve even had to hire an American publicist, the same one that Tom Hanks uses. I can’t begin to tell you how expensive that is!
And next up for Forsyte Saga?
Indeed. Me playing Soames and Ioan Gruffudd playing his nemesis, the architect Bosinney, who has an affair with his wife. So it’s Lewis and Gruffudd in tandem. We sound like a firm of Swansea solicitors, don’t we?