Damian Lewis: “I want to work with some girls!”
by Jay Bowers, Now Magazine, October 17, 2001
After starring in two major war dramas, Damian’s had enough of playing soldiers
Damian Lewis is the star of Steven Spielberg’s new 85 million war drama on BBC2, but his success has been marred by the death of his mother and an illness which almost cost him his next role.
It’s been a year of extreme highs and lows for Damian Lewis. The London-born actor landed the biggest role of his life when he beat 7,000 hopefuls for the part of hero Major Richard Winters in Steven Spielberg’s epic war drama Band Of Brothers. But just months after filming finished, his 63-year-old mother Charlotte died in a car crash while on holiday in India.
Then Damian was given the lead in ITV’s remake of The Forsyte Saga. But on the first day of filming, he was rushed to hospital with appendicitis, which put him out of work for two weeks.
‘I haven’t had a lot of luck this year,’ he sighs. ‘It was horrible when Mum died. It was on Valentine’s Day and I was in LA at the time. My sister rang and I flew back immediately.
‘When I got appendicitis, I began to think I was fated, that maybe The Forsyte Saga wasn’t meant to be and it was all a bad omen.’
With the support of his family – dad Watcyn and his three siblings – Damian has learned to cope with his mother’s death. A seat in London’s Royal Court Theatre, where his mum used to work, has been dedicated to her memory and, with an optimistic laugh, Damian adds that the producers of The Forsyte Saga decided not to recast his part.
‘Fortunately, they decided to film around me,’ he says. ‘I was doubled up in pain from the appendicitis. I lost an incredible amount of weight and my operation was quite complicated because my appendix had disintegrated and they couldn’t find it.’
The Forsyte Saga is another big TV role for Damian. But the 30-year-old actor says that, after years of working in the theatre, there was a time when he thought he’d never get a job on the small screen.
‘I was out of work for months and feeling really down,’ he says. ‘I had a glut of really good TV auditions, but didn’t get anything. I thought I was just meant to be a big, poncy stage actor.
‘I had a girlfriend in New York and I was living in south London, being a very jealous boyfriend and reading The End Of The Affair on a bench in Clapham Common in howling gales and rain. I was also listening to a lot of Radiohead, which doesn’t help. God, I was so self-pitying,’ he chuckles.
Then along came a part in the BBC’s acclaimed Bosnian War drama Warriors, co-starring Ioan Gruffudd, and Damian’s TV career hasn’t looked back.
A role in the first series of Hearts And Bones followed, then he landed the lead in Spielberg’s 85 million , 10-part mini-drama Band Of Brothers, now showing on BBC2, about the true story of America’s Easy Company, who played a crucial role in the D-Day landings.
‘I’ve no idea why I got it,’ he laughs. ‘Every male actor around the world under 30 was trotted out to audition. Three weeks later, I got called back and everything just went off. Two days later, I found myself sitting opposite Tom Hanks, who had his mad beard for his role in Cast Away.
‘After the audition, I went out and got absolutely lashed until 5am, only to get a call at 8am saying Steven Spielberg and Tom would like to see me at noon. I had a gallon of coffee and three showers to sober up.
‘The meeting was so bizarre. It was like being in a surreal Hollywood family set-up. Steven was saying: “I’ve got to go at 1pm because my kid’s playing soccer.” And Tom ws saying he had to go at 1pm as well because his wife would be pissed off if he didn’t get a Christmas tree with his daughter.
‘Steven asked me if I knew Ralph Fiennes. I said we did Hamlet together on Broadway and he actually remembered my performance. Steve and I have a friend in common and that was all that mattered! I got the part.’
Damian’s call-up did come with an added condition, though. He had to spend 10 days in boot camp with co-star David Schwimmer.
‘We were up at 5:30am every day doing five-mile runs and 45 minutes of physical training, which consisted of 80 sit-ups and 40 press-ups – all before breakfast,’ he says.
‘Then we had weapons inspection and close-order drill, which we called square bashing – being able to march in perfect unison and formation. Schwim, as we call him, would be standing at the front yelling: “About face! March!”
After Warriors and Band Of Brothers, Damian was offered a part in Ridley Scott’s new film Black Hawn Down, but he turned it down.
‘I’d had enough of soldiering. Out of a cast of about 10,000, there was only one woman in Band Of Brothers. So for my next job I wanted girls in it. I wanted the smell of sweet perfume wafting out from makeup each morning,’ he jokes.
Fortunately, another recent high in Damian’s life has been meeting his new girlfriend Katie.
‘She’s a business producer at Channel 4 News,’ enthuses Damian. ‘She’s a feisty, blonde bombshell. We met at a garden party in Kent. It was a romantic setting, but it was quite teenage really – a snog in the garden. We’ve been going out for seven months.’
With every high, however, there seems to be a low, as Damian has been kicked out of his flat in north London.
‘I was living with my younger brother, who’s just got married, and I’ve had to move out,’ he sighs.
Yet another example, it seems, of Damian having to take the rough with the smooth.