“British women are just the best,” announces Damian Lewis, who you will soon know as Lieutenant Richard Winters from BBC2′s Band of Brothers. Moments later he ruminates about getting to grips with his first pair of fake breasts in LA. “I almost let out a yelp,” he says. “I thought, ‘These are like footballs!’”
One can forgive Lewis for obsessing over the female form. Last year he spent eight months with thousands of mud-caked grunts on the set of Tom Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s 70m pounds companion to Saving Private Ryan. Even his Eton College education couldn’t prepare him for the testosterone on the set of the ten-part WWII drama.
“Actors can be flaky, but the bonding was almost spiritual,” he says.
After the 28-year-old English star’s audition, Hanks chuckled, “You’re too good.” But as a self-styled “skinny, orange Limey”, Lewis was sent away to work on his accent and his physical condition. the latter was improved at the uncompromising hands of a former US Marine, Captain Dale Dye.
“Dye said to me on the first morning, ‘Don’t give up on me. Your ass is mine. Get used to it, horse c**k.’”
Lewis reflects on the sadistic treatment, “I’d never been called horse c**k before. Well, only by a few girlfriends.”
Hollywood beckons for Lewis, but he turned down Ridley Scott’s new film, Black Hawk Down, in favour of Granada’s remake of The Forsyte Saga.
“Having played an all-American hero, it was great to play a dodgy Victorian solicitor, guilty of rape,” he says. “Taking those kind of roles makes acting incredibly fulfilling. And there’s always the uncertainty of whether you’ll get another job.”
Now he can count on Hanks and Spielberg for references, Lewis is unlikely to find that getting work is of great concern.