Categories Print Media The Forsyte Saga

I’m Not as Screwed Up as Soames – April 4, 2002

I’m Not as Screwed Up as Soames

by Daphne Lockyer – The Evening Standard – 4 April 2002

Damian Lewis has been parking his motorbike somewhere in the bowels of London Television Centre. As a result of his wind-blown journey he is trying to instil order into his appearance as he approaches, running long fingers through a mop of messed-up hair that is, rather dramatically, the colour of blood oranges.

What with the whiff of tungsten and motorbike oil and all that Easy Rider stuff, it’s difficult for a moment to imagine him as Soames – the quintessential, lavender-scented, tightly corseted, late 19th century man – in Granada TV’s much-vaunted remake of The Forsyte Saga. He just seems too, well, modern.

“Ah, Soames,” he says, sitting down now, rubbing together chilly, bluetinged hands. “Dependable, upper-middle class, privately educated, solid, fastidious, arrogant, meticulous, emotionally repressed … I had to button myself down considerably when I was playing him.”

For all that, some of the adjectives at least apply to Damian himself. He’s an Old Etonian, after all, and there’s a certain classy self-assurance about him that only a very expensive education tends to buy.

“I can see why they cast me,” he says, “but I’m a lot more ef fusive than Soames – a lot less screwed up. I also don’t express my dangerous side by expecting my wife (if I had one) to flip onto her back and think of England.

“There is something quite pinched and ugly about the character, the kind of thing that meant you needed a couple of drinks at the end of a day playing him to shake the guy off. But I didn’t dislike him – I wouldn’t have been able to play him if I did. If I thought he was just a Machiavellian bastard, I wouldn’t have given him any chance to redeem himself. And as far as I’m concerned, no character, including Soames, should ever truly be beyond redemption.”

 For those who don’t remember Soames or The Forsyte Saga, it helps to know that in 1967 when the BBC broadcast it over a period of six months (21 hours of television), it was considered seminal TV of the kind that could clear pubs on a Saturday night and fuel the nation’s conversation for a week.

Thirty-five years on, its themes of hypocrisy, family dysfunction, adultery, sex and power will still resonate with audiences. Indeed, advance notices predict that the new six houranda-half-long episodes – which dramatise just the first three of John Galsworthy’s nine Forsyte Saga novels – will be even better than the BBC’s ground-breaking adaptation.

If the hype is true, then what the original Forsyte Saga did for actors like Eric Porter and Nyree Dawn Porter, Susan Hampshire and Kenneth More, it will also do for Damian and his co-stars Gina McKee, Rupert Graves and Ioan Gruffudd. It will turn the 30-year-old actor, already known (but not in the way that prevents him, say, from going to the supermarket), into a household name.

“But I didn’t take the part because I needed the recognition,” he says. “I took it because I wanted to work on the project. I had an absolute sense it was going to be something very special.”

So much so, indeed, that at the time he was offered the role he rejected a part in Ridley Scott’s movie, Black Hawk Down. Hollywood, he reasoned, hotly courting him after he had played the leading role as Major Richard Winters in Band of Brothers, Steven Spielberg’s epic Second World War TV drama, would still be there. He was right.

Read the rest of the article at Evening Standard