by Lesley White, The Times / Sunday Times, November 17, 2002
Smooth, confident and raring to reinvent himself, Damian Lewis is just the chap to play Jeffrey Archer, says Lesley White
When we meet on the Pinewood set of the slapstick satire, written by Guy Jenkin, creator of Drop the Dead Donkey, Lewis’s flaming red hair is dyed brown, the make-up department has achieved a not totally streak-free job with the fake tan, and, with his funky shorts, he is transformed not into Jeffrey, but a cross between an Ibiza raver and a boy scout. As Greta Scacchi is playing Margaret Thatcher, we can assume no attempt at impersonation is being made.
In some ways, Lewis, 31, and the celebrated fantasist have more in common than it might first appear. While the latter has spent his adult life embellishing his biography for public consumption, the actor went through a period of reverse self-invention. Rather than admit having attended Eton, for example, he told early interviewers that he went to boarding school, then changed the subject before they could ask which one. “I tried to sever all ties to my posh upbringing. It made me feel as if I couldn’t be a genuine moody actor. I’m desensitised to that now.”
In real life, Lewis is the sort of echt young toff that Archer so admires: rich insurance-broker father, St John’s Wood childhood, mother on the development boards of the Almeida and Royal Court theatres, the whiff of Brideshead about him, in a modern sort of way. And then there is Eton, where he acted in a production of Nicholas Nickleby with Archer’s younger son, James, the former Flaming Ferrari. Lewis played Wackford Squeers, James an incorrigible young scoundrel he took great delight in thrashing. After the show, Archer père, with that typical mix of grandeur and encouragement, congratulated Lewis on the certainty of a great career, asking to be sent front-row tickets for his West End opening night. “It was a sweet thing to say to a 16-year-old, but he gave the impression I was being summoned by royalty, and even at that age, I wasn’t at all sure he warranted that.”
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