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Breakfast with Damian Lewis – Jan 14, 2008

Kojak, Colombo, Starsky and Hutch, Rockford Files and Magnum

by Patricia Sheridan | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | January 14, 2008

He plays Detective Charlie Crews, who was falsely imprisoned and is back solving crimes on NBC’s acclaimed series “Life,” but the British actor with the flawless American accent was first seen on HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” Damian Lewis talks about acquiring the accent, growing up in London and repressing his repressive side. The writers strike has shut down production of “Life,” but past episodes can be seen at

Q: Do you like talking about yourself?

A: Well, it depends what I’m asked. Not always. You can always ask me and we’ll see how it goes.

Q: Where do you think your instinct to act came from?

A: I don’t know. When we were smaller, my brother and I had a pretty expansive fantasy life. We had two bikes, very ’70s bikes, at least in London, called Grifters. We invented two characters for ourselves called Bob and Charlie, and we’d go up and down the street and all around the neighborhood solving crimes. That’s what we did. We also had a couple of other alter egos called Pete and Dave. We were called Damian and Gareth. I think we were looking for just very plain names.

Q: Did your brother end up being an actor?

A: He ended up being a writer/director. He just finished his first feature film actually, which we produced at our production company Picture Farm. I was directed by my younger brother, which was a great experience actually. All things considered, it went pretty smoothly. I don’t like to take anything too seriously.

Q: You’ve played some repressed characters. How repressed are you in real life?

A: Yeah, very repressed characters. I went to boarding schools at a very early age — the age of 8 — so in some ways have been institutionalized really for 10 years of my life, technically speaking. I suppose mentally and emotionally institutionalized, as well. You are guided by those experiences.

Q: Was it traumatic to go to boarding school at a young age?

A: My elder brother had already gone, and it was made very clear to me what it was I was going into. I was all up for it. I really wanted to go. They give you a lot of recreational time when you go to a boarding school. You learn at an early age to get on without your parents’ support. You become very adept for the rest of your life at dealing with situations and knowing how to negotiate difficult times, different scenarios. Probably there is a cost. A toughening up of an 8-year-old. You probably do push down a whole load of natural emotions.

Q: Will the same happen to your children?

A: I think it’s a different time now. I think my children won’t go to boarding school at 8. I wouldn’t mind sending them at 12 or 13. It’s a different climate now. A lot of those schools have become places for parents who work abroad and want to have their children at an English school but can’t be there all the time.

Q: How did you develop such a flawless American accent?

A: God, I don’t really know. My cultural heritage, if you like, is so pervaded by American pop culture. I grew up on Kojak and Colombo and Starsky and Hutch, the Rockford Files and Magnum all those things. Also our family … had cousins in Connecticut, so we would go on holiday. We used to do summer holidays up in Portland, Maine, actually. So I’ve always kind of felt pretty attached to America. Now that I’m doing this show, I stay in an American accent all day long just because it would be harder to switch in and out. I find that I’ve developed an American persona now. I got involved in a huge argument with someone the other day and usually when you are angry or when you are drunk you go back to your own accent. I found myself having this great fight all in an American accent without thinking twice about it. I thought, ‘I wonder if this guy knows I’m English?’ He’s definitely going to hit me if he hears me.

Q: In your role as Charlie Crews on NBC’s “Life,” was one of your goals with this character to keep him from being just another cop?

A: I think you can only, as an actor, be an interpreter for what’s written. When you are doing your job well, you hopefully heighten what’s on the page. He’s an interesting and conflicted character. I really responded to the way that here is a guy who has been sent to prison for life for something he didn’t do and has been altered by his experience in prison for 12 years. He’s maybe a little cracked from it, but he chooses to come out and see the best in every opportunity. You talk about repression, Crews is actually released by his experience. He lives his life on a plane none of us are able to. He kind of lives a little above the minutia of everyday life.

Read the rest of the original article at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette