Fame Becomes Her: The Misanthrope‘s Damian Lewis Chats About Co-Star Keira Knightley
It’s tempting, but misleading, to think of the new London production of The Misanthrope as “The Keira Knightley Show,” if only because the movies’ popular “it girl” is making her West End debut at the Comedy Theatre with director Thea Sharrock’s production of the 17th-century classic. In fact, Knightley has a supporting role as an American film actress named Jennifer (the play’s Celimene updated to today’s celebrity culture) in this rewrite by Martin Crimp of the Moliere original. But it is leading man Damian Lewis, making his own West End debut, who does the heavy lifting as the misanthropic Alceste, a man who can’t help but calling life’s fakery as he sees it—and who has the dubious luck to fall hard for Jennifer. Broadway.com caught up with Lewis, newly returned to London after several years in L.A. starring on the TV show Life, in the midst of the festive season, where the gifted, ever-articulate Londoner spoke of many things, including his famous co-star.
Congratulations on what must seem for you a sort of homecoming, though I realize your extensive London stage experience [the National, Almeida, Donmar] has never before included the West End.
“Homecoming” seems rather grand but thank you. I have never played the traditional West End, which does have different connotations: those theaters are squarely and firmly in the commercial sector, so it has a different dynamic to it. When I was growing up and was taken to the theater by my dad and grandmother, the traditional end-of-holiday before going back to school theater trip was to go into the West End and usually see an American musical revival like On Your Toes. My dad had lived in Chicago for five years and he loved all those American musicals.
Having just spent several years in L.A., a town not necessarily known for live theater, was it inevitable that you would return to the London stage?
I do feel very comfortable in the theater having spent three years training as an actor: like it’s the place you should rightfully be. All my aspirations when I was young involved theater, so it still has a tremendous romance in that respect. I feel utterly at home in the theater and love it. It’s that curious paradox: it’s as enlivening and liberating as it is terrifying.
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