Damian Lewis opens our conversation with a sheepish mention of his ardent admirers. ‘I’ve a set of fans who call themselves – you’re not allowed to laugh – Damian Bunnies.’ Their name seems to be a reference to those other copper-top characters, the Duracell Bunnies. They have been following him since his 2001 breakthrough in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed Second World War series Band of Brothers, ‘and they’re absolutely lovely. In the end, I realised they knew so much about me, I let two of them run a fan site.’
A decade on from Band of Brothers, Lewis, about to turn 41 and with a busy, successful and cleverly below-the-radar career on both sides of the Atlantic, explains his approach to work. ‘You want to do something that feeds you and that is stimulating and challenging to you. It makes your time more interesting.’ But such an approach makes for a professional progression with ‘a slower burn. No question. No question,’ he repeats. ‘Associations are the quickest way forward in this business. Not what role you played but who you worked with – what company you keep.’
It has to be said that Lewis has done all right by forswearing the showier roles – for which a drama school contemporary of his, Ewan McGregor, plumped from day one. ‘Ewan was in the year above me. He always said, “I don’t want to be a theatre actor, I want to be a film star.” He was really clear about it. But I was going, “What? Films? I don’t know anything about films! How do you even know how to be a film star?” ‘ Lewis’s head and heart lay with Britain’s theatre tradition. ‘I was still stuck in the 1930s, with Tyrone Guthrie and the Old Vic and Richardson and Gielgud and Olivier.’
On graduating from London’s Guildhall in 1993, Lewis quickly enjoyed notable successes on stage, with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Hamlet on Broadway in 1995, and in a National Theatre production of Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community. But following Band of Brothers, television has been the platform for his greatest work. Playing the emotionally cruel patriarch in the 2002 remake of The Forsyte Saga and in the American drama Life (he played a wrongly imprisoned detective in the show, which ran for two seasons from 2007), Lewis has excelled. And the past six months have seen his small-screen success scale new heights.
In Homeland, made by the American cable channel Showtime, Lewis plays Sergeant Nick Brodie, a Marine who disappeared while serving in Iraq eight years previously. Liberated by US forces and returned home to a country that had long thought him dead, Brodie is greeted as a hero – by his brothers in arms, by a government keen for a propaganda victory in the never-ending war on terrorism, and by his wife and two children.
But there are complications and suspicions. Brodie’s wife, believing she was actually a widow, has begun a not-so-covert relationship with one of her husband’s closest comrades. His military buddies wonder why the back-from-the-dead Marine – regimental motto: semper fidelis (always faithful) – won’t wrap himself more tightly in the flag and play the patriotic let’s-kill-us-some-terrorists card. And within the CIA, an experienced Middle East analyst, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), is convinced that, in his eight years in isolated captivity, Brodie has been ‘turned’ by his jailers. Homeland’s intriguing central proposition is this: what if jihadists had allowed the PoW to be discovered and liberated so he could return to his homeland, and thereafter set in motion the greatest terrorist outrage committed on American soil since 9/11?
Read the full interview at the Telegraph.