Within a few days, I’ve seen three sides to Damian Lewis. There’s the brilliantly gifted screen actor who plays Marine Sergeant Nick Brody, an American POW who may have turned Jihadist after eight years in captivity in Afghanistan in Channel 4’s gripping US import, ‘Homeland’. Then there’s the born stage performer at a Bafta Q&A, oozing confidence, playing to the gallery and toying with his questioner. And finally there’s the warm, thoughtful, self-deprecating guy sitting in the wood-panelled library of a London hotel. While many of his best-known characters have hinged on his mastery of suppressed emotion and underplaying, the man himself is rather more open. He explodes out of his armchair with excitement on discovering he’s getting a poached egg with his chicken caesar salad, but also sits in comfortable silence while pondering the psychological complexities of his latest challenge.
‘Well, I discussed with Alex [Gansa] and Howard [Gordon, show co-writers] the way in which Brody might have become a Muslim – and I’m not saying he has!’ he adds hurriedly, running his hand through his familiar and carefully tended red hair. ‘But it was important that it wasn’t a brainwashing, a “Manchurian Candidate”-type affair – that he might have found Allah as a force for good, a nurturing, sustaining, positive thing. I thought that would be far more interesting and powerful, and, as a prisoner of war, he would certainly have had more access to a Koran than a Bible. But this is a thriller, so you want provoke people in that way, putting this symbol of the upholding of Western belief systems into this situation. Seeing a man praying to Allah is enough for some people to assume he is a terrorist.’
His research took him to Brian Keenan’s chronicle of life in captivity, ‘An Evil Cradling’; to meet people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder; and to the London Central Mosque, where he was invited to sit in on prayers. His school days at Eton instilled in him ‘a watered-down, digestible Anglicanism’, but Lewis now feels he responds to different aspects of different religions. ‘I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, although I’m inclined to think he might have been a great prophet.’ He massages his brow and strokes his chin, playing the philosopher with a pleasing lack of self-consciousness. ‘You know, I think I am faintly spiritual. I’ve had loss in my life, and I like to think my mother’s energy lives on in some faintly Buddhist way. I do find some comfort there.’
It’s undeniably unusual for a major American TV drama to address these issues in such a balanced manner, and ‘Homeland’ has clearly stuck a nerve. Golden Globes for Best Drama and Best Actress for Lewis’s co-star Claire Danes (and a nomination for Lewis himself), certainly, but it’s also Barack Obama’s favourite show and prompted an op-ed piece in The New York Times conflating events on-screen with current US foreign policy. Curiously, the producers also worked on ‘24’, one of the more reactionary takes on the War on Terror. ‘I always thought that was an easy allegation to make [about ‘24’], because it was a visceral, macho response to 9/11,’ Lewis argues.
Read the full interview at Time Out London
More ‘Homeland’ press:
BBC – Homeland stars say new series will be ‘compelling’
Telegraph – Gripped by the dark power of Homeland
The Periscope Post – Psychological drama Homeland is set to rivet Britain