Emmys Watch: Damian Lewis on ‘Homeland’ and ‘The Forsyte Saga’, New York Times, September 21, 2012
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Emmys Watch: Damian Lewis on ‘Homeland’ and ‘The Forsyte Saga’
BY JEREMY EGNER
September 21, 2012 2:30 pm
On Sunday night at the Emmy Awards, Showtime’s geopolitical thriller “Homeland,” which returns for its second season on Sept. 30, will vie to end the four-year reign of “Mad Men” as television’s top drama. Damian Lewis, who stars as the P.O.W.-turned-plotter-turned-politician Nicholas Brody, was also nominated for best actor in a drama.
A decade before he was Brody, Mr. Lewis was Soames Forsyte, the priggish Victorian businessman at the heart of “The Forsyte Saga.”In 2002 the mini-series, based on books by John Galsworthy, was a hit for ITV in Britain and “Masterpiece Theater” on PBS. Mr. Lewis’s Soames is still featured in that series’s title sequence.
We talked to Mr. Lewis for an article looking back on “Forsyte,”which Acorn Media recently released on DVD. But the actor, who in conversation is as wry as Brody is tightly wound, also discussed fake tans, first fans and the new season of “Homeland.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q. You’re shooting the second season of “Homeland” [in Charlotte, N.C.]. Does it feel any different now that it is an acclaimed show as opposed to unknown?
A. Yes I think people feel a certain pressure. Coming back you’re much more of a fish in a big goldfish bowl with people staring at you. I think we all feel a pressure to keep people as exhilarated as they were in the first season. So it is different. But as you guys like to say here, it’s a high-class problem. I’m not losing any sleep over it.
Q. So all this success isn’t wearing you down.
A. It is [laughs]. It’s been remarkable what happened to this show — I’ve been in hits and successes before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in something in which within days of the second episode, everyone was going, ‘Oh my God, you have to watch this show.’
Q. How is your brief different this season?
A. Well, last season Brody was the guy who might commit some sort of terrorist act and people stuck around to see what he was going to do. Now having changed his mission statement and having said he wants to use nonviolent means to achieve his political ends, Brody is like a crook trying to go straight. He’s trying to subvert from within. But what I think you’ll see this year is he’s not master of his own destiny — he’s too exposed to too many people and they can pull the strings pretty much as they want. So Brody will live in a state of extreme high anxiety and paranoia and uncertainty. I think you’ll really see just to what extent that he is a victim of his war, a victim of his circumstances.
Q. What has been the biggest change in shooting the second time around?
A. We’ve got new characters in the C.I.A.; we’ve got a new character on my side of the storm. I won’t tell you who because it would ruin the plot for you. Charlotte’s still hot — nothing’s changed there.
Q. It’s good to have some consistency amid the twists and intrigue.
A. Charlotte just being [very] hot is the most consistent thing about filming in North Carolina.
Q. Any other new developments?
A. What else can I tell you? We gamble at lunch now — there’s been a gaming table set up. I’ve just bought a Ping-Pong table for the crew so there will now be quite an involved and highly competitive “Homeland” Ping-Pong championship. These are really the important developments for Season 2. And obviously now we make our show for the president. So we hope he likes the second season as much as he liked the first.
Q. Yes you’ve talked about attending a White House dinner and learning that President Obama was a “Homeland” fan. What was that like?
A. I was like a kid at a candy shop. I was trying to ask them questions without sounding like a tourist. It was unforgettable — sitting at the president’s table next to Warren Buffett, hearing about Warren Buffett’s high school reunions. Talking to the president about your energy policy and his views on the geopolitical map of the next 100 years, and hearing him say that on Saturday afternoons Michelle and the girls go and play tennis and he goes in the Oval Office and pretends to work, and he puts his feet on the desk and switches on “Homeland.” How amazing is that?
Q. So you sorted out the whole energy policy thing?
A. I gave him one or two notes. You guys can sleep easy in your beds tonight, it’s all under control.
Q. Acorn Media is bringing “The Forsyte Saga” back now, in part, to capitalize on your “Homeland” popularity. How does it feel to be a marketing hook?
A. Years of rejecting publicity and now, the irony [laughs]. It’s flattering, first and foremost. The nature of what we do, it requires an audience. It requires a response. Obviously when the response is good, that’s better than when it’s bad. I’m hugely proud of “The Forsyte Saga.”
Q. How do people within the acting community in Britain think about the country’s endless string of big costume dramas?
A. When the BBC trots out another Jane Austen, you think, ‘Really, do we need another one?’ That’s certainly my response to some of them. And then of course every now and then one stands out from the crowd — “Downton Abbey” is an obvious example.
Q. It’s certainly one of the most popular ones ever on these shores.