Making it big on the small screen
It’s been a slow and steady rise to stardom for Damian Lewis. But now he’s hit the jackpot with an Emmy win for his role in Homeland. He talks to Craig McLean about fame, fatherhood and fan clubs.
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 coppertop 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, 41, had a busy, successful and cleverly below-the-radar career on both sides of the Atlantic — until his Emmy win for Homeland last month. Now, with a gold statuette under his arm, he is really set for the big time. But it was a long time coming.
“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. His head and heart lay with Britain’s theatre tradition. 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.
He excelled 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). 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 he won’t wrap himself more tightly in the flag and play the patriotic let’s-kill-us-some-terrorists card. And CIA 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? “I thought it was ambitious and controversial to suggest that an American Marine — who is as great a symbol, a defender of their belief systems and freedom, as anything else — might possibly betray his country,” Lewis says.
Amplifying the intrigue are the fractured psychological states of Brodie and Mathison. The CIA agent is as damaged as she is brilliant, suffering from a career-blotting incident in Baghdad and a bipolar disorder she keeps hidden from her superiors. This dovetailing of the lead characters’ emotional states increased his enthusiasm for the part. “They both suffer from extreme trauma and this recklessness is what brings them together.”
The American producers of Homeland, Howard Gordon (24) and Alex Gansa (Entourage), offered Lewis the role, without an audition, over the phone while he was in Manchester filming the child-trafficking TV drama Stolen. They had seen him in the title role of Keane (2004), a brilliant and cruelly neglected independent film about a man searching for his missing daughter.
“In Keane, Damian holds the frame for the first 45 minutes of the movie all on his own,” Gansa says. “It was just such a bravura performance. It also was about a very disturbed and troubled person, which obviously Brodie is, so we thought he’d be perfect for the role.”
Read the rest of the article at the Irish Examiner