Damian Lewis interview: the Homeland star unleashes his inner James Bond for Jaguar
Is the world ready for a red-haired 007? Did the last series of ‘Homeland’ go too far? And why is he racing the new Jaguar F-Type around a Chilean desert? Damian Lewis reveals all to Craig McLean
Photo: Nicole Nodland
Damian Lewis was last in a desert almost a decade ago. The trip came in the wake of both his acting breakthrough in Band of Brothers, and the death of his mother in a car crash in India.
“The worst thing about that period, though, was losing my Band of Brothers penknife,” he says. This is something of a Lewis trait – making light of something heavy. “I took myself off on my own to Egypt and Jordan with a backpack. And I befriended a Bedouin in the Wadi Rum, who took me camping there. And we got caught in a sandstorm. He was a little fellow called Suleiman. I only realised after I’d left him the next day that he’d nabbed my Band of Brothers penknife. It was very frustrating.” Was this a special memento from the Second World War series, I ask, dedicated to their leading man and perhaps engraved by producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks?
“No, it was just a really cool little Swiss Army knife. But yeah,” the Old Etonian continues, “I went off to the Middle East for a month, and I remember infuriating the locals in Luxor playing backgammon. They played it incredibly passionately and incredibly quickly in Egypt – it’s an extraordinary experience. You just heard the constant rattle of dice and chk-chk-chk of the counters. And I used to sit there, really slowly pondering my moves. And one afternoon I had this whole café gathered behind their fella – this wizened old guy with a beard – and they were all just shouting at me, cursing at me, for playing so slowly. Oh, it was great though,” he smiles wistfully. “I played a lot of very stoned backgammon there.”
We’re in a remote Chilean town situated in the highest, driest desert in the world, and Lewis – clad entirely in Burberry – is sitting in a blood-red sports car, impatiently honking at a children’s marching band as he tries to inch his way through them. Someone, or something, is on his tail.
Among the film crew bustling beside him is stunt co-ordinator Daniel Hirst, fresh from working with Tom Cruise on the sci-fi epic All You Need is Kill,and here to help Lewis with action sequences, including one where he smoothly disarms a gangster. Which, given that the character the 42 year-old is playing is supposed to be a well-spoken English chap who delivers luxury sports cars for a living, is not a skill we’d expect to be high on his CV.
I ask Hirst: was Lewis “fight-ready” after two seasons playing a battle-scarred former US marine in Homeland? “Yeah, he was very easy to teach,” the no-nonsense former British military officer shoots back. “When he went into the first move from the dialogue, even though I hadn’t had time to give him a brief, Damian had the step-to-one-side and control-the-weapon routine pretty straight up. So I think he’s probably done that before.”
Damian Lewis, as Nicholas Brody, and Claire Danes, as Carrie Mathison, in “Homeland”. Credit: Capital Pictures
Director of photography Ben Davis winces at Lewis through his viewfinder. “I don’t know if Damian’s complexion is quite suited to the temperatures out here,” he says of the pale-faced, lightly freckled star. “Where possible I try and take the sun off him. But I’d do that with any actor, no matter what their complexion. The direct sunlight on top of someone’s head is never attractive.”
As actor and crew shoot and reshoot the scene, a crowd of colourfully dressed locals has gathered outside the white adobe walls of the adjacent church. Throw in the shadowy outline of a whistling figure in the bell-tower and the David Lynch-goes-spaghetti-western picture would be complete.
But the town of San Pedro, 1,000 miles from Santiago, is not the location of a new film noir starring a man who, courtesy of his Emmy and Golden Globe-winning portrayal of former US marine Nicholas Brody, is currently the biggest British actor on American television. This is Desire, a 12-minute mini-movie based on a script idea from writer/director Rowan Joffé (Brighton Rock), produced by Ridley Scott Associates, directed by Adam Smith (Doctor Who) and soundtracked by Lana del Rey. Its purpose is to promote the F-type, Jaguar’s first true sports car in 50 years.
Actor Damian Lewis poses with Emmy Award, 2012. Credit: Getty Images
So it’s a short film, or a long advert, depending on your viewpoint, featuring a beautiful new car. For his leading man contribution Lewis is being paid handsomely, in cash and, it seems, in kind. “There might be a little something,” he will reply when I inquire as to whether he’s also being rewarded with a high-end roadster whose UK starting price will be £58,000. “Only if I talk about the car nicely…” So, that aside, why is Lewis here? When I put this to him, we are being driven through the desert, en route to another filming location. He pauses only briefly before beginning his spiel.
“I’m here because I was approached to do what I thought was a rather nifty short film, based on a slice of Americana that we see probably mostly in Coen brothers and David Lynch-type films… And I was also interested because Jaguar is – even though I’m not personally endorsing the car,” he interjects hastily, “I’m playing a character in a film – I did like the fact that Jaguar was an almost totally failed British company that is now making a bit of a comeback. So,” he shrugs, “it just seemed like an interesting, fun little package. And it wasn’t always going to be Chile,” he adds of a four-day shoot that was originally planned for Spain, then California, “but actually has become a real adventure.”
Read the rest of the article at the Telegraph