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Blue Blood, Blue Collar: Damian Lewis’ Transformations, The New Yorker, January 18, 2016

The actor probes his characters, but his method isn’t Method. “I’m Damian Lewis, not Daniel Day-Lewis.”

 Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker

At a corner table in the dining room of Marea, a restaurant on Central Park South, the conversation was smooth but disputatious. Three men in suits were drinking red wine and eating pasta that cost thirty-four dollars a serving. One of them was a hedge-fund manager, a famous short seller. Another was the financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. The third man, in from London, was the actor Damian Lewis.

Sorkin had made the introduction. The hedge-fund manager and Lewis were doing most of the talking. “Does your business have a societal benefit?” Lewis asked. He wanted to know what made a hedge-fund manager more than “a paper shuffler.”

The hedge-fund manager said that he and his peers basically function as market-based regulators—that they have a financial incentive to expose wrongdoing. Sorkin had set up other audiences for Lewis with financial machers. One of them urged Lewis to consider an underperforming company with entrenched management or a sclerotic board: an activist investor, even if he came in and cut things and fired people—well, that’s capitalism.

“What about your compensation?” Lewis said, at the restaurant. “Do you deserve it?”

Lewis was preparing for his latest role. In “Billions,” which premières on Showtime this week, he plays Bobby (Axe) Axelrod, a knockaround guy—Yonkers native, Hofstra grad—who scraps his way up from golf caddie to hedge-fund eminence: library benefactor, wearer of cashmere hoodies, keynote speaker at the Delivering Alpha conference. (Sorkin created the show with Brian Koppelman and David Levien, whose other credits include “Rounders” and “Ocean’s Thirteen.”) Lewis was born in London in 1971. He is the son of an insurance broker (Lloyd’s) and the brother of an equities trader (Merrill Lynch). He went to Eton, where he recalls scaring up funds from “somebody’s rich uncle” to rent the school theatre—he and his troupe of friends, calling themselves the Chameleons, put on a production of “The Long and the Short and the Tall.” As Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a United States marine and recently rescued prisoner of war, in “Homeland,” he reportedly commanded two hundred and fifty thousand dollars an episode. He is at ease in the world of money, and comfortable with acknowledging it.

As a preproduction exercise, touring boardrooms wasn’t the sort of extravagantly crafty immersion program that prompts other actors to frequent bootmakers’ ateliers and mental hospitals. “I am Damian Lewis, not Daniel Day-Lewis,” he told me, with a wit as self-assured as it was self-deprecating. Rather, his approach was forensic. He wasn’t trying to be a hedge-fund manager but to identify and analyze what distinguished one. He was, in a sense, gathering evidence.

“I found the hedge-fund guys I met all to be very, very concentrated listeners—watchful and articulate and quick to defend, if needed,” Lewis recalled. “They all seemed to have this contained sitting posture. The legs, if they weren’t crossed at right angles, tended to be close over the knee, their hands put together.” In trying to “unlock” a character, he often zeroes in on a single fine-grained physical attribute. (“Perhaps stealing a bit from Laurence Olivier, who said, ‘Always start with the shoes.’ ”) The key to Soames Forsyte, Lewis’s weirdly alluring misanthrope from the 2002 version of “The Forsyte Saga,” was a constipated limp. In order to differentiate his character’s walk in “The Escapist,” he shot the entire film wearing a woman’s thong. When production for “Billions” began, in July, Lewis intended to embody a “compelling stillness.” But as the season progressed the Zen-master approach no longer felt appropriate. He said, “I just found, for Bobby, once we made the choice that he was a jeans-and-trainers guy, and that he liked wearing knitwear”—he broke into a sort of garmento-inflected American accent—“that he was going to take the space. It was a way to find the expansiveness of the king.”

The U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, is Axelrod’s potential dethroner. In trying to persuade Lewis to take the role, Koppelman and Levien spoke of the characters’ conflict in grand terms, as a “huge King Lear, Shakespeare kind of battle,” but the show acknowledges more parochial clashes. It is a knowing study of the folkways of the tristate area—the orphans’ funds, the Spitzer jokes, the way you might not get prosecuted for insider trading until you buy an eighty-three-million-dollar beach house, embarrassing the law into vigilance. The New York Post has speculated that the series is “inspired by US Attorney Preet Bharara’s pursuit of criminal charges against hedge-fund mogul Steve Cohen.” The creators say that the characters are amalgams, but the rarefied guessing game is an obvious part of the fun. “Billions” seems to aspire to be to bankers and lawyers what “The Wire” was to drug dealers. (A private screening of the first episode will be held at Goldman Sachs.) In the pilot, Axelrod meets Hall, his fixer:

hall: You remember that night in Reykjavik?

axe: Wish I didn’t, but I do.

hall: You said there was only one thing you were afraid of.

axe: Windbreakers.

hall: Guys in windbreakers walking in your office saying, “Step away from the computer.”

Before the dinner at Marea, Sorkin received an e-mail from Lewis. He’d been reading about short selling and the ethical code of “the hedgies.” Were they policing Wall Street, he asked, or were they simply opportunists? The e-mail’s subject line posed the question that would orient his performance: “Vultures or Crusaders?”

Upstate, the sun was going down in Orangeburg, yellow and purple above a deer crossing, contrails making looseleaf paper of the sky. Driveways terminated in basketball hoops. A right off Chief Bill Harris Way and a quick left led to Corporate Drive, where a location scout had seen fit to turn a former Olympus headquarters—“Certain required positions will relocate, and it is our intention to consider any of those employees as a good candidate for the relocated positions or for new locations,” a company representative had asserted, in the tortured flackspeak of the summer of 2008—into Axe Capital, a showcase of Fairfield County extravagance.

The set designers had refreshed the walls with would-be Basquiats and reimagined a dated atrium as a sort of gangway that led to Axelrod’s terrifyingly spare office. The trading floor suggested the presence of a finicky overlord—even the staplers were white. A fleece hugged the back of an Aeron chair. Bruised bananas languished on desks, suggesting a certain meanness amid the plenty. There were Post-it Notes on computer terminals: “I’m horny”; “Remember to throw up after this”; “Big hands smell like beef.”

Outside, Lewis and Maggie Siff, who plays the U.S. Attorney’s wife—she is also Axe Capital’s in-house psychiatrist—were marking out the evening’s first scene. It required them to leave the building together, and continue down the sidewalk as they hashed over an office tragedy, to which Axelrod has responded coldly. The scene seemed fairly straightforward, but, after several tries, Lewis stopped under a tree, pulling over the director.

“The dialogue is written as though they’re mid-stroll, walking over—to me it seems that way,” he said, presenting his argument as modest while brooking no disagreement. “Which just presupposes a very short distance.”

They huddled for a few minutes.

“I mean, part of me feels like there’s something great in having this be the piece that transitions us from not wanting to talk about this tragedy to doing it,” the director said. “I think it works unless you guys are bumping up against something.”

The actors went back to the walk-through.

“Acting balm, ahhh!” Lewis intoned, between takes, slathering his lips with petroleum jelly.

He kept up the banter and thus—on a bone-cold night—his collaborators’ morale. He chatted with the wardrobe assistants (“You have on a peacoat, almost a pea tunic”); he broke into song (Madonna’s “Holiday”; the Welsh national anthem). Between antics, he kept pushing the director to refine the encounter.

“I asked for some more specific psychology,” he said, “and I didn’t really get an answer.”

It was soon time for the first take. Axelrod was beginning to question the ruthless behavior that has enabled his success. As the psychiatrist asked him when he had last cried, something seemed to flicker behind Lewis’s pupils. The script called for him to launch into a speech about heroism. Lewis nailed the physical manifestations of American male sentimentality—the watering eyes, the bulbous clench of the jaw when talking about fathers playing catch with their kids and soldiers coming home from war. Yet his performance contained a note of irony. He seemed, in the movement of his eyes, to be leaving it open as to whether Axelrod came by his tears earnestly or was manufacturing them in order to pull one over on the shrink.

“Yeah, and then?” Axelrod says, in the scene’s last line. Lewis stared at Siff, letting the ambiguity linger. Finally, someone yelled, “Cut.” Lewis’s jaw slackened.

“I’m looking forward to some tomato soup!” he said, rubbing his palms together like an urchin queuing for gruel.

Siff told me later that Lewis is the least neurotic actor she’s ever met. “There’s something kind of Johnny Appleseed about him, where he’ll do a take and let it go, do a take and let it go,” she said. “He keeps things light and moving, and I read that as real confidence.”

Confidence is Lewis’s hallmark as much as intensity is De Niro’s. In describing him to me, colleagues from all periods and facets of his career used the word again and again. His abundance of it is a result of his background (stable), class (upper), schooling (élite), and disposition (“Red hair confuses people,” he told me, making an asset, and a joke, of a feature that a less secure actor might have bemoaned). These advantages have perpetuated themselves in his marriage (loving), parenting style (involved), and level of satisfaction with himself, with others, and with life in general (high). The director Peter Kosminsky cast Lewis in “Warriors,” his first big television role, in 1999. Last year, Kosminsky directed the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.” He recalled, “When I came on board, the very first thing I said was ‘We should get Damian Lewis to play Henry.’ It’s Thomas Cromwell’s show, so when you’re playing a huge character like Henry VIII you have to bring a certain gravitas, a certain sense of self, a certain power. You can’t just tug at your forelock and say, ‘Yes, guvnor, where would you like me to stand?’ If you’re going to be the king, you’ve got to have a fuck-off quality about you.” Dominic Maxwell, writing in the London Times, called Lewis’s Henry “cordial but deadly.”

Lewis sees himself as a champion for his characters, be they rapacious monarchs or domestic terrorists or capitalist pigs. Acting, for him, is analogous to mounting a case. “If you pick up an eighteenth-century play, at the top it says ‘The Argument,’ and then you have a list of characters, and then you have the play,” he said. “I was just always struck by that—that, of course, good drama is about conflict. And if there’s conflict there’s an argument, and there’s two sides of the argument, and, therefore, one must advocate for one side of the argument, just as much as a lawyer does in court.” The sense that a performance is a contest, a debate that can be won, appeals to Lewis’s competitive nature. The harder the fight, the greater the spoils. Lewis said, “I will always find a defense for characters, and that’s why it’s fun playing characters that are morally ambiguous, or are at least perceived superficially as being problematic.”

On the set in Orangeburg, Lewis continued to lobby for more particularity. “It was an episode that I struggled with personally,” he said, later. “I found it hard to unravel. I felt it had a tonal shift from the rest of the show.” He was unconvinced, he said, that his character, “a billionaire intuitive street fighter,” would suddenly begin to ask himself, as Axelrod does later in the episode, whether he has sociopathic tendencies. “I didn’t want to appear generalized in any way,” he recalled. “And I felt the scene wasn’t necessarily there yet in terms of what it revealed about Bobby. If any thinking person’s assumption is that people who rule us—who run a multinational, a political party, a country, or a financial corporation that turns over billions of dollars a year—probably have a particular personality type, I thought the audience might have been ahead of us, like, ‘Oh, really?’ ”

Werner Herzog cast Lewis, “on the basis of his natural authority and dignity,” as Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie in his forthcoming colonial epic about Gertrude Bell, “Queen of the Desert.” “What I needed was a manly man,” Herzog told me. The film, which premièred last year at the Berlin International Film Festival, has received mixed reviews, but, on Indiewire, Jessica Kiang singled out Lewis as one of two actors—along with Robert Pattinson, who plays T. E. Lawrence—whose performances weren’t overwhelmed by the production’s elaborate period apparatus. Lewis’s style “may be more classical than Pattinson’s semi-method manner,” she wrote, but Lewis “handles the role of the married consul, whose amused admiration for Bell flares into love, with a deftness that had us palpably relaxing during his scenes.” Even with a director as famously combative as Herzog, Lewis was able to plead the best conditions for his work. At one point, the two men disagreed over a walking stick that Lewis wanted to use as a prop. Herzog recalled, “I said to him, ‘We do not have to imitate a person, we have to invent them,’ but he brought a lot of knowledge and details. At first, I didn’t like it, but he briefed me that, at Gallipoli, Doughty-Wylie walked into the machine-gun fire without a weapon, only with his walking cane.” The stick stayed.

Alex Gansa, the co-creator of “Homeland,” told me that the “biggest pushback” he ever got from Lewis involved “Marine One,” the final episode of the first season, in which Brody attempts to assassinate the Vice-President. “Damian said, ‘I don’t believe a marine would wear a suicide vest,’ ” Gansa recalled. “There was something about a soldier assuming the tactics of a terrorist that he was quite reluctant to do, and felt it was a mistake. When he read the script, he was on the phone with me that second, like, ‘I just don’t want to do this.’ ” Overruled, Lewis took the argument to the screen, making a suicide bomber relatable—possibly even admirable—and delivering the seminal performance of the series.

The great bizarrity of Lewis’s career is that he is a white-tie Briton who has made his reputation playing blue-collar Americans. The closest he comes, biographically, to the heartland are some cousins in Darien. Over lunch this fall in New York, he rhapsodized about his native land. “There’s this sort of preindustrial agricultural bucolic dream of England which we hark back to whenever we can,” he said. “There’s still evidence of it in the shires of England, where the sound of leather on willow, cricket games played on village greens, the idea that the burning blacksmith with his shirt rolled up is there supping a real ale, and children are sort of dancing around a Maypole and playing with a hoop and stick . . .” His sentence trailed off. He had been to bed at 6 a.m. after a late shoot, still in his makeup—“Mascara on the pillowcase, it’s a terrible embarrassment for a girl!”—but he had had the presence of mind to stuff a Murakami paperback in his jeans pocket. He was wearing a sweater and a flat cap. He spoke beautifully, with a sensibility that was more Brideshead than Budweiser. “I think probably my deepest fantasy is that I will have money enough and time enough, that I won’t get so caught up in the rat race to succeed, that I’ll just take time out to create an artistic salon with a pool and a tennis court and a gorgeous country house, and glamorous and brilliant friends will come and spend a weekend there,” he said. “It’s what I long for.”

Lewis’s family tree includes baronets and knights. There is Welsh blood on his father’s side. His maternal grandfather, Ian Bowater, was Lord Mayor of London. His mother, Charlotte, had two children by a first marriage—one of them went on to manage personnel at Highgrove, Prince Charles’s country estate—before marrying J. Watcyn Lewis, with whom she had Damian and, two years later, another son. Lewis remembers his parents as “open and emotionally accessible people,” despite their traditional mores. Watcyn ate two boiled eggs every morning, Lewis said, “until he was told his cholesterol was too high and we never saw another boiled egg.” He opened the mail with a letter opener. He went on business trips to the Middle East. “He had a very curious way of getting dressed, my dad,” Lewis recalled. “He would put his shirt on, and his boxer shorts, and then his socks, which, being an English gentleman, would always be pulled halfway up to the calf, and then he would put his Gucci loafers on with this long shoehorn with a little golf ball on the top, and then put his pants on.”

Lewis was a rambunctious but observant child, decoding the grownups around him as he later would his characters. When he was eight, he started at Ashdown House, a prep school in the English countryside. He recalls climbing the rhododendrons, playing in the ha-ha, and being caned. He made his first appearance onstage, as a policeman in “The Pirates of Penzance.” At thirteen, following his grandfather and his half-brother, he entered Eton, where he stood out, for his prowess both on the playing fields and on the stage. “I was in many respects perfectly suited to these kinds of schools,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t always the sort of happy-go-lucky experience which I chuntered through chortling and enjoying every moment of it. It was not without its challenges—just being in a very competitive environment, feeling constricted, feeling that, at any moment, you must try to create bubbles of time, where it just stands still and elasticates itself, so you could create space around you as you’re driven from A to B to C to D relentlessly through the day.”

Charles Milne, Lewis’s tutor, recalls him as a “very confident without being cocky young guy,” with “a natural easy informality in dealing with adults.” At the end of Lewis’s final year of school, his dormitory burned. He was billeted at Milne’s house. “Having him there made me aware that he had this sort of emotional maturity,” Milne recalled. “He would want to know about my love life, about whom I was going out with—at the stage of the relationship I’d got to, why wasn’t I doing this or that? It wasn’t just a schoolboy’s idle curiosity in order to find out information and then going to go share it with his mates. It was a real wanting to understand.” Milne saved a note that Lewis, per Eton tradition, sent him upon leaving school. “Sir/Charles/Mate/Nanny/Mummy, etc,” it read. “I’m beginning to piece you together, the Milney puzzle (which you’ll hate me claiming any knowledge to), but just remember . . . I’m working on you.”

Lewis decided to forgo university. “Precocious or not, I had a sense that I had had an intensive engagement with the highest end of the educational system, and, unless I was going to go to Oxford or Cambridge, I was going to be at a university or a college that was going to be sort of less good, less interesting than where I’d been for the past five years,” he told me. He cultivated a new look: paisley shirts, drainpipe jeans, black suède winklepickers. There was a gap year in Africa—“taking guitars up to ancient rocks.” In 1990, he enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London. The school introduced Lewis to a wider social milieu. “I was sitting in class with lesbians and gay men and people of different ages, people who were two or three years younger than me, from Italy and China, people who had run businesses—and I liked it, whilst at the same time being totally unprepared and ill-equipped to be comfortable within it,” he recalled. “I remember thinking, God, I must keep my head down a little bit.” According to Ken Rea, one of Lewis’s professors, he arrived at Guildhall “an articulate, well-mannered young man with a bit of a polite façade,” and left with “the complete raw vulnerability that really grabs you as an audience.”

After Guildhall, Lewis worked with theatre companies in England and in New York, and eventually joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing such roles as Don John and Posthumus. He was building a solid career on the London stage when Peter Kosminsky cast him in “Warriors,” a BBC miniseries about a squad of British peacekeepers during the Bosnian war. “I walked in there with my hair down to my shoulders, having been for several years, you know, shouting onstage doing Shakespeare,” Lewis recalled. “I initially felt intimidated by the camera and uncertain what to do in front of it.” He continued, “I remember saying to Peter, ‘You’ll look after me, won’t you? You’ll be strict with me?’ ”

A few months later, Lewis was in Los Angeles, auditioning on “five cups of coffee and three showers”—he had a horrible hangover—for Steven Spielberg, who had seen him in “Hamlet” and was casting “Band of Brothers.” Lewis had adapted quickly to the screen. “Onstage, you have to in some small nuanced way give a demonstration of what you’re thinking so that the people at the back can see it, whereas on camera you just quite literally have to think it,” he said. “I realized that you could actually have a whole range of thoughts in a short space of time and the camera would see them all. You become a sort of mental gymnast.” Spielberg cast Lewis as Lieutenant Dick Winters, a teetotalling Mennonite from Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Lewis played him quietly, with both sang-froid and idealism, exuding, as the Times wrote, “a star-making command of every scene.”

Lewis is renowned for his freakishly accurate American accent. (His greatest nemesis: phrases with two “r”s, such as “there are.”) But his talent is more than mimetic. His Americans are original compositions, reflecting, in the manner of David Hockney’s Los Angeles paintings, a view of ourselves that we cannot see. “I think there’s a machismo,” Lewis said. “Where you’re still brought up to believe that a man represents traditional values. They take care of stuff, they get it done, and they get it done now.” David Nevins, the president of Showtime, told me, “I don’t think Damian could ever get away with playing a working-class character in England. But somehow his Britishness, translated to America, comes off as salt-of-the-earth—a little bit sinister salt-of-the-earth.” An argument is embedded in his portrayals of G.I.s and masters of the universe. He said, “I have had to make conscious decisions to appear American and, therefore, I have had to take a view on what I think an American is.”

Lewis’s mother died in a car accident in India just as “Band of Brothers” was coming out. “I understood what the word ‘sad’ meant for the first time,” he said. “It had always felt like an inconsequential word to me, like ‘nice.’ ” He did “Dreamcatcher,” a Stephen King adaptation that might have launched him as a movie star but didn’t. “It started to dawn on me how big the industry was, and that it was global, and that there were TV shows and films one could be a part of that I’d had no inspiration to be a part of before,” he recalled. “I just knew that I was too curious and hungry for experience and adventure and the chance to try things out, so that was a moment of anxiety for me, that I perhaps would never get a taste of that.”

In 2004, he met Helen McCrory, playing her husband in “Five Gold Rings” at the Almeida Theatre. The couple married in 2007, and have two children, Manon and Gulliver. McCrory, who is best known in America for playing Narcissa Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies, is herself a formidable actor—“The really good thing about having babies, as I did, when you’re seventy-five is that you’ve had a chance to establish your career first,” she told British Vogue. Lewis considers McCrory his “ferociously intelligent” co-counsel. The year they met, he was offered the lead role in “Keane,” Lodge Kerrigan’s drama about a schizophrenic father who stalks the Port Authority bus terminal, searching for the daughter he may or may not have lost. “That was a Helen moment because she’d read it, and she said, ‘Whatever happens, you have to do this,’ ” Lewis recalled. “Initially, I thought, If this is handled by a young director it could read a little like a catalogue of greatest mental-health tics.” He accepted, and says that the film was one of his best experiences, “even if thirty-three people saw it.”

One of them was Alex Gansa, the “Homeland” showrunner. Having admired Lewis’s performance in “The Forsyte Saga,” Gansa had put him forward for the Brody role. “When we first brought him up, everyone was very negative about the suggestion,” Gansa recalled. Lewis was coming off “Life,” a decisive failure of an NBC police procedural, in which he’d played the lead character, a homicide detective with a passion for fresh fruit. “That carries a pretty big stigma,” Gansa recalled. “The network really wanted Ryan Phillippe; Patrick Wilson passed. I kept talking about Damian until I got a call from the head of the studio saying, ‘Look, Alex, please do not bring up Damian’s name again.’ Hanging up the phone in my office—I think we were two weeks from the start of principal photography—I was like, Are we going to cast Ryan Phillippe in this role?”

One of the show’s producers mentioned “Keane” to Gansa. “Every ounce of me wanted to go home and pour a gin-and-tonic, but I thought, Let me see if it’s streaming on Netflix. I looked on my computer and put on my headphones and opened my laptop and there was this little movie. The first forty-five minutes of the film are essentially Damian on camera. I hit pause and picked up the phone and called the studio head and said, ‘This is just an incredible performance—a damaged person on camera holding the frame.’ ”

Lewis was clutching a yellow feather duster and a grocery bag full of squirt bottles. He had just driven in his car, a blue Mini, from a cramped rental apartment—hamsters named Stella and Rapido, invitations to Lady Rothschild’s and an “intergalactic birthday party,” a bicycle in the master bedroom—to a Victorian town house in Tufnell Park. For the past six months, the house, which Lewis and his family have lived in for a decade, had been under renovation. “My wife and I have realized that basically our tastes meet at the intersection of hotel lobbies and speakeasy bars,” Lewis had told me, in New York. “We keep saying, ‘Oh, shit, is our home going to just end up looking like a night club in Manhattan?’ ” McCrory was working—filming “Peaky Blinders” in Liverpool. Tomorrow was moving day. “There’s no way I’m going to get the truck down here,” Lewis said, squinting as he surveyed the length of the block. “It’s going to be a disaster.”

Toting his cleaning supplies, he walked up a garden path to the house’s entrance.

“This is our brand-new blue door, which I’m still not sure about,” he said. “I’m the guy who asks you to paint everything twice.”

“So how many coats is that, Alex?” he called, to a workman.

“That’s three.”

“I think it’s gonna work, boys,” Lewis said, removing his shoes to reveal a pair of gray socks with red reinforced toes.

He ran a finger over the glossy surface.


Lewis was home on a week’s break from “Billions”—the Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving. He had to call the cable company, pick up the kids from school, go back to the hardware store for an extra door handle, as he’d needed twelve and got only eleven—things that a famous actor would be a chump to do in Los Angeles but a wanker not to in London. The family moved to Los Angeles once, when Lewis was doing “Life.” “It is an inferior city to London,” Lewis told a reporter. They moved back after eighteen months.

Lewis may be the world’s most famous actor who has never anchored a major film. When I asked him if he sticks to television intentionally, he said, “You shouldn’t think for a second that I’ve somewhere or somehow made a commitment to only doing these premium-cable shows.” He continued, “But there are other considerations, to do with family, which is hardly the answer of an artist, but it’s reality. ”

During his tenure on “Homeland,” Lewis spent a cumulative five months of the year in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the show was filmed. He would sometimes “cry in frustration,” he said; on Halloween, he dressed up in a scary clown costume and got on Skype with his kids. Unusually for a man—a man renowned for his portrayals of terse masculinity—the dilemma of how to “have it all” dominates his conversation. “I try hard to be a modern dad,” he told me. “I like not just being the figurehead of the family—it means that I want to take the kids to school, I want to pick them up, and I want to take them on their playdates and come home and do their homework with them and understand actually in detail what their homework is rather than having it relayed to me by my wife.”

In London, dusk was approaching.

“Let’s have a wander,” he said. “It’s such a pretty evening.”

As he strolled the sidewalks—waving to neighbors, pointing out landmarks—he seemed to be subjecting himself to a sort of trial. “Why does one go away?” he said. “What is it that drives you on? If you are instinctively, or have been brought up or educated in a way that you demand of yourself that you make the best of your life and the best of your opportunities, then there is a constant conversation going on between definitions of success versus definitions of happiness. The two don’t always go together, and at what point do you stop striving so hard to be successful in the conventional sense, because every fibre in your body has been educated to take your opportunities, versus arguably a more enlightened view, which is you don’t have to chase and go for these things?”

Read the article at the New Yorker