A Man of Many Talents
by Mick Burgess | The Northern Echo | September 21, 2023
Damian Lewis might be best known for his starring roles in Wolf Hall, Homeland and Billions, to name a few, but he is also a talented musician who’s just released his first album, Mission Creep. Mick Burgess called him for a chat ahead of his tour visiting the region next month.
How do you feel ahead of your first ever tour?
I can’t wait to get started, I’m really excited. I’ve played at a few festivals and done a lot of London gigs in the last year, but I’m so excited to play at these venues with a wonderful heritage and I’m really looking forward to getting out there to play my new album, Mission Creep.
Singing live on stage is very different to acting. Does it make you nervous?
There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than a press night in the West End. When I stand up there as a musician, I’ve written the song, the lyrics and the melody and now I’m performing so I’m triply vulnerable. Sometimes I feel that there’s no one else to blame if they don’t like it – it’s all on me. That does give you pause for thought but it hasn’t stopped me. I’m like a bad smell that won’t go away.
What about your set? Will you be playing a fair chunk of your debut album?
We’ll be playing the Mission Creep album and I have two or three new songs and a couple of covers by the likes of Neil Young and Tom Waits that I throw in there as they’re such fun to play and the crowd loves them. It’s a fun night and as they are live performances, they’re a bit more energized than what’s on the record. It’s a rollicking 90 minutes.
On October 7 you’re at The Glasshouse International Centre for Music (previously called The Sage) in Gateshead. Is this your first time in the North-East?
I was at the Theatre Royal with the Royal Shakespeare Company 20 years ago and I loved it. I’m really looking forward to coming back up North to play music this time.
Are you pleased with the reaction Mission Creep’s received so far?
It’s a risky business when actors want to be musicians and you can hear everyone sharpening their claws. I’m guilty of that like everyone else when people want to change lanes. Sometimes you have to throw up your hands and say fair play to them if they’re good at it. That’s what I’m trying to prove and I’m doing this because it’s so much fun and I love writing music and playing gigs with my band. Of course the first thing on everybody’s lips is, will this be rubbish? Once you get over that and people think it’s quite good…once you get past that, you hope it goes a step further and people buy it and come to the shows. I know it had to be good enough, so if the music is good enough, then you have a shot. If people come to the shows thinking they’ll watch Damian Lewis fall flat on his face then you can’t make a music career out of that. I need to make sure they come back a second time. The reaction so far, though, fortunately, has been really good.
When did you first start writing material for the album?
It’s been a series of accidents. Like everyone else I was sitting at home during lockdown so I had a lot more time to sit and play my guitar. Then I got an introduction to a brilliant jazz musician called Giacomo Smith who is in the band and produced the album with me. We started noodling around then got introduced to more musicians and we started playing covers together. I soon got bored of that and began writing my own material. Before I knew it I had a record and people were showing an interest in it. I wasn’t expecting any of it. Then Decca, a major label, began showing an interest and that tickled my vanity. I thought brilliant, why not? In for a penny, in for a pound. I’m really enjoying it.
Was it a surreal moment for you when you finally held the finished album – your first ever – in your hands for the first time?
It was, as deep down every actor wants to be a rock star so there was that magical moment when I looked at it because it was a moment I never expected. I’ve made a record and I’m made up. It was an unexpected, wonderful pleasure. It’s a very satisfying way of being creative in an entirely new arena.
What are your long-term plans for your musical career? Do you have any?
I’ve been very busy on Homeland and Billions for the last ten years, and for the time being I’m stepping back from that kind of commitment in order to give myself the time to make more music. I’ll continue to act but I am already working on a second record. I’m enjoying it too much to stop and as long as people continue to show up at gigs, I’ll continue writing and singing.
How do you research people such as Bobby Axelrod, the thoroughly ruthless financier you play in Billions and how do you get into the zone of someone who is frankly, very unlikable?
I’ve met a lot of people and what you realize about some guys, and Bobby Axelrod in particular, is that they are alpha competitors. They are gamblers and even when they have one, two or three billion it’s never enough. The important thing is that they have more than the next one. Once you understand that about them you begin to realize the extent they will go to in order to win. The end game is winning. That’s what makes these characters so compelling to watch. He’s a nasty piece of work and is borderline criminal…well, he is a criminal…so to play him I have to lean on my inner criminal.
In Band of Brothers you played Dick Winters. Did you get the chance to meet him personally as well as other surviving members of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division?
I stayed with Dick and his wife Ethel on his farm in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I had a lovely time in his office out in a big shed which was full of memorabilia. Dick liked the show – and it was fascinating talking to him about it. You could sit up until three in the morning drinking with a lot of the Easy Company veterans as they wept and remembered the war and told stories, but Dick wasn’t like that. He was emotionally more removed from the experience and was more interested in the technicalities of what was going on.
What films/TV shows are you working on at the moment that we should watch out for?
I’ve just made a film called The Radleys that’s being edited now and should be out sometime next year. I’m about to make the final installment of Wolf Hall, which is about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII…so I’m keeping myself out of trouble.
For more information about Damian’s UK Tour, you can find tour schedule and ticket outlets here.
Read the rest of the original article at The Northern Echo, in the At Leisure section