The ‘Billions’ star on schooldays with David Cameron, playing conflicted characters — and rumours of 007
by Janan Ganesh | Financial Times | April 5, 2019
“What am I?” demands Damian Lewis, in the Yonkers vowels of Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund manager he plays in Billions. “Chopped liver?” We have not fallen out. It is the presence of the item on the menu that sets up his riff on the Americanism.
The actor you also know as a Renaissance king (Wolf Hall) and an al-Qaeda convert (Homeland) is seated under a wall-mounted ram’s head in Fischer’s, a portal into antiquated Mitteleuropa on London’s Marylebone High Street, where it all but heckles the modernities around it. From a room that suggests an Orient Express dining carriage, Lewis looks out on to a Diptyque, an Aesop and a Bang & Olufsen as I ask him why British actors do so well in America. “It’s luck, it’s innate, it’s a bit of hard work,” he guesses. “It’s nothing to do with being classically trained.”
He admires Christian Bale (“There’s something quite extreme innately in him”) and vies with Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba in the bookies’ guesswork as to the next James Bond. Politely, he smiles through my thesis that Brits grow up hearing more accents than almost any other nation, honing an ear for them that amounts to a thespian advantage. If he is not quite sold, he is at least open to the idea of performance as a national trait. “Is there a clown in the British character that there isn’t in America? I think there is. There’s a clown in us somewhere.”