Within a few days, I’ve seen three sides to Damian Lewis. There’s the brilliantly gifted screen actor who plays Marine Sergeant Nick Brody, an American POW who may have changed allegiances after eight years in captivity in Afghanistan, in gripping US import Homeland. Then there’s the born stage performer at a Bafta Q&A, oozing confidence, playing to the gallery and toying with his questioner. And finally there’s the warm, thoughtful, self-deprecating guy sitting in the wood-panelled library of a London hotel.
While many of his best-known characters have hinged on his mastery of suppressed emotion and underplaying, the man himself is rather more open. He explodes out of his armchair with excitement on discovering he’s getting a poached egg with his caesar salad, but also sits in comfortable silence while pondering the psychological complexities of his latest challenge. ‘This is a thriller, so you want to provoke people, to put [Brody] as a symbol of Western belief systems, into this situation.’
His research took him to Brian Keenan’s chronicle of life in captivity, An Evil Cradling; to meet people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder; and to the London Central Mosque, where he was invited to sit in on prayers. His school days at Eton instilled in him ‘a watered-down, digestible Anglicanism’, but Lewis now feels he responds to different aspects of different religions. ‘You know, I think I am faintly spiritual. I’ve had loss in my life, and I like to think my mother’s energy lives on in some faintly Buddhist way. I do find some comfort there.’
Two or three years ago, Lewis toyed with sidelining acting in favour of pursuing writing or directing. ‘I’d been acting for a certain amount of time and started to feel like I understood it. So I started reading all these books on writing and directing, and realised they were preoccupied by the same things as actors. I thought that was interesting, so I decided to re-explore acting again and, well, try to be better.’ He laughs, adding sheepishly, ‘I carry a notepad around with me to jot down script ideas, but instead it just gets filled with “wallpaper for kitchen” or “do taxes”.’
Band of Brothers made Lewis a star – something he’d judiciously prepared for at the age of ten, standing in front of a mirror and pretending to be interviewed by UK radio host Terry Wogan. ‘And now I’m going on his radio show,’ he says, proudly. But he has negotiated the pitfalls of celebrity carefully, especially when his performance as arch-villain Soames in British TV’s splendid 2002 revival of The Forsyth Saga threatened to thrust him into Colin Firth realms of heart-throbbery. ‘I think you can control the levels of intrusion: you can contribute to it or you can steer away from it,’ he now says with the authority of a happily married family man.
Homeland airs every Tuesday at 10pm on OSN First HD.