Monday, June 15, 2009
Male on Monday : : Damian Lewis
Anne McAllister is in the last week of finishing a manuscript so she is looking forward to taking the time to go back through the last couple of months of Males on Monday that she has missed while working. But even on deadline, she made time this week to appreciate this one.
I can't remember exactly when Damian Lewis came to my attention. It was quite a few years ago now. I suspect, like most Americans, I became aware of him when he starred as Lieutenant Richard Winters in the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers.
In any case, he's been on my radar for a while.
And every time I think I've got a handle on what he can do on the screen, he does something different -- something that makes me sit up and take notice again. And again.
I suppose I should admit right off that he didn't have to do much because I'm a sucker for redheads.
And when you combine red hair with articulate observation, interesting choices, and vast acting talent, well, I"m hooked.
I was thrilled when he took the lead role in the American police drama, Life, two years ago. And I'm seriously annoyed that it will not be back on NBC next season.
Life's police detective Charlie Crews, after 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, was not an easy sell. It would have been easy to make him too dysfunctional because of his backstory.
But Charlie's combination of quirks and common sense, delivered in the flat deadpan almost midwestern American accent that Lewis gave him, made him imminently watchable and, in fact, compelling.
He took the role, Lewis says, because he liked that the series was character-driven. I watched it because more than character-driven, Life always seemed to be Damian Lewis driven.
He gave Charlie a believable detachment at the same time that, by his very determined flippancy he hinted that beneath the apparent detachment Charlie cared very very much indeed.
Charlie is certainly not the first wounded buttoned-up character Lewis has played. Regarding some of the more memorable ones, Lewis said, "I guess I'm just good at playing repressed individuals. I'm lucky because those are often the roles that catch people's eyes. It's the Steve McQueen element, all that bubbling energy bottled up inside. It's a very compelling quality on the screen. I've been lucky that I seem to be able to pull it off."
Certainly he pulled it off with Charlie Crews. There were intense moments, off-the-wall moments in the episodes that told Charlie's story, but they were all the more revealing of his character because the rest of the time Lewis gave him a decidedly 'less is more' spin.
"If you set up an intensity and a stillness to someone, you only have to show a flicker of a smile and it will show volumes," Lewis says.
On the "more is more" side of things, Lewis's interpretation of Benedick in the BBC's Shakespeare Retold version of Much Ado About Nothing was funny, glib and almost, but not ever quite, over the top.
You never quite know what role he's going to take next. His choices have been all over the map, from the intense and possibly mentally ill father of a missing child in Keane, to the conflicted Soames Forsyte, a man you'll quite possibly hate in The Forsyte Saga.
He played a hitman, called Milo in The Baker, a film written and directed by his younger brother, Gareth Lewis. And he recently played a college professor called Jonesy, a "really sweet guy," according to Lewis, in Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, in which he was possessed by an alien and walked around killing people.
Asked in one interview about career strategies, he said, "I'm not very good at strategizing. All you can do is attach yourself to the good work. If you think you don't want to play another psychopath, but the script is amazing, and the director is fantastic, and the story is incredible, then you may end up playing your third psychopath in a row. You have to go where the good writing is. That's the only way you can be stimulated, fulfilled and in the end, good -- probably."
As for what you can see him in next, there is Love and Virtue in which he stars with John Malkovich and Peter O'Toole, now in post-production, and The Escapist, also starring Joseph Fiennes, in which Lewis plays the crime boss Rizza with reportedly chilling effectiveness.
Who is this very talented man when he's not being someone else?
Damian Lewis was born in London on February 11, 1971. He has an older brother and sister as well as director brother, Gareth. At the age of eight Lewis went away to boarding school after which he attended Eton.
Saying he found the experience blissful, he is also quick to add, "When you go to boarding school at an early age, you learn to cope very quickly with your environment. That can create extraordinary social dexterity, but it can also leave you rather emotionally arrested, even if you appear superficially sophisticated and poised. If someone sees through that to who you really are, then those are... interesting moments."
After Eton he attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for two years. He then got roles in television series Warriors and Hearts and Bones.
It was after he played Laertes in Ralph Fiennes' Hamlet that he was asked to read for the Richard Winters role and won the lead in Band of Brothers.
Since Life begain, he has been living in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Helen McCrory, and two children, Manon, 2 1/2, and Gulliver, 1 1/2. Now that Life is apparently dead, though, it's not clear if he will remain in the States and pursue other acting projects there or if he and his family will choose to return to London.
A man of many talents, Lewis could go in any direction -- and probably will.
A few months ago, asked what he would do if he wasn't an actor, Lewis said: "I'd be a professional ping-pong player."
I could enjoy watching him do that, too.
Anne McAllister needs to go work on finishing her book. If you missed the last one US: April, UK: May, Oz/NZ: June), it took place in Seattle on a houseboat with a lot of animals and, incidentally, a heroine and a hero. The hero, Sebastian, sadly, did not have red hair, but she loved him anyway. The bloodhound is sort of a redhead.
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