Esquire catches up with Homeland's leading man.
At the start of a thoroughly agreeable morning in his company, Esquire hands Damian Lewis a plate on which there are three slices of brown toast and honey. “Thank you, my darling,” he says to the kindly assistant bearing breakfast. He then slips into an impression of an actor far loftier than he. “‘That’s fabulous. Can you cut them in half next time? Triangles? Without the crusts?’”
He likes a spot of mimicry, does Lewis. The 41-year-old actor does a rather good Ray Winstone, as honed on the set of The Sweeney, the far-better-than-you-think-it-will-be recent movie update of the TV cop show, in which Lewis plays Winstone’s boss.
Then there’s his spot-on Jamie Redknapp, recounting the former Liverpool and England midfielder’s onfield rebuke to Lewis after the latter clattered into Zinedine Zidane during the Soccer Aid televised charity football match in 2010: “‘Dame, Dame, calm down. Calm. Down. They ain’t come to fuckin’ see you, mate!’” “I just got overexcited,” says Lewis of his transgression. “I was asked to mark Zinedine Zidane! I had to stay close, but I was also shockingly late.”
Since then, Lewis has not put a foot wrong. Now embarking on his twentieth season as an actor since graduating from drama school in 1993 – “I still tell people it’s 15” – he is riding his biggest wave of TV success with Homeland, in which he plays Nicholas Brody, a ex-POW US Marine with deep links to Al-Qaeda. In the unfolding second series, Brody is a Congressman who may one day be Vice President.
The first series married the tense atmosphere of Seventies paranoid movie thrillers to the less preposterous elements of Fox’s drama series 24 to make 12 hours of steely, spy-drama suspense that merited the excellent ratings and plaudits that followed. Lewis playing Brody, hiding his true mission from his family, the CIA and the millions on the edge of their sofas, was a big part of that success.
“I feel very, very lucky that Homeland is as good as it is and that I am in some small way contributing to it,” he says. “It’s such a lovely bonus and surprise, because it’s a bit like making a great album, a happy accident, when all these talents are pooled and fire on all cylinders.
“But when you go through that strange level of success, when something becomes part of the national conversation, then that becomes another thing. There are moments when it can feel a bit daunting, because you’re no longer working anonymously.”
He’s been in the goldfish bowl before, though, having played the lead in HBO’s stunning World War II mini-series Band of Brothers, and in Life a two-season NBC wronged-cop drama which was shown in the UK on ITV3. (He has successful homegrown entries on his CV, too, like the BBC’s Warriors and The Forsyte Saga on TV, and clever prison-break movie The Escapist.) With Homeland, these roles go some way to reinforcing Lewis’ greatest impression yet, as believed by many in the US: that he is American.
“I think I just look a bit white-trash American,” says the born-and-bred Londoner. “I have heard people say, ‘That guy’s English accent is so fake.’”
“Still, one aspect of his Britishness comes across loud and clear. “I can say now, without fear of contradiction, that I am married to a Bond girl,” he says. His wife, the actress Helen McCrory, plays a politician in Skyfall. “Whether we see her in a bikini or not,” says her husband, “she is a girl and she is in a Bond movie. That is the job description.”
Homeland: Series 2 is showing now on Channel 4
Look 1 (top)
Red trousers aren’t something to be scared of. Make like a tree in autumn and embrace a rich burgundy — it’s easier to pull off than brighter shades and works well teamed with dark natural tones.
(Navy leather jacket, £750; green cotton roll-neck, £80; burgundy denim jeans, £220; brown leather boots, £205, all by Diesel.)
Jacket and jeans: a combo that mixes work and play. Perfect for the smart-casual dress codes of the city (and the serious relaxation of the countryside). It’s also a chance to try out a jacket that you wouldn’t necessarily wear as part of a suit.
(Navy/black checked wool jacket, £1,400; blue/white checked cotton shirt, £225, by Giorgio Armani. Light vintage wash jeans, £219, by Emporio Armani Jeans. Brown leather boots, £289, by Oliver Spencer. Navy/pink spotted pocket square, Damian Lewis’s own)
(Navy wool jacket, £330, by Oliver Spencer. Blue/white checked cotton shirt, £65, by Dockers. Grey/brown tweed trousers, £645, by Louis Vuitton)