I’ve been reading The New Yorker quite religiously for more than a decade now. I don’t remember how many subscriptions I gave to friends as gifts over the years and it is still one of the few subscriptions that I receive in the mail every week. And, the New Yorker Festival feels like the pages of the magazine literally coming to life for a weekend throughout the city with talks, conversations, readings, performances, panels with individuals that are at the top of their game in their respective fields — including arts, sciences, politics, sports, theater, music, literature, film, TV, food and more… As someone that attended quite a few events at the festival over the years, I can confidently say that, independent of the context, all events share one characteristic: intelligence. The festival participants are without exception endowed with some real brainpower. They are, in The New Yorker‘s own words, “some of the most talented and influential thinkers about topics ranging from politics to pop music, science to cinema, and so much more.”
Well, it is the New Yorker Festival time of the year again! And while I am extremely lucky to have tickets for conversations with the world-renown chef Yotam Ottolenghi as well as one certain Jon Hamm at this year’s festival, I cannot help go back to my most favorite New Yorker Festival moment ever. JaniaJania and I were extremely lucky to attend the fabulous conversation New Yorker staff writer Lauren Collins had with Damian Lewis at the festival.
The conversation is at 7pm on October 3, 2015 Saturday but as the ever excited fans and bloggers, we are determined to be there early and let ourselves indulge in anticipation 🙂 And, upon arrival, we are told by the staff at the SVA Theater that we have just set a new record as early birds and we should feel free to gloat about it. No, I am not telling you what time we went to get in the line 😀
The excitement heightens as more fans appear and it seems there is huge correlation between how hard-core of a fan you are and the time you arrive 🙂 No, no, I am not telling you what time we arrived 😀 But, with the arrival of other hard-core fans like Carol and Zoe, the excitement grows… And every black car stopping for a pick-up or a drop-off is another reason to get the adrenaline flowing… It goes on like this until 5:30 or so… And then…
Do you hear an “Oh My God!” at the end of the clip? It’s JaniaJania expressing herself. Hehe.
So we get our first Damian smile of the day! And many thanks go to my #1 guy in the world, my husband, whom the lovely ladies in the line kindly called “a very good sport” who did not miss the opportunity of recording Damian’s arrival for the event and many other moments later on!
The doors open at 6:30 and we are IN! I I’ve been to SVA Theater before for several film festivals so I already know that it is an intimate venue, an ideal setting for a conversation but even I didn’t expect this to be our view beforehand 😀
In my experience, the way a conversation starts usually sets the tone for the rest of it. I love the way Lauren Collins starts the conversation: With fun facts! And I fall in love with the first one: “He’s British!” Collins has a very good sense of humor and I already know this hour and a half will be GOOD. Besides, she frames the questions in a very deft way that completely gives the stage to Damian Lewis not only to respond to a particular question but also to expand on it and talk about what he feels like. And, we all know Damian is a talker! BRILLIANT!
They start talking about Billions, the upcoming Showtime drama series in which Damian will play the hedge-fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod for whom I sketched a portrayal earlier here and here. And then they cover most of the biggies American viewers have seen Damian in: Band of Brothers, Forsyte Saga, Homeland and Wolf Hall!
Lauren Collins has, in fact, inspired me to do my own review based on fun facts that we have found out about Damian during the conversation! Damian was certainly in his TOP form Saturday evening; witty, intelligent, energetic and fun as ever and gave us a number of fun facts that cracked up the room one too many times!
Fun Fact #1: Damian Lewis enjoys playing a hedge-fund billionaire!
When Lauren Collins asks about his relationship with money, Damian says money is, of course, desirable to pursue the things you want to pursue in life but it should not be the driving force that one should pursue other things that would give her satisfaction — personally, spiritually and creatively. And, ultimately he’s a moderate when it comes to money. But then he adds: “Having said that, it’s quite fun playing a billionaire! I have been on more yachts, private jets, and helicopters than in my entire life in the span of the last two months.”
Fun Fact #2: Damian Lewis takes HenryVIII over Brody 🙂
Collins asks Damian if he prefers Henry VIII who hung people or Brody who was hung himself… what a FUN question 🙂 Damian says he knows he should not be encouraging this, but oddly, chopping people’s heads off as the king and in that context didn’t really seem that outrageous to him. Hehe. But, he says, walking through that square in Rabat, Morocco with 200 nice and welcoming extras, well, until they started shouting “Allah is great” and wiggling his car, was tense. It was a pretty disturbing experience to be driven to the gallows like that and then having the noose around his neck and being lifted up was not very pleasant. Ultimately, he says: “I take executing every time over being executed.”
Fun Fact #3: Damian Lewis unlocks Soames thanks to acute appendicitis 🙂
When asked whether his acting has evolved or not over time, Damian tells this hilarious (not as hilarious for him at the time!) story: Damian is having terrible stomach pain just before he starts filming Forsyte Saga. He sees a doctor in London who says it’s probably gas and gives him a suppository… which doesn’t really work… Awww… Poor guy. Then he arrives on the Forsyte Saga set just to stop at lunch time on the very first day because he turns green. By that evening, he is in emergency because he has acute appendicitis. It takes two weeks for Damian to come back. And, upon his return, he realizes they had wide shots of him on his back with a different guy who has this oddest walk (Damian stands up and does the Soames walk!!!)… Damian was furious first… but then he just “steals” the walk! He says that walk helped him unlock the character — sort of reflecting the incredible tension that lives in Soames.
Fun Fact #4: He is Damian Lewis and not Daniel Day Lewis 🙂
Regarding his method to prepare for a role, Damian talks about Keane, a small independent movie that we know he’s proud of, about a man with mental problems who is searching for his lost daughter on the streets of New York. So… Damian arrives in NYC two weeks before filming Keane. The screenwriter is re-writing some scenes, so Damian accompanies him to welfare hotels in New Jersey and also spends a lot of time at Port Authority Bus Terminal to talk to people who were homeless and not well. He walks the streets of New York immersing himself in the character he plays. Then he adds: “I am Damian Lewis not Daniel Day-Lewis. I haven’t spent four months in a prison on my own.” But he would do things like THAT and feel responsible that the story should be represented well and truthfully and honestly, and otherwise what’s the point? And, I really want to give a standing ovation at this exact moment, but yeah I am able to contain myself 😀
Fun Fact #5: Damian Lewis wears a women’s thong for a role during an entire film shoot!
It turns out Damian wears a women’s thong in The Escapist in which he plays Rizza, a prison gang leader. The character has a certain walk that Damian could not quite get; however, once he wears a women’s thong, he gets the walk immediately. How come? He graciously stands up and shows us… adding with a laugh: “If I didn’t move quickly, it was going to cut me…. I had great fun. You guys have great underwear.” 🙂
Fun Fact #6: Band of Brothers set feels like the Tower of Babel the first few days!
When asked about his flawless American accent, Damian talks about first “American” Damian in Band of Brothers. It turns out he took some dialect lessons to perfect his accent as Dick Winters who was a Dutch-Mennonite from Pennsylvania. And he starts with his new found Canadian-Dutch-Mennonite accent on the set 🙂 Since even American actors from Bronx or L.A. playing guys from New Orleans are trying accents, the set feels like the Tower of Babel… 😀 In the end, HBO says they need some generalized American accent and this is what Damian ends up doing. One of the veterans on the show, a technical advisor, comes and tells him one day: “Lewis, I’ve got no fucking idea what part of the States you are from, but you sound American and that’s good enough for me.” And, the rest is history 🙂
Fun Fact #7: Damian Lewis sits just across from Obama at the White House State Dinner.
Damian is hilarious as he talks about where he and Helen sat at TOP table in the White House: “Closer than I am to this lady here (Damian now pointing to JaniaJania) across from the POTUS” and then he points at me as “Samantha Cameron” goes on to my husband as the “Vice Chief of the Armed Forces” and the other side is “David Cameron, Michelle, and someone called George… Clooney” 😀 And I really really wish you could hear Damian’s imitation of President Obama and Warren Buffet talking! 😀
And, yes, dear partner, from now on, you can definitely brag about how close you sat across from Damian Lewis as “just a bit farther than he sat across from the POTUS” 🙂
Fun Fact #8: Damian Lewis LOVES North Carolina!
Well, North Carolina was very well-represented in the room 🙂 Lauren Collins is from North Carolina and, hey, I live in North Carolina and Damian, of course, filmed Homeland in North Carolina. And he says “I loved North Carolina, and not saying this just to be polite.” Well, thank you! And his answer to Lauren’s question “What is a Hush Puppie?” is just priceless: “Hush Puppie can be a shoe or an alcoholic beverage.” 😀 And, again, he just rocks the house with a killer southern accent!
Fun Fact #9: One sometimes gets lucky at a Q&A.
My apologies to all first row Joes! I know I pressed on so many toes as I was trying to get myself out to the microphones to ask a question… And it turns out we are out of time when it is my turn to ask and I don’t know what kind of a sad look I give to Collins but she is “Ok one more!” Dear Lauren, if you are reading this, I just want to thank you one more time for giving me the chance to ask the LAST question! You ROCK! And, thanks to my husband who was smart enough to record it, you can hear my question and Damian’s answer here 🙂
Fun Fact #10: Damian Lewis is the kindest man in the world!
The conversation ends and Damian comes and says “Hey, how are you?” Well, sometimes a picture can tell a thousand words, and so here’s a masterpiece gif made by my dear JaniaJania which she aptly calls “Reaching Out to Kiss the King’s Ring” 😀
Fun Fact #11: Green room is GREEN. Who knew?
BIG THANKS go to the amazing human being Damian Lewis for having us in the green room and taking his time to talk to us about our blog and about us, too. He absolutely made our day, week, month and maybe even our year by using words such as “creative” “in-depth” and “journalistic” for the work we do! THANK YOU, Damian! You are simply the BEST!
Fun Fact #12: Damian LOVES his new scarf!
I really need to add one more sweet moment to the whole thing! A great fan, Carol, gave Damian a scarf that she made! And, he had the scarf on as he was leaving the building that night — thanks go to Kristy for sharing the picture! And thanks go to these great fans, Carol, Zoe, Tiffany, Kristy, it was a real pleasure meeting you, and hope to see you again at other Damian Lewis events and sooner than later, too! Cheers 🙂