Damian Lewis Created a Monster

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I’ll admit to not being the most educated person. I spent most of high school just trying to pass the time and get out with a diploma. I wasn’t a bad student, but when you decide on beauty school in your sophomore year, suddenly AP History and three hours a night of homework seem kind of like a waste of time. And I certainly didn’t spend my two study halls a day reading up on history, math or science. Now, as an adult, I am revisiting these subjects with a newly-found appreciation. I am learning things as a 36 year old woman that most people learn in high school. The history of The Tudors has been my newest interest, and I have Wolf Hall to thank for opening me up to something new.

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I’ve watched and re-watched the series multiple times, and devoured any documentary I could find on Henry’s reign and his family. I even indulged in 1998’s “Elizabeth”, starring Cate Blanchett, as I wondered “what happened to that fiery-haired little girl on Henry’s hip?”

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Learning that Henry is such a huge figure in English history, I am sure Damian grew up learning more and more about this figure, much the same way us American kids learn about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. When it came time for him to portray this grand figure, I wonder how much he didn’t already know? But I am sure, if there were any missing tidbits of knowledge, he devoured them in the same manner he did when preparing for any other role. And based on the things I have read and watched, Damian really nailed it.

Damian gave Henry teeth.

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Henry is referred to by historians as a “monster” more often than a man. Once again, my Delsartean training, given to me by the one and only Joe Williams and his Three Pillars Arts technique, could immediately find the ways Damian used his body language to create this larger than life monster of a monarch.

In past articles, we talked about the three zones of the body Delsarte gave to us: Mind, Heart and Vital. King Henry was a man ruled by Vitality. Starting with the way he was dressed- furs, rich and intricate fabrics and embroidery, the voluminous layers that allowed him to occupy more space than anyone else. These clothes highlighted the vital upper arms and thighs. They created a strong silhouette of a man who would eventually come to think of himself, in many ways, as a god of sorts. And Damian matched this vital costuming with his own use of the vital zones in his face and body.

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On the bigger scale, his whole body, the king sat widely, legs apart, the most vital of vital zones on display. When he stood, it was feet apart, the vital zone of his heart (just under the sternum) projected, his upper arms holding all the energy, his fists resting upon his hips. He was imposing, powerful, grandiose. His stride was large, his footsteps booming. Think of the scene where he reveals Anne’s missed cycle to Cromwell. He was filled with his own vitality and power, and his body showed it.

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And on the smaller scale, through his face, is where I believe Damian really created this character. I noticed immediately that this character was also ruled, secondary to vitality, by his mind. I spotted the tell-tale creased forehead and peaked brows that he so prominently used to portray “Mr. Mind”, the one and only Bobby Axelrod.

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While the king was ruled by his desire for power and protection of his legacy, he thought long and hard about how he could get it. As he warned Cromwell to not “be a viper in my bosom”, he tilted the mind of his mind toward him, the forehead fully tense and engaged, warning his dear friend to think and use his street-smarts to keep in his favor. That moment, for me, stood out oddly against other interactions that the king had. Usually when he was warning someone, his snarl would appear, his teeth would flash, and his voice would raise. The quiet, mind-driven warning he gave to him really indicated his desire for this “friend” to stay a friend. It was a rare moment of honesty from him.

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And speaking of teeth.

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Those teeth became a real indicator of the king’s mood. Damian’s teeth aren’t something we see a lot of in his various roles. I believe there is something about how he creates his American accent that creates that often-mocked tight lipped expression. I’ve noticed when he is allowed to speak more naturally, with his beautiful English accent, that we see a softer, more relaxed mouth and also much more of his teeth. But with Henry, we see ALL of his teeth, and very often.

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There are so many instances. When he speaks about “the bastard Mary”, he warns that “She will submit to me.” His teeth are bared, his jaw firm. As his favor for Anne fades, he sits across from her, scowling as she dotes on Elizabeth and her “sweet” hat, he picks his teeth!

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What a great bit of unspoken dialogue there. After consuming what he wanted, he is picking her from his teeth, ridding himself of his desire for her. As he implores Cromwell “Free me from Anne.” His teeth, again, are out.

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And of course, his snarling, explosive rage when he felt Cromwell was acting out of line.

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Even in a somewhat vulnerable moment, after that fight, when he wants Crowell to forgive him, but without saying he was sorry. His teeth are out, in the form of a smile.

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There’s something about anytime he smiles with his teeth bared. Its not kind. When Henry smiles genuinely, his teeth are not shown.

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When he is watching Jane from the window, commenting on her small hands, his smile is actually quite sweet. While he did desire her greatly, his affection for her did seem to come from a genuine admiration of her. Henry, in later years, would often say that Jane was the only one of his wives who was any good. But many historians counter that her tragic death soon after the birth of their son, was the reason for that. Not only did she provide him an heir, she simply died before he was allowed to fall out of love with her.

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And, of course, we see those teeth are hidden when he feels defeated. When word reached him about the birth of his daughter, he was crushed. His face was absent of energy, his teeth nowhere to be seen. His hand, though, his hand was near his mouth. He was robbed of his vitality, in this moment, his fingers fiddling near those fangs, but he didn’t have the power to bite, at the moment. His shoulders were rolled in, as stormed from the room, his footsteps far less booming and powerful.

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Vitality was also expressed through the eyes. Delsarte tells us that the white of the eyes represent vitality. In the moment we previously discussed, his eyes were hardly even open. As his teeth bared, in other moments of greater power, his eyes were usually wide and bright, as well.  Or they appeared along with his smile.

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The biggest moment for those vital eyes for me, however, was the final scene of the series. Henry embraces Cromwell, smiling and gleeful, having been freed from Anne. His joy and happiness are genuine. But somehow, this scene came off as creepy. Super creepy. When I first watched it, I actually got chills. What was it about this? Why was Henry more scary in this moment than in many others?  His smile, closed mouth, is genuine. His face is relaxed, smile broadly up into his eyes. He’s triumphant and relieved! But his eyes.

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His eyes. Oh god. They are so wide, so crazy.

And that is the lingering legacy that Damian’s portrayal leaves us with. Henry was a man, a monster, a king. A person willing to do whatever it takes to secure his legacy. Can’t divorce his wife? He would invent new religion, no problem. New wife no good? Well, look at that, there’s all this “evidence” of her unfaithfulness. How convenient! If he wanted it, he got it.

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It’s good to be king.

Now join me in the comments to discuss Damian’s portrayal of Henry-and good luck to the whole cast and crew as they head to the BAFTA ceremony let’s hope for a sweep!

6 thoughts on “Damian Lewis Created a Monster”

  1. I am sure it’s good to be king but believe me it’s even better to read what you see in this very king!!!! Fantastic post!!!

    “Damian gave Henry teeth.” I just LOVE this: something that I have completely missed. It seems to be Henry’s signature: We see Henry’s teeth from being boyish with Cromwell as they shoot arrows together to going ballistic on Cromwell to making amends with Cromwell… and your description of “picking his teeth” is absolutely priceless!

    As you American kids were learning about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I was learning about the Ottoman history — I think Thomas More once refers to the Ottoman Sultan in Wolf Hall! So I came late to Tudor history as well. Fascinating story with Henry being at the very center of it.

    CRAZY EYES. Oh My God. Henry is the BIG BAD WOLF of Wolf Hall. Henry is a monster. I love the following Hilary Mantel quote: ““Henry VIII is a monster, but he’s our monster. No other nation has a king who had six wives and cut the heads off two. We’re perversely proud of Henry.”

    1. Yes! The crazy eyes!! So creepy. Like, dude, someone just DIED for you. But I guess when you are raised from a young age as a prince, destined to be a king? Different mind set.

      I noticed he also picked/fiddled with his teeth while staring at Jane Seymour in the dinner table scene where he dozes off. They were eating, so there was a strong context for him to be doing so, but the metaphor was still there-consume!!!

      It was very fun to watch and rewatch the series so many times in prep for this. It was my default show to put on while rhinestoning costumes. Whenever I’d hear Damian’s voice, I’d look up to take notes. The story is so complex, I discover a new thing about it each time I watch.

  2. Great post! And great observation about the teeth. I remarked as much in my recaps earlier this year of Henry often chewing on the inside of his mouth. Especially in that scene where he’s talking about the rumor of Anne and her brother. “Why spare? Why not drink the cup to its filthy dregs?” Then he glares his teeth.

    Henry’s insanity was a historical fact…attributed to suffering lifelong pain from his jousting injury, then obesity and syphilis in his later years. In Wolf Hall, Damian gave us a man who is still sane but already on the way to losing his mind.

    Cannot wait until the next installment of Wolf Hall comes out and we see Damian play the total batshit crazy Henry was when he off’ed Cromwell.

    1. Yes! I have one friend who has been on work leave for 6 weeks now, due to a concussion. Those brain injuries are awful. Plus chronic pain from that sore on his leg? Well, I can relate to chronic pain and the toll it takes. I wasn’t aware of the syphilis. Oof. That will eat holes in your brain!! Goodness. No wonder his personality took a real dark dive. I wasn’t aware they were gonna make more Wolf Hall! That’s awesome!!! Yay!

  3. This is great. You pay so much attention to detail, movement and the reasoning for it. His clothing allowing him to occupy more space than everyone else. I am glad you brought up the teeth because now that you say it, it seems so obvious. Fantastic observation. I am also delighted to see you mentioning ‘that’ smile. One of my favourite moments. Such a sinister smile. If Cromwell hadn’t realised before, he does as Henry approaches him, what a monster the man is.

    1. Thanks so much! He truly used all the tools in his kit to create this king, as only our Damian knows how! Larger than life and ferocious!

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