I cannot agree more with Times Talks tag line: The brightest stars. The smartest conversations. And the very smart conversation that a very bright star, Damian Lewis, has with NY Times Culture reporter and new Carpetbagger Cara Buckley at Directors Guild Theater in New York marks yet another TOP Damian Lewis moment of the year!
Well, on the day the UK votes to stay in or leave the European Union, a conversation with a British actor calls for a question about Brexit. And that was Buckley’s opening question. And, somehow, the conversation turned more political than I thought it would and I enjoyed it immensely. We all know celebrities tend to avoid from getting involved in political conversation probably because they do not want to lose fans. And I understand that. On the other hand, one may be an actor, a doctor, a teacher, or anything else, but first and foremost we are all citizens and we have responsibility to speak our minds about issues that we care about. And just THIS, I believe, makes an individual, regardless of who she or he is, and regardless you agree with her or him, a good citizen of the world. Thus, I applaud Cara Buckley for her hard-hitting questions and Damian Lewis for speaking his mind thoughtfully, knowledgeably and graciously. He was certainly in TOP form providing compelling arguments along with brilliant humor that cracked up the room one too many times!
You know it is quite a task to turn a one hour and fifteen minute conversation into about 2500 words. But I have such delicious quotes from Damian that I would love to build the review around them.
But… Firstly, I would love to thank Times Talks for spotting the most captivated person in the audience and posting this photo on Instagram: It’s yours truly beaming and taking notes!
Second, special thanks go to the ladies sitting next to me, Paige, who is a brilliant blogger on Maximum Tuneage, and Joyce, who I met for the first time waiting in the line — we were the three earliest birds — for making the event even more special than it was with their sweet chat!
It’s time. Here comes Damian!
“Well, I think we should stay.”
Cara Buckley opens the conversation with Brexit: Where does Damian stand?
Damian talks about the general notion that the European Union (EU) is an imperfect project. As imperfect as it may be, he finds it worth pursuing. Damian sees a moral obligation for the UK to commit to Europe and contribute in the best way that it can. He points out the EU was, after all, a peace project, conceived with the hope European countries stop fighting each other, and the coherence it tries to bring with “the openness, the moving of the peoples, the freedom of trade, the exchange of ideas and a common value system” has granted a peaceful Europe in the last 50 years.
“It’s not Wyatt Earp. He doesn’t have a big mustache, and a hat and a long black coat. Or a gun. Which I would like to say, is a good thing.”
Cara Buckley asks Damian about what his ancestors would think about Brexit. We find out his grandfather was the Lord Mayor of London. And Damian explains the difference between the Mayor of London, a political position, and Lord Mayor of London, a position borne out of an old tradition of merchants. The guilds of London were established as early as in the 13th century to ensure the goods traded in the city meet some particular quality. And the merchants whose goods met that quality became freeman of the city: They could pass the Thames into the city toll free and trade freely. It turns out Damian’s family had a connection to the merchant guild of Haberdashers and his grandfather was a Haberdasher. Based on the information he gives, his grandfather should be Lieutenant Colonel Sir Ian Frank Bowater. And Damian’s brother William, another haberdasher, is now becoming the Sheriff of London. And this is where Damian feels the urge to explain his brother is no Wyatt Earp 🙂 He also says the city guilds have come forward to back Remain vote.
Now that we have Brexit covered, Buckley says, we are moving to more important things… Damian’s career: “Back to me. Thought it would never happen.”
Gotta LOVE this guy!
“I think, first and foremost, as an actor, what you chase is stories.”
So what was it about Billions that convinced Damian to come back to America for another cable show?
Damian argues the most enticing stories are the ones, as much as they are works of fiction, that derive from real news and draw parallels between real stories and the characters one gets to play: Like Homeland and Billions. He talks about how TV “has upped its game in a dramatic fashion” over the last 15 years: The networks have greater ambition. Filmmakers want to work in TV to make “novelized drama” that is addictive and binge-worthy. But TV still comes with its risks, he says, because you don’t know, even when you are someone fastidious, like Damian, trying to understand the story lines and the ambition of the project before you take a role, you still don’t know what will happen with it. He says Homeland became HOMELAND and Billions became BILLIONS because people liked them and so he feels lucky about it. Now, I personally think Damian is just being too humble because the way HE brings Brody and Bobby to life are a major reason why people love Homeland and Billions. I love the way Damian describes these two guys: Brody is a “tumbleweed blown across this bleak landscape of his life from the moment he decides to sign up” where as Bobby is “blowing the tumbleweed… kicking it about in a certain fashion.”
The conversation on Billions is quite involved at Times Talks — varying from shorting a company to CEO compensation to performance coaches to Bobby’s knitwear — so I plan to make a separate post on that part of the talk referring to particular episodes of the show.
“It’s a genetic fluke.”
How come is Damian, a guy that went to Eton, so good at playing blue collar American men?
Damian says, before being a privately educated Brit, he is first and foremost an actor. And he is lucky to have a face that appears American. His red hair, also speaks to the Irish American blue collar tradition. He thinks he also got lucky with his first American role, Dick Winters: He was “from a different era and had an upright quality about him” that would better resonate with a young British actor who’s been through the sort of education Damian had than with a “hyper, naturalistic, hip, contemporary American actor.” And once he was convincing in his first American role, he was asked to play different kind of Americans. And he did. But he never got to play a wasp-y American that would be more suited to his background. Damian shares with us that David Nevins, the President of Showtime, has said “Damian Lewis, for whatever reason, in spite of his Tory background, has a blue collar quality, almost sinister.”
“Frontier spirit is still much more alive here.”
How does he see American masculinity different from British masculinity?
Damian thinks masculinity has more to do with geography as well as the circumstances one is born into. He identifies more with the audience here in the room: “metropolitan, sophisticated, metrosexual.” What he has found in America in the last 15 years though is a particular kind of American masculinity: it is a “can do, black and white, direct, blue collar” masculinity where men drive pick up trucks and build houses. Complete with an uncomplaining commitment to work. And THAT GUY is whom he tries to identify with in Nicholas Brody, Dick Winters, Charlie Crews and Bobby Axelrod. Even though Bobby is operating in a whole different world and has probably not built anything in his life, Damian finds that “can do, direct” attitude in him: “He’s the gambler. He’s that street kid who just goes and rips off other street kids because he understood the cards better than everybody else.”
“I didn’t know people could get that famous.”
Does he ever miss Brody?
Damian loved playing Brody. He misses the fantastic work he did with Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend and others. He says, as they were filming Season 1, they knew they were making something good, but they did not know Homeland would be HOMELAND. It just felt good to play in something that did not have a dragon in it! He revises right away: “I will revise that. There are pretty good movies with a dragon in it.” But yeah then Homeland became HOMELAND and Damian did not know people could get that famous. He felt like Justin Bieber for a second 🙂
Even though Damian misses Brody, he argues Brody needed to go. He was told early on he would be a two-season character but because the Carrie-Brody chemistry did wonders (it is all you to blame, Damian!) the writers were somewhat pressured to keep him around for another season.
Damian talking about fans watching Homeland for different reasons is beyond hilarious. Some genuinely watched it as a relationship drama: “They’re gonna get together… They’re gonna have ginger babies…” Oh, Damian, now you can’t do this to me! My mom has been saying this for years: “Homeland is not a relationship drama. It is a CIA drama.” I still refuse to buy it! And, Damian, you don’t know, but Carrie and Brody live together and have a ginger baby in our Fan Fiction aptly titled Divergent 🙂 And my favorite bit: “And Liberals were just saying… This is so interesting… What is a terrorist act?” BIG LAUGHTER. Damian is so spot on!
“Playing a spy is quite fun.”
Damian’s new movie Our Kind of Traitor in which he plays an MI6 agent Hector Meredith, is opening on July 1. So, how is it like playing a spy? Now… we all know this question implies some other rather famous spy, don’t we? 🙂
Our Kind of Traitor derives its story from the real world: A load of dirty Russian money is used to set up a new Russian bank in London. Damian points out this is a tale of London, but also of Manhattan, where multinational money is “stripping out the soul and heart of big cities.” He is intrigued by his his character, Hector: yet another ambiguous individual stuck between his self-interest and his getting caught up in the emotion of the story.
Buckley asks about Hector’s accent which she finds “very tipped” and Damian shares a story: He has lunch with two spies at a Special Forces Club in London as part of his prep for the role: one is a public school product and the other one is a private school product. But they both sound SO POSH. It seems, he says, there is an institutional accent. And when asked if he borrows from his family or the school he went to in terms of the accent, he says his cohort came out of Eton at a time where Thatcher and Reagan were promoting working man conservatism that made his generation not want to sound posh at all and play down their accent: They were the “Mockneys.”
“We can’t just have middle class art.”
What does he think about actors from posh schools dominating the acting scene?
Damian gives a forceful answer: “Let’s just get rid of that myth for starters.” He says there is only a small percentage of them that are doing really well. He cites Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne from Eton and Benedict Cumberbatch from Harrow. These schools whose students generally choose either government or army or law as their profession have now branched out to arts but it’s still such a tiny minority going into acting. Just because, he says, you have a good education and you choose to be an actor, it does not follow you are a success. “There is every reason for you to fail. Mostly because of typecasting which I’ve fought hard against… Which is what you have been kind to mention.. which is why I enjoy so much coming here and playing blue collar Americans… ’cause it is a world away from my own background.”
Then he makes a wonderful point: Damian’s parents were supportive of him when he chose to go to drama school but of course they were able to afford it. Damian says everyone must be represented when it comes to training in the arts and this can be met by government subsidies but of course when you have austerity, it is always the arts that get the first cuts. He appreciates the great tradition in the US where wealthy people contribute to the arts but he still believes in some sort of government subsidy to keep the independence of the arts: “”We can’t just have middle class art.”
Time for Q & A: Cara Buckley asks Damian a number of questions she collected earlier from fans on Twitter. Well, two challenging ones come from my brilliant partners Tbkwrm and JaniaJania!
Damian is TORN! He was brought up by a Welsh father and has proudly supported Wales in rugby. And, he says, even though there has been no Wales to support in any major championship for long years, he is now supporting them equally: “I feel that I am a Briton. I feel partly Celt. I feel partly Anglo-Saxon. And I am going into politics. I have perfected the art of not answering the question.” 😀
Well, the Welsh half of Damian tweeted THE answer – sort of – on July 1 on Twitter.
And a really funny one: “What is your opinion on the current situation in Greece?” And Damian does it again: “I think Danny Zuko needs recasting… I’m available” 😀
And you know we really think Damian Lewis should play Steve McQueen in a biopic, right?
“I’ve considered it a lot. I am not sure if anybody else has.” I LOVE his sense of humor! Damian thinks McQueen had his reputation revised over time and he gets cooler with age. “But yes Steve McQueen… American icon… If not for any other reason, just to drive nice cars quite quickly and to ride motorbikes.”
And what about me? Well, even though they did not take any questions from the audience, Damian very kindly agreed to give a little interview to me after the event which marks the TOP moment for this very blog!
So… We present our first Damian Lewis at Fan Fun Talks 😀 We talk about Billions and Our Kind of Traitor. Please ENJOY!