How did Damian Lewis Become Soames Forsyte? *UPDATED*


We talked about how Damian Lewis became Dick Winters earlier here. Dick Winters is not only the first “American” that Damian brought to life on screen, but it is also the role that made him an internationally known actor. Accordingly, after his big success in Band of Brothers, Damian was offered roles in Hollywood, including a part in Black Hawk Down which he turned down to do… Well… The Forsyte Saga! 

When asked in an interview with Now Magazine in 2001 about why he turned down Black Hawk Down, Damian Lewis jokingly says:

“I’d had enough of soldiering. Out of a cast of about 10,000, there was only one woman in Band of Brothers. So for my next job I wanted girls in it. I wanted the smell of sweet perfume wafting out from make up each morning.” 😀

Joke aside, it seems Damian was not interested in the other roles offered to him but was really interested in making The Forsyte Saga:

“They just weren’t right. There’s so much pressure to get on and be in films in this business. They’re great fun but you’ve still got to keep doing the best material that comes your way.

“I knew very little about the original Forsyte Saga. But it was a fantastic script and they told me the names of the rest of the people they were trying to get involved. I just jumped at the chance.

It’s a costume drama which looks sumptuous. It’s a feast to look at. But it’s not just a historical piece. It has all the elements of a modern day romantic comedy combined with soap opera.

The plot twists and turns. I think people will get swallowed up by all the loves, passions, joys, sorrows and obsessions of the characters. It just happens to be set in Victorian times.”

source: New York Times
source: New York Times

How did Damian prepare to play Soames Forsyte? It turns out he read all of Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga novels plus read on Victorian mores and social customs as well as on husband – wife relations in that era. However, he did not watch the extremely popular 1967 TV version and went for his own Soames instead!

“That was a seminal piece of work, and a whole generation loved it. But I find that television dates very quickly. The language of the camera has moved on since then, audiences have become more sophisticated. We would find it very sedentary compared to what we expect now. Our cast is a lot younger than theirs, and I think the relationships are scripted in a slightly different way, more ambiguous perhaps. I’ll see it someday, but I don’t feel the need to go to it for guidance.”

Well, with such diligent preparation, you’d expect the shoot to go very smoothly, wouldn’t you? Not so fast! Our poor guy has a little problem at the very beginning: New York Times reports Damian “dazzled during casting, but his listless performance in the early days of the production puzzled the filmmakers. “Damian seemed terribly distracted and not really on his game,” said Christopher Menaul, the initial director of the series. “We thought: ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with him? Is it the pressure already?’ ”

source: ITV studios
source: ITV studios

Well… Damian tells the story at the New Yorker Festival in 2015:

It turns out Damian has some bad stomach pain before he goes to Manchester for The Forsyte Saga shoot. He sees a doctor in London who says it is probably gas and gives him a suppository… which doesn’t really work… Awww… Poor guy. And then…

“I came to the first day’s filming and we had to stop at lunch time because I went green. And I went back to my hotel room in Manchester,  which is the famous Midland Hotel, where Mr Rolls and Mr Royce met and made a deal to make a car…  And by that evening I was in emergency in hospital because I had acute appendicitis.”

Damian is rushed to Manchester Royal Infirmary and to the operating room as his appendix is seconds away from rupturing which can be life-threatening.

The filming stops and the producer, “bless her”, Damian says, visits him in the hospital every day: “Are you all right? Have they said how long?”


When he comes back to the set two weeks later, Damian realizes they used another guy to make some wide shots of him on his back:

“They sprayed his head and had him knock a few doors.”

This guy apparently has this “oddest walk” (Damian, at this point, stands up and does it for the audience, on stage. Priceless!) that Damian is furious about at first. He says it is ridiculous they used this other guy and they have to have only Damian’s image on screen… But then he watches it again… and that “oddest walk” unlocks Soames Forsyte for Damian — “the incredible sort of tension that lived in him.” So Damian steals the whole thing and Soames Forsyte, as we know him, is born.


And once he is on his feet and on top his game, there is a moment on set where Damian does not know his strength… Yeah here comes a FUN one!

The Forsyte Saga was also partly filmed in Liverpool, a city that often doubles as London or New York in period dramas thanks to its well-preserved period architecture. The Liverpool Echo reports about the Spiegl house that appeared as Soames’ house in Forsyte Saga:

“At the time the Spiegls were having their three-storey home rewired so the wallpaper was peeled back and there were channels running up the walls. The production team took out all the furniture and redecorated.

They said ‘we’ll restore it to how it is’ – I said ‘no!’,” says Ingrid, whose house’s high ceilings and period features make it the perfect choice for location scouts.

She did eventually redecorate but traces of the mini-series remain. They left behind a couple of rolls of blue patterned wallpaper, which she used to paper a small corridor on the first floor.


There is also another reminder.

“Damian Lewis broke my door knob,” says Ingrid.

“He was rattling it. It was a china one and it broke. My late husband glued it back together again with a piece of paper saying ‘Damian Lewis broke this door knob’ because we think that’s a thing to be proud of.”


So, which scene do you think it is that makes Damian get into the character so much so that he breaks the door knob? Could it be the one where Soames forces Irene’s door after they come back from THAT party where Irene and Bossiney dance intimately in front of everyone?

Well… If it was me, it would not be just the door knob, but the door, too! 😀


Damian played all American Dick Winters and all British Soames Forsyte back to back. An interesting PBS interview points out that both these characters are interior guys.

What does Damian make out of this?


“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. Of course, the two roles are polar opposites. Winters was a lion-hearted hero, a leader of men. Soames is anything but. Soames is a pathetic man in many ways.”

Oh my, my, my, my… This comparison is amazing just because of the common element Damian finds in these two characters that he played back to back: Steve McQueen! Now… You know the on-going campaign we have on this blog for some time, don’t you? We say Damian Lewis should play Steve McQueen on the big screen. Fingers crossed all the way!

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

13 thoughts on “How did Damian Lewis Become Soames Forsyte? *UPDATED*”

  1. I watched Forsyte several times, so Damian is wonderful in this series!
    I saw this series when I had seen Damian in Life, but then I realized that Damian was wonderful, extraordinary, in all his films!
    And I hope that this will be Damian, who will represent Steeve Mcqueen in future movie!

    1. Monique, my husband and I watched Forsyte Saga two times, back to back, last year and we both cried each time. A 30-year old Damian pulling that role off is simply amazing! I know Damian calls the fans that love Soames Forsyte as “dark horse” and I am certainly one of them I can’t help love Soames 🙂 And I find it extremely interesting that Damian himself says what Winters and Forsyte have in common is the Steve McQueen element — oh yes fingers crossed all the way that it happens!!! Much love.

  2. I love Damian Soames, what a great actor, and I could never understand, how can a woman remained insensible, a his beauty! And I always hated Irene !!
    And if the producers do not take Damian to embody Steeve Mcqueen, so they are idiots !!

    1. Remember the scene in which Irene tells Soames’ mother that she doesn’t love him, she cannot love him and she doesn’t want to love him? And that’s what I would tell Irene at her face: Irene, I don’t like you, I can’t like you, I don’t want to like you! 🙂 Regarding Steve McQueen Project: I have no question in my mind that Damian would be PERFECT for the role. The thing is that talent is not the only factor that would cast an actor for a role in Hollywood, unfortunately that is what it is. But I really HOPE the producers see what we have already seen in Damian!!!!

  3. Oh dear . . . Steve McQueen was not what you would call an “interior” guy. He was something of an extrovert. But he was very good at portraying introverted characters. Like Mr. Lewis.

    1. Hi Lee, thanks so much for reading us and for your feedback. Yeah, I don’t think McQueen was an introvert, but it seems he had his own demons probably most coming from his growing up. Damian Lewis and Steve McQueen are, in terms of background, from different planets. Completely. But, yeah, they are similar actors in the way they portray introverted characters. Plus Damian is also great at playing men with demons — say Brody, or William Keane in Keane. So we root for him to play Steve McQueen in a biopic (which is in the works!) because of that.

  4. I want to look very Forsyte, again, but I’m silly, I know I will suffer, cry, seeing the suffering of Soames! You know, it’s so well interpreted, I come to believe that this is Damian suffering, crying, and it is unbearable for me!i know je suis idiote!!

    1. I love Soames, too; and I feel his pain. I wish he had never met Irene… but then we would not have had The Forsyte Saga! Yes, I am being silly, too! 🙂
      Damian is unbelievable in delivering the pain of this constipated guy that cannot show his love in a healthy way.And oh yeah, we cannot bear Damian suffer in real life, but luckily he is a happy man! <3

  5. I was already emotional and tired from overwork last night when I finished Part II AGAIN (third or fourth time, I think.) Just before bed I am crying my eyes out when he confesses to Fleur what he did that ill-fated night with Irene. And that final scene when he brings the portrait for Jon. Gyaaaaa! I’ve watched a lot of BBC dramas and I think his performance as Soames is one of the best in decades.

    1. Ha! Both my husband and I cried when he confessed to Fleur as well as when he took off his gloves to shake Irene’s hand at the very end. Damian’s magic touch to the character makes Soames human — with a lot of flaws, but still human like you and me.

      1. So many little things – like buying the Player Piano and when the ladies giggled his face lit up with this embarrassed spark of joy. I get the feeling Soames was a lonely little boy who just couldn’t make friends though he longed for them.

  6. I have seen 3 versions of Soames Forsyte. Damian Lewis’ portrayal is to me, the very best. His body language, the agony in his eyes and the inner turmoil of Soames existence is evident in every scene. His love for his daughter, Fluer, his confession on her wedding day is gripping because of Damian’s expert interpretation of Soames tortured life. .I am grateful each time PBS plays The Forsyte Saga and never miss one episode though this is my third time around.

    1. I agree! Damian absolutely rocks The Forsyte Saga and a barely 30 year old actor pulling that off is quite amazing. I am curious about the third version of the Saga you saw though: The second one should be the very celebrated 1967 version with Eric Porter, but what is the third one? Very curious!

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