I didn’t know people could get that famous. Just briefly, I felt like Justin Bieber for a second. – Damian Lewis
Damian answers Cara Buckley’s question at Times Talks about whether he misses Homeland which was “obviously a huge pivot” in his career:
“I have to say I felt pretty famous after Band of Brothers. I was like ‘well, I am doing alright, this is good, people stop me on the street, pat me on the back, say ‘I love your work Damian’ or they go ‘thank you for winning the second world war, sir!’… you know… as I peel off my tights doing Shakespeare somewhere on stage: ‘thank you, this is awkward…’ so reminding people that I am just an actor… But Homeland… You’re right… I didn’t know people could get that famous. Just briefly, I felt like Justin Bieber for a second… It was a phenomenon, you’re right, it was a phenomenon.”
This little dialogue inspires me to think of the relationship between the actor and his fans! We, as fans, are constantly talking about Damian. We post about him, tweet about him, and some of us even blog about him 🙂 We are pretty much set on what we think about Damian… but what does Damian think about fame and his fans?
I obviously never had a fan club… well, except for that one week I spent in Shanghai in 2010. It was amazing how I was stopped every few blocks by someone that wanted to have a photo taken with me. Little girls, teenagers, entire families… It was amazing, surprising and a LOT of fun… for a week! I absolutely felt like a celebrity… however, I cannot imagine how I would feel about it if it did last for weeks…
If you are a celebrity, dealing with your fans is part of the job. After all, it is their love and support that make you popular. And, as you become more famous, it feeds into your fan crowd that you have an even bigger following… It is impossible to ignore the crowds and you probably should not anyway. Having said that, I can imagine it can get a bit overwhelming at times. So, how do you deal with it?
Damian has had a dedicated fan base since Band of Brothers: A lot of people fell in love with him portraying Major Winters and followed him since. His original fan base Damian’s Bunnies came about just after Band of Brothers. Linda, a great Damian fan and who is running the wonderful The Friends of Major Dick Winters Facebook Page, has told me the fan base was first called “Trench Bunnies” with a tribute to Band of Brothers but then quickly evolved into just “Bunnies” 😀
But Homeland has inarguably boosted Damian’s star status to a whole new level!
Damian tells in an interview with Buzzfeed how aggressive it can get:
“People can go a little bit crazy, so there’s quite a lot of manhandling in the streets. Now I know what it must have been like to be Brad Pitt for an entire lifetime, ever since he did that scene in Thelma and Louise where he took his top off — I’m straight and that scene did it for me as well.”
He speaks to Hunger Magazine along the same lines about his post-Homeland experience with fans:
“People are more aggressive to watch you in the street… There’s greater sense of entitlement to have your time. There’s a sense of public ownership a little bit… Because, people fall in love with these TV shows the way people fall in love with their football teams.”
Polly Vernon, who interviewed Damian Lewis for The Times Magazine, gives her account of the two walking to a restaurant for their lunch meeting that attests to some sort of “Brad Pitt” status of things…
“Bloody hell, walking down the road with Damian Lewis is exhausting. It takes two and a bit minutes to get from the studio where Lewis had his picture taken for The Times to the restaurant where I’ll interview him, but in those two and a bit minutes, Lewis is acknowledged by pretty much every person we pass. He is gawped at, pointed at, whispered about, shouted at, physically accosted. “Damian! Damian! Can I get a selfie?” goes one passer-by, his iPhone out and open at the camera app. “Not right now, mate,” says Lewis, jocular and cheery, so everyone will think he’s a nice bloke anyway. “Damian! Damian! Can I have an autograph?” says a keen twenty-something girl in an anorak (hood up). “Old school,” says Lewis, and scribbles his name in her notebook with the pen she supplies.
More people gawp. More people shout his name. My Google Maps function is failing to locate our restaurant. Lewis is becoming anxious, taut; steeling himself against more requests for selfies. “Do you want to get off the main drag?” I ask him. “Yeah … maybe …” he says, trying to seem laid back, failing.
And they talk a bit more over lunch about this:
“Homeland became this – although I say it myself – global sensation sort of like that,” he clicks his fingers, “which was overwhelming and quite aggressive at times. And it made me feel … Look. I was in my thirties when it happened. I wasn’t 21, with no experience of anything. I’d had a degree of success that I was very happy with. Enough people seem to know me and stop me and congratulate me in the street, and that satisfies my ego. But I didn’t have people grabbing my arm and going, ‘Oh my God, it’s you.’ And after Homeland, that did happen. Every now and again, you get manhandled.”
But it seems all this craziness, including occasional manhandling, does not stop Damian from being a true Londoner which he talks about it in the Hunger Magazine interview:
“I feel very proprietorial about London. It’s my town and always has been. I’m resolved to using public transport. I simply refuse not to use the Tube because I might get bothered by people. It’s slightly mad to walk through the West End during peak tourist season – the Italians and Spanish can be quite persistent! I’m not going to lie, some days I don’t deal with it very well because I’m in a hurry.”
Oh, I know… It’s not personal. But… then I just put myself in that Spanish tourist’s shoes… And I feel pretty awful. I have Mediterranean roots so I know how “persistent” WE can get 🙂 Sorry!
So… where do you draw the line?
First obvious red line is FAMILY. It turns out Damian has a “blanket ban” about photos when he is out with his family. Damian tells Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs last November that he does not want his kids to have a “warped view” of him.
“It can be hard to stop and give someone a photo, but if I’m with the family I tend to just blanketly say no photos today, I’m out with the family. It’s good for the children, I think, not to see their parents as endlessly being photographed by strangers. It’s a slightly warped view of the world.”
The second red line is WORK.
When Damian is at lunch with Mark Rylance for an interview with the WSJ Magazine, he sees a phone “being trained at him from a neighboring table. “Sorry, it’s a little off-putting, OK?” he says to the amateur photographer.
We all know Damian is always gracious with the fans and grateful for their support. The living proof is in all those photos fans shared after American Buffalo and The Goat performances in London, night after night, with Damian giving autographs and having selfies taken with them after 2 hours of intense performance on stage!
But after all, like all of us, he is a human being — and sometimes you are with your family, or with your friends, or you are working, or you are late, or you are really not in the mood for a photo, and you kindly say no. Damian talks to Nick Grimshaw, the host of BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show:
“The chances of me stopping for a quickie in the street depends on my mood.”
I am, of course, in a completely different line of business… academia is as far as it gets from show business… but I sometimes find parallels in these two very different worlds… Fans see you on TV, at the movie theater or on stage, but they cannot get enough of you and demand more of your time… They want autographs, and nowadays… selfies! Students, too, sit in your lectures, but they cannot get enough that they demand more of your time… And you hold office hours, or meet them by appointment, and sometimes have lunch with them, too. But you would say no if they demanded your time while you were having dinner with your friends in a restaurant or talking shop with your colleagues in the campus coffee shop. The red line seems to be similar across the board. Family and work are off limits.
That said Damian does not really complain about his STAR status. He shares in an interview with Hunger Magazine:
“Being a star is much better than not being one… It does elevate your life in extraordinary and wonderful ways. For example, I was invited to have dinner at the White House and I chatted with President Obama.”
True. There are fans… And then there are VIP fans. It should feel wonderful to know the POTUS is a fan! 🙂 Damian says he was amazed Obama actually had time to watch Homeland, so he asked him how he could make time for the show. Hear Obama’s response from Damian himself — his Obama impersonation is priceless! 😀
We have to note President Obama is not the only US president who is a fan. Damian shares a fun story about meeting President Clinton on PopCorn with Peter Travers:
Oh, and Damian has his royal fans, too: for instance, take the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge… When Damian got his OBE from the Duke of Cambridge in November 2014, and made us proud, he and the Duke apparently chatted about Homeland. Telegraph reports Damian saying:
“He (Duke) said ‘Catherine and I are huge Homeland fans’.
“He said ‘you appeared again the other night briefly, and we all got very excited,’ which is true but it was also on Sunday night which means he is absolutely up to date with the latest episode and I’m amazed they have time for that.”
Well, everybody makes time FOR Brody!
And, of course, Jennifer Lawrence is the ULTIMATE Brody fangirl! I am sure 99.9% of you have seen this before, but I still want to share it here to have a complete account of Damian’s VIP fans. And it is our wonderful blog trivia that this hilarious JLaw video made JaniaJania to pursue Homeland!
And, as much as I love Damian’s honest talk about being a star I think he is sometimes way too modest about himself. On Desert Island Discs, he tells Kirsty Young:
“We were at the Cheltenham Literature Festival recently and we sat and signed books. And I could have been her (his wife Helen McCrory) assistant. Clearly, they’d all seen Medea and they all loved Peaky Blinders and I don’t think they knew who I was actually. It was quite nice… for a bit .”
I would have believed you, Damian, should I have not been there. But I saw all those fans cooing over you at the book signing! You were definitely as much the center of attention as your beautiful and talented wife. And I had my heart in my mouth that I would have a “JLaw moment” when I met you for the first time: I am proud of myself that I miraculously kept my composure and all kickin’ and screamin’ happened a bit later!
That Times Talks bit inspired me to write this bit four years ago. Writing this inspired me to write about our own stories of becoming Damian Lewis fans. Then a little chat with Lady Trader on the subway turned it into an even better idea: How about collecting fan stories from Damian Lewis fans from all over the world?
As we called all fans to share their stories with us, we did not know what to expect since it is typically not to get people voluntarily sit down and do homework. But guess what? We got an amazing response to our call and published each and every story, 55 stories from 21 countries, over the course of a year. And we found out while some “discovered” Damian in the usual suspects like Band of Brothers and Homeland, some others “discovered” him in less likely places – a play on Broadway, a news quiz show on TV, an interview in the Daily Mail or thanks to his better half. Regardless, what all stories had in common was that they were all written from the heart and were extremely personal. They demonstrated how Damian’s art inspired us, moved us, and even sometimes helped us cope with what we call life. And I am extremely happy that we were able to turn the stories into a book for Damian and give it to him. You can read all about it here.