We are extremely thrilled Damian has received BAFTA Los Angeles Britannia Award for Excellence in TV last night. While we have all the news, pictures, and videos from the ceremony on damian-lewis.com, we have a FUN walk down the memory lane here on Fan Fun, celebrating Damian’s brilliant TV career, all the way from his early TV roles in popular British series to the iconic Dick Winters, Nicholas Brody and Bobby Axelrod.
The Britannia Award for Excellence in Television “recognizes inspiring individuals whose extraordinary talent and global appeal have been instrumental in the elevation of the medium of television” and here is what the BAFTA Los Angeles Chairman Kieran Breen says about Damian’s contribution to the medium.
“Damian’s ability to completely transform himself into iconic characters on screen ranging from King Henry VIII to Bobby Axelrod is a testament to his genius. With his unforgettable performances he consistently draws audiences in and takes us on a gripping journey deep into the human psyche. We are delighted to celebrate his achievements and honor him with the Britannia Award for Excellence in Television at this year’s ceremony.”
But did you know how our favorite actor started his TV career?
While he mainly focused on stage work in his 20s, as a fresh graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Damian played a few episode-length roles in popular British series like Touch of Frost and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
And you should really see him talk about his early TV roles at Times Talks London in May 2014 😀
Damian shares in a recent interview with Rake Magazine how, as he was performing the Royal Shakespeare Company, he started to get curious about this NEW world that he did not know much about: SCREEN.
I had no notion, ironically, of being in television, American television. The T.V. we watched at home growing up was CHiPs, The Dukes of Hazzard, and M*A*S*H. But it seemed like it was a foreign world and was nothing to do with my experience. I really wanted and loved theatre. My father really was the instigator: he took us to loads of theatre, and that was what I aspired to.
I think what then happened was quite interesting; there were friends around me, contemporaries, people just ahead of me, who were suddenly making movies or T.V. shows on rather a grand scale, and I suppose it piqued my curiosity. A friend called, [was] like, ‘I just made a movie in Jamaica!’, and I was like, ‘Well, what was it?’ ‘It was for a studio for Warner Brothers.’ I was steeped in theatre and the idea of theatre. It became sort of important to me that I too could have an experience of that, as it was so exciting and new and it was nothing I knew about.”
Damian’s first lead role in TV comes in the BBC miniseries Warriors, a drama about the UN Peacekeeping efforts during the Yugoslavian civil war, directed by someone we know quite well: Peter Kosminsky!
Damian tells in his New Yorker profile:
“I walked in there with my hair down to my shoulders, having been for several years, you know, shouting onstage doing Shakespeare. I initially felt intimidated by the camera and uncertain what to do in front of it. I remember saying to Peter, ‘You’ll look after me, won’t you? You’ll be strict with me?’ ”
He remembers a sense of relief that a serious director cast him in a serious BBC drama:
“I sent a huge bunch of flowers to my agent from the relief. Because I got the sense that maybe I was going to be just too sort of expansive, too big or too red to be on telly or be in the movies.”
And could it be more lovely that, according to BroadwayWorld.com, Damian has received his Britannia from his fellow BAFTA TV award winning actor and Warriors cast mate Matthew Macfadyen!
As Hearts & Bones, a BBC ensemble drama series in which Damian plays the school teacher Mark Rose whose marriage is falling apart, follows Warriors, Damian, in his own words, is still just another pale Englishman doing lots of auditions in a damp basement in Soho. So Band of Brothers is no exception.
Damian gets called back for the role of Dick Winters four or five times, and he finally gets a call from the producer. He shares in a fun diary he wrote for Daily Mail at the time:
“So Damian, how would you like to fly to LA on Thursday and meet Steven and Tom?’ says Tony To, who’s running the audition. My heart misses a beat. My pulse quickened. This is definitely a Hollywood moment. In Soho.
‘I’ll have to call my Granny to rearrange lunch.’
They all laugh. It doesn’t occur to them I might actually have to do this. Or, more probably, they don’t care, and the Hollywood machine whirrs into action around me. Flights, hotels and limos are booked, right there in the room. I sit down. I still have to get on my motorbike and I’m breathing way too fast to ride it in a straight line.”
And the rest is history! Damian gets to meet Spielberg and Hanks, they give him the role, and kisses everybody in the room! 😀 But you should really read his longer and very hilarious version of how he becomes Dick Winters here, a role that he sees not only as a “life-changing” experience but also one that he feels enormous responsibility about. Damian shares in an interview with L.A. Times:
“Some jobs are just gigs, but some jobs have the ability to be life-changing,” he notes. “They just alter you in some small way. ‘Band of Brothers’ was definitely one of those.”
“I felt tremendous responsibility. Tom Hanks said, when we were all training in boot camp for the two weeks beforehand, ‘Think of this not really as a piece of drama but as a social document.’ We tried to re-create a truth with such precision that we really felt like we were making a documentary. I’d met Winters and I knew he was this great hero. He was a very still man who let his actions speak louder than his words. I remember saying to Tom and Steven [Spielberg], ‘I think we want to create some kind of arc. He can’t just be absolutely certain of everything he does, unflinching and perfect from the get go.’ I wanted to try and paint a little uncertainty and trepidation in this guy. And then he grew and became the great leader we know. He was a remarkable man.”
Can you imagine the thrill a 28 year old young actor feels when he lives his BIG Hollywood moment? I cannot help wonder who he called first to give the big news!
There is no question playing Dick Winters in Band of Brothers gives Damian an international status as an actor and gives a head start to “American” Damian Lewis as we know it 🙂 And as he moves quickly from hero to anti-hero, and from the constipated Soames Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga to the quirky Charlie Crews in Life to the ruthless Bobby Axelrod in Billions, Damian delights, entices and intrigues the audiences with highly complex and massively flawed characters that cannot be more different from each other. Damian tells Rake Magazine:
“Sometimes I think it’s a bit of an accident that I’ve fallen into that type of role but I really enjoy watching people who are compromised in life, through desperation or a fault of their own.”
So, what does Damian think about these compromised characters he has brought to life on TV for more than a decade and a half?
Soames Forsyte, 2002:
“He’s fastidious, smug, and conceited. But he’s also a person capable of love, though unfortunately unable to express it in a satisfactory way, especially to a young woman. He understands life in terms of contracts, property, and duty. And if any of those things is threatened, he falls apart. He can be cruel and small-minded, but that’s often generated by this repressed passion that he’s unable to express fully, or successfully, or healthily…
…We didn’t want a simple villain in Soames. I think it’s more challenging for the audience if they’re presented with a character they hate but also feel sympathy for, who presents them with moral questions and has them thinking, God, I feel so sorry for Soames, but he just raped his wife! That’s far more interesting.”
Nicholas McGrade, 2005
“I don’t consider him a bad or evil person. He just behaves appallingly in order to get the prize. He’s a working class boy with a huge chip on his shoulder. The dynamics are similar to Soames Forsyte, who also behaves terribly. And yet there were a lot of women who fell in love with Soames and thought he was hard done by. How do you explain that? That British women are a little bit kinky? I don’t know.”
Charlie Crews, 2007-2009
“I play a cop who is exonerated after spending 12 years in prison for a triple murder. He has discovered the way of Zen in prison and much of the comedy comes from the fact that he’s not very good at it; he likes his fast car and he’s not averse to the odd bubblegum blonde.”
Nicholas Brody, 2011 – 2013
“It gave me an attention that was more aggressive than I’d ever had before. But I don’t know if it changed my career. It was fun and at times daunting to be in an immediate and surprising hit. But was everything offered to me afterwards? Not necessarily, because people felt very uneasy with Brody. The way in which to cast me after that didn’t immediately reveal itself to people. But I thought they did a great job with [his] ending. They had wanted to kill me at the end of season two. And then the show became such a hit and Claire [Danes] and I enjoyed working together so much, and people seemed to enjoy Brody and Carrie together, so they wanted a little bit more of us. I think people were happy with the end of season three. It was, I thought, incredibly moving and memorable.”
Now, I do not know whether Damian has his favorite character or he loves them all the same like they are his children. But I am a fan who has the luxury to have her own pick! So… I need to say a few words about Brody!
I said it before and will say it again that I was a regular woman attending to her own thing UNTIL that red-headed US Marine/POW came along unexpectedly and turned everything upside down! I loved his “otherness”, his isolation, his confusion, his vulnerability, his pain, his faith, his survival, his love for his daughter, and the chemistry between him and Carrie. I just wanted to cuddle him and tell him everything was going to be alright. There would have been no Fan Fun with Damian Lewis should have been no Brody.
Since I have the capacity go on and on and on about Brody, I will now shut up and leave it to Homeland writers and creators to articulate what has fascinated me about the character and ultimately inspired me to launch this blog almost four years ago to celebrate Damian Lewis and his brilliant work every day!
“Brody easily shifts from one life to the next — he’s a chameleon. Damian will choose moments to show this other side of Brody.” (Matt Hurwitz. 2014. Homeland Revealed. Chronicle Books. Page 19)
Well, Chip, no wonder the first theatre company Damian formed with friends at Eton was called The Chameleons! 😀
“In one scene, you can see him play the victim, and the terrorist, one after the other. That’s Damian’s gift, doing that without words. You can see the switch turn.” (Matt Hurwitz. 2014. Homeland Revealed. Chronicle Books. Page 19)
Howard Gordon in an interview with The Guardian:
“Because Brody is such a cipher people didn’t know quite who he was and had lots of different ideas about what he might look like and how he might act. [Damian] just did it brilliantly.”
Oh, and I am back with a question: Who are these people that were happy with end of Season 3?!?! And, no, Damian, no, I will never watch THAT scene! 😀
Henry VIII, 2015
“There’s no living record of Henry VIII, so it was just about being as true to [author] Hilary Mantel’s version of him as possible. He was a brilliant yet insecure, boyish man with a short attention span. He was very impressionable and didn’t really enjoy the minutiae of governing. He’s a fascinating character. I was helped enormously by the brilliant costumes, and we borrowed heavily from the Holbein paintings. I used those as my starting point. We had a very specific, particular take on him.”
Bobby Axelrod, 2016 – Present
“What attracted me to Bobby Axelrod was to get to play a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants and see where that takes him personally. To find out, during the course of the show, how corrupting that is on a man who is prepared to cross one line after another. What does it do to one’s soul? I saw that as potentially where it was going. And it’s enormous fun. He’s a form of gangster and it’s fun playing that kind of guy.”
Kenneth Rea, a senior acting teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for almost 40 years, has published a book “The Outstanding Actor” with a foreword by one of his star students, Damian Lewis, in which he tells about why some actors just stand out. In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Mr. Rea talks about Damian’s Hollywood experience:
“When Damian [Lewis] was working with Tom Hanks on Band of Brothers, he asked him about the roles he takes. Tom said he had a brand to maintain, the little American who struggles against adversity and comes out on top in the end. If he departs from that, his fans won’t follow him. Damian thought that was quite sad, a great star having to protect a brand. That’s one of the downsides of success; it can brand you. On the other hand, if you take risks, if you’re unpredictable, you can do pretty much anything.”
I have so much respect for Tom Hanks, and I applaud him for speaking very openly to a young actor about how the business works. But I find it quite sad, too. You know what this kind of “branding” does to an actor, right? The movie title changes, the character’s name changes, but the actor is always playing almost the same role. And the studios are like… “Oh, we need a president… Call X”. “We need a guy who will take revenge from the guys who killed his wife… Call Y.” “We need a corrupt cop… Call Z.”
In a world dominated by “brands” it is so refreshing to see an actor like Damian, someone who keeps away from this almost inevitable trap, and chooses to play such a wide range of characters with an incredible range of emotions! I would call THIS a true brand. And Damian’s words at the SAG-AFTRA interview in 2016 make me fall for his “small head” all over again 😀
“There seems to be a distinction between actors and film stars here [US]. A film star can be a brilliant actor. There are some film stars who are brilliant actors, and they are lucky they get to be both. And then there are some film stars whose bandwidth is less broad and what they have perfected is a persona. And it’s that persona, that film persona, is what they project so successfully. And, in fact, I have had producers say to me “before you choose your persona, what is your film persona? And what would you then project in order to be that film star?” And that is way too complicated for my small head to grapple with.”
Heartfelt congratulations, Damian, for the well-deserved Britannia! And THANK YOU for making us the fans we are, sometimes “frolicking” sometimes “fanning” and sometimes “forensic.” THANK YOU for the inspiration you provide that keeps us going and going. We are honored to hear you saying “I read you” — believe me, you could not make us happier if you said “I love you.” And I know you will not, but please do not let that small head of yours get bigger. THANK YOU for being YOU.
You can see Damian’s gracious and hilarious speech in its entirety here.