Chameleon. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of Damian’s acting abilities. He can play anything, and brilliantly so! Over the years many have proposed ideal roles they could see him portray – you’ve heard the rumors before – Damian Lewis as Bond, Ginger Bond. That would be dreamy even though Damian is so over it. He’s into real-life spies now, as seen on Damian Lewis: Spy Wars and the newly announced project in the works, A Spy Among Friends. For now we’ll have to live with Damian as Agent Double 0-0 in Phineas and Ferb, here.
I’ve also thought Damian could pull off the most maniacal villain in the Marvel or DC Comics universe and the public agrees as evidenced by their dream casting social media posts. One that comes up repeatedly is Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) from the Spiderman series. And for a while now this Blog has mused about Damian playing the iconic actor Steve McQueen. While Damian played McQueen in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, it was such a small role that it left me craving for an entire biopic. For now, we’ll have to view him as McQueen here.
Damian does not shy away from portraying influential figures in history, like the tyrannical monarch King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall or UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair in Confessions of a Diary Secretary and more recently Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford in Run This Town. So I have no qualms in saying Damian can pull off playing one of my favorite artists of all time, Van Gogh. That’s right…my dream role for Damian is Vincent Van Gogh, the quintessential misunderstood genius!
And this is not the first time I’ve connected Van Gogh and Damian. I even brought Vincent Van Gogh to a Dinner Party with Damian and Friends, here.
A little known fact – Van Gogh was not successful during his lifetime and was considered a madman and a failure. It was only after his death that his paintings became widely known. The Dutch painter suffered from mental illness and at the age of 37, committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a revolver, dying two days later from injuries. His death remains controversial.
This, among other reasons, is why Damian could play Van Gogh so skillfully, by pulling from Keane’s psychotic episodes and delusions as a person suffering from mental illness and on the flipside, pulling that quiet, tortured stillness and repressed rage we saw in Soames. Van Gogh once desired to be a pastor…hello Balor from Silent Storm? Then pepper in some of Henry’s madness and Brody’s suicide vest scene, and I think we have the convergence of a Vincent Van Gogh-type character. Even though Willem Dafoe probably did a fine job playing Van Gogh in the final days of his life in the biopic At Eternity’s Gate, that does not mean I’ve stopped wishing for Damian to play him in a film that encompasses Van Gogh’s entire life span.
Moreover, there are similarities between Damian Lewis and Vincent Van Gogh. Let’s start with the most obvious characteristic, their red hair. I would love to see that beard again! Right Holliedazzle?
Both were sent to boarding school and struggled with acclimation or feelings of abandonment – Vincent at the age of eleven and Damian at the age of eight. Damian referred to it as a “shocking” experience for a child and has publicly stated he is adamant that his own children will not be sent away to boarding school. He tells the The Sunday Times,
“I went at eight and I think that’s very hard. You go through something which, at that age, defines you and your ability to cope. There’s a sudden lack of intimacy with a parent, and your ability to get through that defines you emotionally for the rest of your life. It’s a very violent experience in those first few weeks. It’s just, boom.”
Van Gogh described boarding school as “austere and cold, and sterile” and campaigned to come home. But in contrast to Damian, Van Gogh felt moreso abandoned, probably because he was taught at home by his mother and governess until the age of seven.
Both have London roots in one fashion or another. Van Gogh worked as an art dealer for a gallery in London on Southampton Street (his uncle’s employer), and he lived off of Hackford Road in Stockwell, a London borough of Lambeth.
Damian grew up near Lord’s Cricket and Abbey road, a mere 28 minutes from Van Gogh’s home. Don’t you imagine them walking the same path somewhere, somehow, a century apart?
During his TimesTalks London interview back in June 2014, Damian said of Abbey Road that was made famous by the Beatles, “I used to take my shoes off to cross the street so I’d look like Paul on the record.”
In June 2019 I had the opportunity to visit both Abbey Road and Van Gogh’s house while vacationing in London.
Both Damian and Vincent seem to enjoy nature. Around the corner from Van Gogh’s house was Van Gogh Walk, a now developed area that used to be an open field that he would write home about. Van Gogh enjoyed walking, gardens and nature as a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. He was passionate about nature and described the wild flowers and trees in letters to his family, and we know plants and trees were the subject of many of Vincent’s paintings. Some of Vincent’s words and direct quotes from his letters are now inscribed on the large planters along Van Gogh Walk.
Van Gogh Walk celebrates his enjoyment of the local flora and some of the landscaping planted there was inspired by his work Undergrowth with Two Figures. The vivid colors of cypress, olive, cherry and other blossom trees that are often featured in Vincent’s work were also represented at Van Gogh Walk.
The Van Gogh statue in the central part of Van Gogh Walk is quite hip-looking, yes? Someone thought Vincent needed to wear his/her shades.
Shades and beards!
Damian is known to enjoy the countryside where his paternal parentage always had a family farm house in Llandeilo, West Wales. In addition, he and Helen have a second home in Suffolk, where they can enjoy some downtime away from London and Tufnell Park.
Drawing on more comparisons, both Damian and Vincent use(d) art as a primary means of expression with high aptitude – Van Gogh with painting and drawing and Damian with theatre arts and musical instrument capability (piano, guitar).
Let’s not be quick to diminish Damian’s own drawing abilities, as he donated this January 2017 sketch to Anno’s Africa for a raffle to help raise funds for children’s arts education in Kenya:
Okay, okay, don’t quit your day job Damian! But hey, even Bobby Axelrod appreciates Van Gogh art 🙂
Both Damian and Vincent had familial encouragement when it came to their art and vocation. My blog mate Damianista wrote,
“Damian’s parents were generally supportive of him giving up university and that his father was a bit of an actor manque, an insurance broker who perhaps had aspirations to do something more creative. His parents took them to the theater often and watched him perform on stage.”
Vincent Van Gogh’s mother encouraged him to draw as a child and his brother Theo continued that encouragement through Van Gogh’s adulthood.
To top it all off, wouldn’t it be fabulous if Damian’s brother Gareth played Vincent’s younger brother Theo? Sounds like a new project idea for the Lewis brother’s production company Flare Pictures, LTD or Damian’s Rookery Productions *wink, wink*
Don’t entirely rule out this Van Gogh role for Damian, as he got close when he attended the Loving Vincent UK premiere at the National Gallery on October 9, 2017 with Helen, who voiced Louise Chevalier in the animated biography. The entire film is depicted in oil painted animation and tells the story about Van Gogh’s life and the troubling myths surrounding his controversial death.
How did the filmmakers show Van Gogh’s life through the use of 94 animated paintings? Well it was not computer generated, but hand painted! Filming the ‘movement’ was a combination of live action by the actors, visual effects through CGI animation, and specialists who painted 66,960 frames of oil paintings so each would be “…faithful to Vincent’s brushstrokes and colors.” Watch how they accomplished this small feat:
I’m not very artistic, I’ll admit. So yours truly will continue to paint-by-numbers at some paint-and-sip-wine chain (my Starry Night isn’t half bad considering the Riesling consumption) and admire the canvas replica of Wheat Field with Cypresses that brings joy to my soul every time I walk past it in my hallway.
So there you have it, my ‘Vincent van Damian’ concept. The only thing I ask? Don’t lose an ear, Damian!