Hi everyone! Damianista here. Today’s dream role for Damian Lewis comes from TonyaJ, a wonderful admirer of our favorite actor. I am not calling her a fan for reasons you will find out in her brilliant essay.
TonyaJ commented on the dream roles Gingersnap and I had in mind for Damian on Twitter and we started a conversation. When she mentioned her dream role for Damian, I kindly asked her whether she would like to contribute to our dream role series, and here we are! Huge thanks go to TonyaJ for taking the time to write for the blog. And with this, I am leaving you with her dream role for Damian Lewis. Enjoy!
There is nothing as fine in life to me as enjoying novels, music, theatre, and films which have a satisfying emotional core that illuminate what it means to be human.
“In November 1970, Simon Morley, an advertising sketch artist, is approached by U.S. Army Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret government project.”
Wikipedia: Carl Sagan, in 1978, listed Time and Again as among stories “that are so tautly constructed, so rich in the accommodating details of an unfamiliar society that they sweep me along before I have even a chance to be critical”.”
Within the realm of modern literature, there are three novels that are extremely dear to me, two of which were adapted into films; one badly and one of some quality, but in my opinion missed the mark: Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier), and Possession (A.S. Byatt). The third, the subject of my ardor and dream to see filmed and with the best possible actor for the lead, is Jack Finney’s Time and Again.
In one of the most thoughtful exchanges I’ve ever heard two actors and colleagues participate in (Variety: Actors on Actors’ – July 2, 2020), Claire Danes said this of Damian Lewis playing Nicholas Brody in Homeland:
“I’ve always loved how physical you are as a performer. You’re especially gifted in using your body. Your viscera and your alpha-ness is really well-communicated with your physical self. And your sense of play and playfulness. It really makes him so engaging and enjoyable… You were so present, so invested and spontaneous. I missed you so much when you left.”
Who wouldn’t miss an acting partner like that?!
Lo these many years of watching Damian Lewis’ work, I’ve been an admirer. In all honesty, I loathe the word fan. I know this site uses that word in a completely non-offensive sense, but the word fan comes from fanatic. There’s a nasty little horror film out there titled The Fan (1981), and ever since, I’ve been afraid I might be mistaken for the negative of that word, so I prefer admirer.
I swear on ST. GENESIUS you can trust me!
The descriptive word, chameleon, was used in Gingersnap’s piece about her dream role for Damian. True, but people like comparisons, and I have no role to point to that explicitly says, “See? He can play the ass off this part!” Claire’s praise personifies the versatile qualities every good actor needs, and Damian Lewis is nothing if not versatile. How DO actors act? A better question to ask is, “How do brilliant actors act?”
I was lucky enough, once, to have Ian McKellen answer an acting question I posed. I was looking for clarification on something Laurence Olivier said in one of his autobiographies, which was that he started looking for the character from the outside, costume/makeup, the walk, then working his way in:
“Q: Sir Ian, there’s a lot of malarkey in acting training, differing methods, etc. Can you cut through all that and talk about the cleanest, most direct way to start in building a character, how you approach it? Do you start with the text and work your way in? Or perhaps as Olivier did, coming up with the outward appearance and finding the character that way. Thank you!
A: I always start with the text, to get some objective view of the character, but acting only starts once you take that character inside yourself. And give it reality through your own voice, body, face.”
That answer, of course, is logical and valid, but I also feel the one single, most-important tool an actor must exercise, which separates the wheat from the chaff, is their imagination. Then come all the qualities Claire speaks of that make an actor memorable, but also the ephemeral qualities that draw you to an actor and make you want to see more.
With that lead in, I would love to see Damian Lewis play Simon Morley, the novel’s protagonist. And why is Damian Lewis right for Si Morley? Because he’s proven himself to be an actor you trust. He takes you on journeys, into the light and the dark, joy and sorrow, humor and outlandishness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him put a wrong foot forward. There is the age difference, but Damian is so youthful I don’t really think it’s an obstacle (Si begins the novel at 28 and starts his series of adventures at 30). What matters is that Damian make the role his own.
“Ted: Charlie, do you hear those coyotes? … I hate to bother you, but it sounds like we have a whole pack of them out there now.
Charlie: That’s where they belong.
Ted: Well, I can’t sleep; they’re taunting me, Charlie! Do you know Native Americans considered coyotes to be tricksters, scavengers, thieves…shapeshifters?!
Charlie: They’re survivors.”
If there is one character Damian has played which perhaps has the most parallels to Si Morley, it’s Charlie Crews. Si is in his own prison of personal unhappiness, a feeling of not belonging where he is, ennui, the same thing, day in, day out, not in the career he really wanted, counting the days until retirement. He’s divorced at 28 and is just surviving in his life. He doesn’t know what freedom really feels like until he joins the project.
Si is perceptive, intelligent and internally driven. His emotions are played close to the vest, does not like personal intrusions, yet he does have a natural sense of curiosity and humor:
“Rossoff: If you do all right, then we may want to find out how good of a liar you are. I may ask you to pose, with no advance warning, as something you’re not; a lawyer, for example. And withstand the questionings of three or four people apparently suspicious of the pose. Or you may deny you’re an artist, or that you’ve ever been to New York, sitting in conversation with several strangers, all from the project, who will try to trap you. But all that later. There’s something else has to be done first. Incidentally, has it occurred to you that we may all be nuts, and that you’ve wandered into an immense booby-hatch?
Si: That’s why I joined up.”
Robert Redford optioned the novel for a long time and reportedly attempted to have it produced three times. It has been optioned by other studios and none have come to fruition. I have to ask, WHY? Three time-travel films have been produced to great acclaim from novels: The Time Machine (rebooted and reimagined twice), Somewhere in Time (a cult favorite), and The Time Traveler’s Wife. The Alienist series based on Caleb Carr’s novels, is highly successful and grounded in real history in New York. It is not time travel, but the production values evoking that era are exquisite and the audience is in love with it.
From Blake Crouch’s lovely introduction to the 50th Anniversary edition of the novel:
“I think Jack Finney invented the grounded speculative thriller, a type of science fiction novel that feels not of the distant future or of alien worlds, but of our world, our time. The thing about Time and Again is that it feels so plausible, as if, perhaps under perfect conditions, the time-travel conceit at the heart of the story might just be attainable… what helps to build this illusion is that Finney fills his magnum opus with very real characters and a story, which, at its core, is structured not on outlandish plotting machinations, but an emotional beating heart.
Time and Again is about a character searching for home. Simon Morley’s just happens to be in 1882, and his journey of discovering this truth defines his character arc and drives the story itself.”
More Praise for Time and Again:
“Wikipedia – In the afterword of 11/22/63, Stephen King states that Time and Again is “in this writer’s humble opinion, the great time-travel story.” He had originally intended to dedicate his book to Jack Finney.
Amazon – Go back to a wonderful world and have a wonderful time doing it. – The New York Times.
“Pure New York fun.” – Alice Hoffman, author of The Rules of Magic.”
And to end this piece, you may read Chapter 1 in its entirety at Amazon. Then buy and read the entire, much beloved novel, and pass it along to your friends and family. Let’s make this happen! Are you listening Netflix Film, Hulu, HBO?