“This sounds absurdly pretentious, but the American Damian, I’m sort of oddly comfortable with him.” – Damian Lewis
Blogging has very interesting dynamics. You cannot imagine the amount of serendipity we have in the team and how many of our post ideas come out of casual chats online… And, this one came to me completely through a brilliant tweet by my partner JaniaJania — who just poured our admiration for Damian’s acting into beautiful words — you rock, girl!
Now that our Englishman is in New York making Billions, it’s proper to talk about “American” Damian 🙂
An article in Guardian from early July is all about Brits vs Yanks in Hollywood: “The invasion of British and Irish leading men in Hollywood has now gone beyond a joke for many in the American entertainment industry. First noticed some time in 2011, the trend was initially dismissed as a novelty: an interesting phase that would pass, rather than as a threat. But this summer actors and directors are calling for action to mobilise American drama teachers and schools to counter it.”
It seems Hollywood has finally taken notice and is now somehow mobilizing to defend its territory against the British invasion… Maybe it’s too little too late at this point? I mean, it’s not that the Brits are coming, but hey, they have already arrived. Besides, Vanity Fair says “victory is assured” in the video clip below — fab ginger alert at 0:29 — about which I have blogged about earlier here!
British talent once again triumphed in the recent Prime Time Emmy Awards nominations throughout, with nods for Ricky Gervais, David Oyelowo, Mark Rylance, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Emma Thompson and our very own Damian Lewis — a high rank member of the British squad invading Hollywood with his brilliant portrayal of Americans!
Well… Damian Lewis has been nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in Limited Series/Movie category with his wonderful performance as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall — a role that is as British as it gets 🙂 However, Damian already received an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy for his fantastic portrayal of Nicholas Brody in Homeland in 2012, and most of the characters he is widely known for are Americans!
Just think about it…
Dick Winters in Band of Brothers
William Keane in Keane
Norman Harris in Brides
Nicholas Brody in Homeland
Walter “Teach” Cole in American Buffalo
…and now Bobby Axelrod in Billions!
Now… The fun fact is that, until they found out about Damian Lewis being “one of those pesky Brits” at the 2012 Emmy Awards, many viewers had no clue that he was British!
A Telegraph article reports about the surprise that night:
“When Damian Lewis was named best actor at the Emmy Awards for his role in Homeland, he wore an expression of surprised delight.
For American audiences watching at home, the surprise was even greater. It turns out that many viewers had no idea until they heard his acceptance speech that the man playing US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody was British.
“Wait … the guy from Homeland is British?” was typical of hundreds of comments on Twitter, as the actor began giving his thanks.
“Who knew Brody from Homeland was British? I guess he really does deserve the Emmy,” said one, while another fan joked: “Hearing Damian Lewis speak with a British accent is like being told Santa Claus isn’t real.”
In fact, it seems Damian can fool a lot of people with his perfect American accent… well, even the top professionals!
For one, it was a very pleasant surprise to hear Matt Weiner, creator of Mad Men, at a talk at 92nd Y, mention Damian in this respect. Weiner told us that, as they were casting for Don Draper, AMC pushed for a British actor to play Don Draper; and Weiner knew he would never cast a Brit to play this an American “unless they can fool me… The only person that has ever fooled me…” He paused and said: “Damian Lewis is pretty good.” I loved it and I am pretty sure, as a big Mad Men fan, Damian would love that, too!
Hear Weiner here, the relevant part is at 46:08.
And, of course, the people that worked with Damian Lewis, in particular the Homeland producers, are more than impressed with his American accent. Alex Gansa comments on Damian’s American accent: “It doesn’t come from anywhere – it’s not mid-Atlantic, not southern. It’s actually unrecognizable as a real American accent – except that it’s perfect.” (source: Homeland Revealed by Matthew Hurwitz. 2014. Chronicle Books. Page 19)
So… how did this flawless American accent develop? Patricia Sheridan asks Damian Lewis exactly about this in a 2008 interview while he was playing Charlie Crews in Life:
“God, I don’t really know. My cultural heritage, if you like, is so pervaded by American pop culture. I grew up on Kojak and Colombo and Starsky and Hutch, the Rockford Files and Magnum all those things. Also our family … had cousins in Connecticut, so we would go on holiday. We used to do summer holidays up in Portland, Maine, actually. So I’ve always kind of felt pretty attached to America. Now that I’m doing this show, I stay in an American accent all day long just because it would be harder to switch in and out. I find that I’ve developed an American persona now. I got involved in a huge argument with someone the other day and usually when you are angry or when you are drunk you go back to your own accent. I found myself having this great fight all in an American accent without thinking twice about it. I thought, ‘I wonder if this guy knows I’m English?’ He’s definitely going to hit me if he hears me.”
Now… You cannot imagine how much I love reading about this guy’s cultural heritage; it’s probably because I am from the same generation and I completely identify with what Damian is talking about: I loved Colombo, and I LOVED Magnum 🙂 I was probably 10 or so and just loved Tom Selleck in Hawaiian shirts driving his red Ferrari and I was determined to be a PI when I grew up! And, even though I didn’t have a cousin or anything in America, I just felt attached somehow… it was the books, the music, the movies, the TV shows and I don’t know, but maybe somewhere deep inside, I always knew I was destined to come and live in the US… Who knows? 🙂
Anyhow, back to Damian talking about why this “tall, pale, redheaded English bloke gets asked to play all these American dudes?” in a Vulture interview in 2011:
“I don’t really know, except to say that it’s obviously to do with Band of Brothers, because that’s the first time I played an American, and it was an American hero that I think people felt great ownership of. I felt an overwhelming responsibility to get that right. I was so focused on it, you know, “Failure is not an option!” There’s definitely been a shift, because during Band of Brothers I was consciously keeping my American accent, I was mindful of it as I was playing the role. And now I find that I have created an American persona for myself — I’m exaggerating a little for effect, possibly [laughs] — but I feel I can be an American for a weekend. This sounds absurdly pretentious, but the American Damian, I’m sort of oddly comfortable with him. When I was living in L.A. for two years, and because in L.A. no one’s heard of a British accent — although God knows why, there are Brits all over the place there — I just got tired of repeating everything in an English accent when I went into a store. So I would wake up sometimes and just be an American with my American accent, and it felt like the most natural thing.”
And, what does Damian think about the British invasion of Hollywood and how does he place himself there? He tells Buzzfeed:
“Suddenly, the TV industry transformed itself and, arguably, I was in the vanguard of that with Band of Brothers,” he continued. “For the first time, someone was prepared to spend $120 million on a TV show, go and film it abroad, hire local crews and local talent to make use of the tax break — that’s starting to sound a bit like a film to me. Then, after that, Brits were allowed to do American TV, Australians were allowed to do American TV. It had always been a very American thing. I can only think of Pierce Brosnan on Remington Steele. Sure, there was the occasional Brit that showed up in things, but it just got opened up to us and it’s because TV became this more independent-feeling art form and people would go abroad to shoot. The whole thing is terrific for someone like me; I’m just very lucky that it happened in this time.”
Finally, Damian has demonstrated that he’s a master of accents on the Conan Show last year — you really really have to hear his Queens cabbie accent!
And, of course, the accent is just a slice in one’s “American” persona 🙂
Cherwell reports from an interview in which Damian Lewis is saying how his “American” persona goes beyond the accent: “It affects the way you move, and your response to things.” And, when asked if “this ability to sustain multiple personalities is somehow connected to living a life dedicated to acting, a notion” Damian responds with a laugh: ‘Not in a deep psychological way – I still want to watch “soccer” and get the cricket scores!’”
As I was writing this blog post, first photos from the Billions set in NYC popped up online — Damian is looking great with his co-star David Costabile (loved, loved, LOVED him in Breaking Bad!) and executive producer Brian Koppelman. And, for me, these pics embody the fact that “American” persona goes beyond the accent! How come? Let’s study the pics!
So, what do you think when you look at the pics? “Damian looks GOOD!” Ok. I don’t blame you, it goes without saying that this is the first thing that comes to mind 🙂 But, what’s the second thought? Mine is: “Wow! This guy is an American!”
Don’t you think?
Then I think about what it is that has transformed Damian Lewis into an American guy. JaniaJania says it’s the new haircut. I second that the hair is a big part of it… but I see other hints as well… From his outfit being relaxed and a bit loose… jeans paired with sneakers… To the relaxed posture with hands in pockets… and even the look on his face… We know Damian loves to stay in character when he works and looks very comfortable with “American” Damian 🙂