Hi everyone! Damianista here. Our Fan Fun “Dream Role for Damian Lewis” series continues today with a story from Delia, a true fan from Romania. Delia casts Damian in a role “made in heaven” for him based on a book written by one of not only Delia’s but also Damian’s favorite authors. Huge thanks go to Delia for sharing her absolutely fantastic dream role with us.
For us, Damian Lewis’s fans or admirers, it’s almost a cliché to say that Damian is a chameleonic actor, that he can perform any role. It’s a known fact. Theoretically speaking, this project’s suggestions could be a bottomless pit.
Still, one way or the other, I believe that many of us would be tempted to start from a character of Damian’s, favorite or not, but one who had a strong impact on oneself, as a viewer. A character who Damian mastered it to perfection, a character that becomes alive in an almost shocking way.
I have to admit I haven’t seen a lot of Damian’s movies or TV shows, for all kinds of reasons, mostly beyond my control. And I will probably shock a lot of the ladies admitting I still haven’t seen Homeland (so, technically, I’m a Homeland virgin!).
Still, instead of feeling ashamed, I will dare to say I am rather glad. As somebody much wiser than me once said: “Ignorance, so full of life!” (or as you Americans say: “Ignorance is bliss”).
But that character played by Damian (far from being my favorite or from my favorite movie, just happened to be my first encounter with this actor), who seemed so convincing, gave me the idea of the dream role for the actual project of this wonderful blog. A bit later on the name of the movie and the character that inspired me, now let’s describe the dream role!
I understand that this project is meant to celebrate Damian Lewis turning 50.The big 5-0! For any person, especially an artist, this age should mean the peak of their career, when his creative power reaches its climax and is capable of perfection. So, let’s give Damian a role “made in heaven”, so to speak…!
First of all, let’s learn a little on the subject. It is about a literary character from a novel and not a play. The novel was written almost a hundred years ago, in the former Soviet Union. Even though it is considered one of the most fundamental writings of the XX century, personally I don’t know how well it is known in the Western world, especially in the US, by the common reader. The novel is called “The Master and Margarita“ and in the east-european world in which I was born and raised, it is an iconic one. A novel that was avidly read, with anger and hope at the same time, at least in my days (before the fall of the Berlin Wall). It was a form of resistance through culture.
The writer, Mikhail Bulgakov, studied Medicine and as a young doctor on the front lines of the First World War, was caught for years on in the civil, fratricide war, which began in 1917 and was ambitiously called the Great October Socialist Revolution. After these events, Bulgakov quit medicine and became a journalist and a playwright. With the exception of the first years in his career, almost all of his work was banned. Rumor has it that Stalin had a soft spot for him, something that saved him from deportation and execution.
He worked on this novel for the last 10 years of his life. Almost blind, in the last year, he had to dictate to his wife. He died in 1940, when he was 49, the manuscript remained in a drawer and published for the first time only in 1966.
Alas, the unfortunate writer died before turning 50 and his true glory was only posthumous. But Damian, at 50 years old, could play a character almost phantasmic created by Bulgakov in his last years, when he never hoped that it will ever catch the light of day. And this character, very challenging for Damian –I promise! – is none other than…the Devil!
But let me assure you that it’s not the usual Devil, so to speak. Not the one we see being represented in religious stories, folk or superstitions. No! It is that Devil of Faustian essence, that character that Goethe is asking in his “Faust I”: ““Who are you then?”/”I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.”
It is that Devil who, accompanied by his entourage of four strange characters, among which a huge tomcat (tomcat who in certain occasions speaks with a human voice and drinks vodka), descends in ’30s Moscow and causes an extraordinary rout. Or maybe he just solves a multitude of injustices and gives painful lessons, like a vigilante acting outside of the city laws.
But I don’t want to reveal too much and spoil you of the extraordinary experience of reading this fantastic novel (in both ways of the word). What you do need to know, is that this unusual novel takes place in two temporal planes: like I said, Moscow in the 1930s and the Jerusalem of the Gospels. And another tip: the Devil appears (flesh and bones, I mean) only in Moscow!
Here is his physical description, in the first chapter of the novel, when he presents himself as a black magic Professor, of foreign nationality (he admits, somehow absent minded, that he could be German) named Woland. “(He) was neither short nor enormous in height, but simply tall. As for his teeth, he had platinum crowns on the left side of his mouth, and old ones on the right. He wore an expensive gray suit and foreign shoes of the same color. His gray beret was worn at a jaunty angle over his ear, and under his arm he carried a cane with a black handle in the form of a poodle’s head. He appeared to be in his forties. His mouth was somehow twisted. He was smooth shaven. A brunet. His right eye was black; the left, for some strange reason, green. Black eyebrows, but one higher than the other. In short, a foreigner.” * So, what do you say? Do you see Damian, husky, well-behaved, smiling and evil? We could have some idea, if we think of his unforgettable portrayal of Soames.
This first appearance of Woland takes place with the occasion of an argument about, no more, no less, the very existence of God. As is commonly known, the soviet regime promoted an aggressive atheism, and the argument in question, which was between two writers, had the exact same tone to it. Woland shows himself very interested in the affirmations that he hears, intervening in the discussion and begins to tell a story happened long ago on the garden terrace of … Pontius Pilate! More so, after he bewitches his listeners with the realism of his story, he secretly confesses that he was present at the scene, albeit incognito. Scared of what they’re hearing, his interlocutors “bethought themselves to take a good look at his eyes, and discovered that his green left eye was utterly insane, and his right eye was empty, black, and dead.”
Well, after all this, the madness begins! Scandalous shows of black magic that no one knows who approved, money, jewelry and even people who vanish and reappear inexplicable, tomcats who talk with human voice, drink vodka and travel with the tramway ( after purchasing a ticket beforehand, of course) and other marvelous events. Everything in a web of magic, humor, profound philosophy and drama.
And this entire magical cavalcade, terrifying and seductive at the same time, is conducted, with a steady hand, by Messire Woland.
And now I will reveal that the first movie I’ve seen Damian play in was Colditz. Do you remember the ambivalent character with the Scottish beret?
There is a scene in the second part in which caporal/lieutenant Nicholas McGrade is with Lizzie Carter (his comrade’s girlfriend) on the streets of London, immediately after a massive bombardment. McGrade, exalted and inexplicably convincing, makes an apology of war, which turns over all the values and hierarchies, make all laws useless and gives us a chance to choose another identity, another life. (Colditz movie, 1:22:00-1:23:48)
This is where I found the dream role essence.
But, like I tried to explain so far, the dream role is far more complex. I’ll show you a scene towards the end of the novel, a scene that takes place at sunset, above the city, on a terrace of a beautiful building in Moscow. Here takes place the meeting between Woland, dressed in a black cloth and with his sword by his side, and Matthu Levi, disciple of Yeshua Ha-Nozri (who was objected to Pontius Pilate’s judgement and then crucified), dressed in chiton and with sandals on his feet.
“‘But would you be kind enough to give some thought to this: what would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? (…) Now tell me, but briefly, without wearying me, why you have come.’
‘He sent me.’
‘What did he bid you tell me, slave?’
‘I’m not a slave,’ Matthu Levi answered with growing rage, ‘I’m his disciple.’
‘We speak different languages, as usual,’ responded Woland, ‘but this does not change the things we speak about. Well? …’
‘He read the Master’s work,’ said Matthu Levi, ‘and he asks you to take the Master with you and reward him with peace. Is that so difficult for you, spirit of evil?’
‘Nothing is difficult for me,’ answered Woland, ‘and you know it very well.’ He was silent a while, and added: ‘And why don’t you take him with you, into the light?’
‘He has not earned light, he earned peace,’ Levi answered sadly.”*
As a fun fact, a lot of producers and directors of different nationalities were interested in adapting Bulgakov’s novel. Some of them, like Andrzej Wajda, made a movie based only on the meeting of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Nozri, with all the aftermath of it. Others, like Roman Polanski, worked tirelessly at a script for the movie, but in the end it never came to be. The majority of the adaptations were partially or in the attempt stage. One of them aired after 17 years after filming, and another, although finished, never aired.Wikipedia Here
It looks like the Horned-one is interfering!
I will close on a personal note, meaning I will tell you a dream I had more than 30 years ago, a few weeks after I re-read “The Master and Margarita“, on a cold, late January night, in Romania’s last communism years.
I dreamt Woland. He wasn’t alone; he was with his strange entourage. And, in the dream, he helped me with a problem that seemed important to me although it was impossible for me to remember when I woke up. But Woland and his friends helped me. After which Woland urged me to look out the window, because from now on, he said, nothing will be the same. And I did what he said to me. I turned my head and looked out the window, at which point my black and white dream turned colored (one of the very few colored dreams I had) and I saw that everything: the trees, the leaves, the sky were in blinding, enchanted colors. Then Woland came close to me. He was a tall, lean, extremely severe man. He looked at me with his intense small, blue and cold eyes and said: “Now come with me!” And in the dream I knew this was impossible, though my voice was full of sadness when I replied: “I can’t come with you. You know it very well, I can’t.” Then he closed his eyes and disappeared.
I don’t know about you, but because it’s MY dream anyway, I can easily give to this mysterious and inscrutable-featured man from my dream a face. And this face is Damian’s in his glorious fifties!
*All citations are from Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, translated by Mirra Ginsburg (New York: Grove Press, 1967)