Damian Lewis Created a Monster

Damianista’s note: We published this post by Holliedazzle on May 3, 2016 just after Wolf Hall aired on PBS Masterpiece. And  we’re sharing it again more than seven years later to celebrate the return of the king to film the sequel to Wolf Hall adapted from Hilary Mantel’s final volume of the Cromwell Trilogy The Mirror and The Light. 

I’ll admit to not being the most educated person. I spent most of high school just trying to pass the time and get out with a diploma. I wasn’t a bad student, but when you decide on beauty school in your sophomore year, suddenly AP History and three hours a night of homework seem kind of like a waste of time. And I certainly didn’t spend my two study halls a day reading up on history, math or science. Now, as an adult, I am revisiting these subjects with a newly-found appreciation. I am learning things as a 36 year old woman that most people learn in high school. The history of The Tudors has been my newest interest, and I have Wolf Hall to thank for opening me up to something new.

I’ve watched and re-watched the series multiple times, and devoured any documentary I could find on Henry’s reign and his family. I even indulged in 1998’s “Elizabeth”, starring Cate Blanchett, as I wondered “what happened to that fiery-haired little girl on Henry’s hip?”

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Learning that Henry is such a huge figure in English history, I am sure Damian grew up learning more and more about this figure, much the same way us American kids learn about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. When it came time for him to portray this grand figure, I wonder how much he didn’t already know? But I am sure, if there were any missing tidbits of knowledge, he devoured them in the same manner he did when preparing for any other role. And based on the things I have read and watched, Damian really nailed it.

Damian gave Henry teeth.


Henry is referred to by historians as a “monster” more often than a man. Once again, my Delsartean training, given to me by the one and only Joe Williams and his Three Pillars Arts technique, could immediately find the ways Damian used his body language to create this larger than life monster of a monarch.

In past articles, we talked about the three zones of the body Delsarte gave to us: Mind, Heart and Vital. King Henry was a man ruled by Vitality. Starting with the way he was dressed- furs, rich and intricate fabrics and embroidery, the voluminous layers that allowed him to occupy more space than anyone else. These clothes highlighted the vital upper arms and thighs. They created a strong silhouette of a man who would eventually come to think of himself, in many ways, as a god of sorts. And Damian matched this vital costuming with his own use of the vital zones in his face and body.

On the bigger scale, his whole body, the king sat widely, legs apart, the most vital of vital zones on display. When he stood, it was feet apart, the vital zone of his heart (just under the sternum) projected, his upper arms holding all the energy, his fists resting upon his hips. He was imposing, powerful, grandiose. His stride was large, his footsteps booming. Think of the scene where he reveals Anne’s missed cycle to Cromwell. He was filled with his own vitality and power, and his body showed it.


And on the smaller scale, through his face, is where I believe Damian really created this character. I noticed immediately that this character was also ruled, secondary to vitality, by his mind. I spotted the tell-tale creased forehead and peaked brows that he so prominently used to portray “Mr. Mind”, the one and only Bobby Axelrod.


While the king was ruled by his desire for power and protection of his legacy, he thought long and hard about how he could get it. As he warned Cromwell to not “be a viper in my bosom”, he tilted the mind of his mind toward him, the forehead fully tense and engaged, warning his dear friend to think and use his street-smarts to keep in his favor. That moment, for me, stood out oddly against other interactions that the king had. Usually when he was warning someone, his snarl would appear, his teeth would flash, and his voice would raise. The quiet, mind-driven warning he gave to him really indicated his desire for this “friend” to stay a friend. It was a rare moment of honesty from him.


And speaking of teeth.


Those teeth became a real indicator of the king’s mood. Damian’s teeth aren’t something we see a lot of in his various roles. I believe there is something about how he creates his American accent that creates that often-mocked tight lipped expression. I’ve noticed when he is allowed to speak more naturally, with his beautiful English accent, that we see a softer, more relaxed mouth and also much more of his teeth. But with Henry, we see ALL of his teeth, and very often.

There are so many instances. When he speaks about “the bastard Mary”, he warns that “She will submit to me.” His teeth are bared, his jaw firm. As his favor for Anne fades, he sits across from her, scowling as she dotes on Elizabeth and her “sweet” hat, he picks his teeth!


What a great bit of unspoken dialogue there. After consuming what he wanted, he is picking her from his teeth, ridding himself of his desire for her. As he implores Cromwell “Free me from Anne.” His teeth, again, are out.


And of course, his snarling, explosive rage when he felt Cromwell was acting out of line.


Even in a somewhat vulnerable moment, after that fight, when he wants Crowell to forgive him, but without saying he was sorry. His teeth are out, in the form of a smile.


There’s something about anytime he smiles with his teeth bared. Its not kind. When Henry smiles genuinely, his teeth are not shown.


When he is watching Jane from the window, commenting on her small hands, his smile is actually quite sweet. While he did desire her greatly, his affection for her did seem to come from a genuine admiration of her. Henry, in later years, would often say that Jane was the only one of his wives who was any good. But many historians counter that her tragic death soon after the birth of their son, was the reason for that. Not only did she provide him an heir, she simply died before he was allowed to fall out of love with her.

And, of course, we see those teeth are hidden when he feels defeated. When word reached him about the birth of his daughter, he was crushed. His face was absent of energy, his teeth nowhere to be seen. His hand, though, his hand was near his mouth. He was robbed of his vitality, in this moment, his fingers fiddling near those fangs, but he didn’t have the power to bite, at the moment. His shoulders were rolled in, as stormed from the room, his footsteps far less booming and powerful.


Vitality was also expressed through the eyes. Delsarte tells us that the white of the eyes represent vitality. In the moment we previously discussed, his eyes were hardly even open. As his teeth bared, in other moments of greater power, his eyes were usually wide and bright, as well.  Or they appeared along with his smile.

The biggest moment for those vital eyes for me, however, was the final scene of the series. Henry embraces Cromwell, smiling and gleeful, having been freed from Anne. His joy and happiness are genuine. But somehow, this scene came off as creepy. Super creepy. When I first watched it, I actually got chills. What was it about this? Why was Henry more scary in this moment than in many others?  His smile, closed mouth, is genuine. His face is relaxed, smile broadly up into his eyes. He’s triumphant and relieved! But his eyes.


His eyes. Oh god. They are so wide, so crazy.

And that is the lingering legacy that Damian’s portrayal leaves us with. Henry was a man, a monster, a king. A person willing to do whatever it takes to secure his legacy. Can’t divorce his wife? He would invent new religion, no problem. New wife no good? Well, look at that, there’s all this “evidence” of her unfaithfulness. How convenient! If he wanted it, he got it.


It’s good to be king.

Now join me in the comments to discuss Damian’s portrayal of Henry-and good luck to the whole cast and crew as they head to the BAFTA ceremony let’s hope for a sweep!

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