A recent article in Evening Standard mentioning a certain someone as one of the most influential people in London Theater in 2015 first inspired me to do a throwback to one of the best stage performance I have ever seen in my life: Damian Lewis in American Buffalo!
And then I found a second inspiration at New Yorker Festival: I was lucky enough to ask the last question in the Q&A following the conversation New Yorker staff writer Lauren Collins had with Damian Lewis at New Yorker Festival. In fact, when it was my turn to ask, Collins said we were out of time. I don’t know what kind of a sad look I gave to her but she said: “OK, one more…”
But I never told you about my question, did I? Well, the conversation was great in covering almost all of the big TV projects American viewers have seen Damian in: Band of Brothers, Forsyte Saga, Homeland, Wolf Hall and, of course, upcoming Billions. However, maybe because Americans have not seen much of his stage work — most of which Damian did on London stage — there was no talk about theater. That is main reason why I asked a question about American Buffalo and theater in general. Many many thanks go to my number one guy, Lewisto, who happens to be my husband, for recording my question and Damian’s answer — you can hear it here.
And now that we also know the main difference between stage work and screen work, let’s go re-visit Damian Lewis in American Buffalo!
American Buffalo has “blue-collar desperation” at the heart of its story. It is about guys that never really make it. The three characters, Don, Teach and Bobby, more or less, span three generations — Don (John Goodman) is an older man, Bobby (Tom Sturridge) the young kid, and “Teach” (Damian Lewis) the middle-aged. They are not necessarily family; but they ARE, in a sense, three generations living the exact same life, and in Damian Lewis’ words, they “desperately long for a shot at their slice of the American dream.”
The play, in this context of three men hoping to make it, questions where “friendship” ends and “business” begins — how they do let money take power over their friendship — and makes us think about how big business and its “values” have changed the core “American values” held dearly for the longest time.
I got to meet Mr. Walter “Teach” Cole late May. Oh, what an unforgettable night at the theater! Damian Lewis makes you gasp as you follow him on stage. As I told him in the Q&A at New Yorker Festival, the energy he has on stage captures you, so much so that it is quite difficult to take your eyes off him even when “Teach” is just sitting quietly — eating his bacon and eavesdropping a conversation between Don and Bob. It is most probably because, with that high energy you feel in him, you just KNOW anything can happen with him anytime that you are at the edge of your seat… waiting. Damian’s performance is a tour de force that leaves you in awe… for weeks! In case you missed it, I reviewed American Buffalo in two parts, Act I and Act II — well… I had so much to tell about it 🙂
Before the previews started on April 16, Damian talked openly about his “pretty basic fear” about going back to stage! “I’m nervous just about the reality of being on stage in front of 800 people and perhaps not knowing what your next line is. It’s a pretty basic fear. I’ve canvassed opinion from actors about what makes them nervous about being on stage, and almost all of them say it’s about worrying whether the next line will come.”
Ah, and this Francesco Guidicini portrait from the Instagram Sunday Times Stories — big thanks go to JaniaJania for spotting it — attests to the fact that Damian embraces his “pretty basic fear” in his usual “effortlessly charming” manner 🙂
I remember an interview with him on YouTube from a couple of years ago, where he is asked about “the moment before stepping up to stage.” Damian goes: “It’s a sphincter tightening moment… It’s quite sweaty. And… I try to stay calm… I try to breathe… and, I try to do some Yogic breathing… just get everything as low and assented as possible. ”
Well, the rituals seem to have paid off 🙂 Because Damian came, saw and conquered the stage! American Buffalo was a SUCCESS from the first curtain to the last!
One big news was a tweet from the intermission on the Press Night!
WOW. I just cannot imagine how thrilled the actors felt knowing (they would know, right?) that the playwright was right there in the audience. That should be the beauty of staging a play by a living playwright — chances are, he will be there for your press night!
The brilliant reviews came in just after the Press Night with my favorite being Guardian’s “Damian Lewis is right on the money.” (In case you want see reviews in more detail, we blogged about them here).
It seems the quote got very popular that made it to the poster outside Wyndham’s Theatre — with yours truly in front it 🙂
Next to his mesmerizing performance, Damian also seemed to be having the time of his life on stage — both with his wonderful acting, but also with his “Teach” look popping up from the 70s with the moustache and the giant sideburns! He drew a lot of giggles when he made his first appearance on stage and he could not help it when asked by the press about what his wife, Helen McCrory, thinks about his ’70s moustache: “She has a penchant for Seventies porn stars so it’s going very well, thank you.” 🙂
During the American Buffalo run, Damian Lewis gave an interview to Gold Derby mainly about Wolf Hall, but he also briefly talked about American Buffalo. His words seem to second my perception that he had such a great time on stage!
Several stars were spotted in the audience over the 10 weeks run, including James Purefoy, Kit Harington, Eddie Redmayne, Penn Jillette, Matthew Macfadyen and Ralph Fiennes… And, almost every day and night after the show, Damian made a lot of fans HAPPY by making time to sign programmes, tickets and having pics taken with them! Here’s a sweet collage that I made with pics I collected from fan shares on Twitter — take a look, maybe you’ll find yourself there with Damian 🙂 Thanks to all fans that shared their pics!
10 weeks gone with the wind and Damian said good-bye to American Buffalo in a tweet on June 27 Saturday just before his last two performances that day:
Well… It was super exciting to see Damian Lewis on stage and I sincerely hope — for selfish reasons — that he will not take such a long break from stage ever again! And, please, Damian, please come to the Great White Way next time and make your American fans happy! 😀