Damian Watcyn Lewis was born on February 11, 1971, to Watcyn and Charlotte Lewis. His two older siblings, Amanda and William, and his younger brother, Gareth, completed this family of six which resided in St. John's Wood, London, on the famed Abbey Road. "I used to take my shoes off to cross the street so I'd look like Paul [McCartney] on the record," Damian recalls.1
Interest in acting came early, and it was literally inherited. Both parents were involved in the theatre. "Our holiday treat was a West End show. Dad has a beautiful voice. He lived in Chicago for five years and was dancing in a bar when a Hollywood producer invited him to be in a chorus line."2 Damian's mother worked at the Royal Court Theatre in London, and his father used to take him and his siblings to the theatre when they were young. "The most exciting feeling was when the house lights went down and there's the last rustling of crisp packets," He says. "It was magical."3
At age eight, Damian went to Ashdown House School, a boarding school in Sussex, England. It was there where he garnered some of his earliest experience as an actor, performing in the school's annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Among the roles was that of a policeman in The Pirates Of Penzance and Alexis in The Sorcerer. Also during his years at Ashdown, he won a prize for his portrayal of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.4
Damian was also quite active in various sports at Ashdown. Upon graduating, he went on to play varsity football (soccer), cricket, golf and tennis when he attended Eton College in Windsor, England. "I was bordering on what you Americans would call a jock," he told one American interviewer.5 It was at Eton, at age 16, when Damian decided to pursue acting as his profession. "I always wanted to be an actor," he says. "I didn't know until I was 16 that I was actually going to do it, pursue it professionally and really have a crack at it. But my parents were lovely and liberal and supportive and said: 'Go for it. We'll support that decision.' This may sound pretentious, but it seemed inconceivable, really, that I would do anything else, other than what I'm doing. I would be crap at anything else."6
While at Eton, Damian formed a theatre company with some friends, and he played Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby. An interesting trivia note: A co-star in the play was James Archer, whose father, Jeffrey Archer, Damian later portrayed in the 2002 televised satire Jeffrey Archer: The Truth.
Following Eton, Damian attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London's Barbican Centre. Some of the roles he portrayed during that time included J.J. Peachum in Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, Neshchaslivtsev in Ostrovsky's The Forest, Banquo in Shakespeare's Macbeth, and Stensgaard in Ibsen's The League Of Youth. Before his graduation in 1993, he appeared as Wyndham Brandon in a stage production of Rope at Birmingham Rep. A month after Rope, he was starring as Romeo in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Romeo and Juliet at Birmingham Rep. Other roles in 1993 included Horace in The School For Wives at the Almeida Theatre from December 1993 into early 1994, and a supporting character, Clive, in Rik Mayall Presents Micky Love, which aired on British Television in May 1993 and was also previewed at the Cannes Film Festival.
Damian appeared several Royal Shakespeare Company theatrical productions throughout the middle and late 1990s, including the roles of Hamlet in Hamlet (1994), Wittipol in The Devil Is An Ass (1996), Don John in Much Ado About Nothing (1996 and 1998), Borghejm in Little Eyolf (1996, 1997 and 1998), and Posthumous Leonatus in Cymbeline (1997 and 1998). He performed two roles in the musical Into The Woods at the Donmar Warehouse (1998), playing Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf. He also played the featured guest roles of Leonard Bateson in the Hickory Dickory Dock episode of the Poirot television series (aired in 1995) and Adam Weston in the Deep Waters episode of the television series A Touch Of Frost (aired in 1996). He made his feature film debut as Patrick in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (released in 1996). And he performed the role of Laertes opposite Ralph Fiennes as Hamlet in the Almeida Theatre production of Hamlet which toured London and New York City's bright lights of Broadway (1995).
Damian also did a variety of vocal productions in the 1990s, such as portrayals of Laertes in Hamlet, Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona and Alcibiades in Timon of Athens, all three of those recorded sometime between 1996 and 1998 for the CD and audio cassette series, The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare: 38 Unabridged Plays. BBC Radio recordings in the late 1990s through 2000 included performances as Rosetti in The Golden Triangle, Shadrach Jolliffe in To Please His Wife, Charles in Fire In The Heart, Henry Bolingbroke in Richard II, and a role in The Awakening Conscience.
In 1998, while riding his motorcycle home from the Barbican Theatre in London where he was appearing in Much Ado About Nothing, Damian was in a near-fatal accident. A tax-cab veered into his path, his motorcycle rammed into the cab's front bumper, and he was thrown over the handlebars, going head-first right through the car's windshield. "Thank God I had a full-face helmet on. If I hadn't, I'm not sure I'd be here now. Or at least my acting career would be very different."7 After having lain unconscious for few minutes, Damian awoke with a serious frontal-lobe concussion which affected his emotional control for the next few months. "I would get into arguments with people at the video store for no reason. Or I'd suddenly feel like crying. Just three weeks following the accident, Damian, bored from sitting at home assembling jigsaw puzzles and anxious to go back to work, returned to his role in Much Ado. But on his first night back on stage, he suddenly needed to sit down in the middle of a soliloquy. "I gave the rest of my speech from there," he says. "If I hadn't sat down, I would have keeled over. I probably wasn't ready to go back."8
Damian soon made a full recovery and went on to a new project, playing Lt. Neil Loughrey in the BAFTA-Award-Winning 1999 BBC television miniseries Warriors (a.k.a. Peacekeepers), a riveting drama about soldiers sent to war-torn Bosnia to provide humanitarian aid. He followed this with the role of Kurt Glemser in a stylish science-fiction program for children, Life Force (aired in 2000), and then the role of Mark Rose in the BBC relationship drama Hearts and Bones. This series aired in two consecutive summers in 2000 and 2001, but Damian left after the first year when an exciting, irresistible opportunity came knocking.
Well, actually Damian was the one knocking on the door for auditions for this unique project, along with "anyone [in England] who was under 35 and still had both legs," as he describes the long, three-month audition process.9 Then suddenly, he was invited to Los Angeles to meet with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks to read for a pivotal role -- that of Major Richard D. Winters in the award-winning, landmark HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Tom Hanks was certain that this would be a challenging role to cast, and he was equally certain that Damian was the man for the job: "The trick was casting this very enigmatic man, of whom there's a substantial amount of mystery involved" says Hanks. "You never know where you stand with Winters. But when we heard Damian read, we'd found our guy. Maybe it's his delivery, a kind of 'less is more' thing."10 Matching a British actor with this sizable American role was not a cause for concern, but harnessing enigmatic essence of Winters was a challenge. As Damian explains, "In casting, especially in film, they cast for qualities. It's that abstract quality they see in people that corresponds to what they see in the character. Accents are secondary ... (but) getting to the soul of this guy was like climbing Mount Everest."11 Damian's efforts resulted in a rich, memorable performance which garnered him a Golden Globe nomination.
Damian's next acting challenge came in the complex persona of Soames Forsyte in the 2002 television mini-series The Forsyte Saga. As Jan McVerry, one of the Saga's writers, explains, "Soames is absolutely fascinating for any writer to play with, because he's so complex. There's a temptation to rein him back a bit and make him more sympathetic, because for all his faults you do end up loving him. But the producer was always pushing us to go further, to bring out his dark side, and I was worried that people would just hate him. Now I've seen Damian Lewis's performance, though, I'm not worried, because he brings out all the sympathetic sides of the character that the words themselves don't always contain. Soames is a very disturbed individual, and it's interesting for a woman to write for him. I mean, he's a rapist! But you can understand what's driven him to it. You can see the turmoil in his mind that's twisted him into doing a thing like that."12
Audience's opinions of Soames were as complicated as the character himself, as Damian recalls: "Personally, the reactions I got after The Forsyte Saga were 'Ugh, you're horrible,' to people screaming at me in the street, to people going 'Ah, we feel really sorry for you.' I tried to help a very drunken young lady in Trafalgar Square one Saturday night. She looked far too well presented to be in the state she was in. It was about 3 a.m., and she was lying on the pavement. I was with some friends and said 'We've got to put her in a cab, we can't leave her there.' We tried to get her into the cab, but she was so far gone, she couldn't remember where she lived. Then suddenly she turned around and looked at me and started screaming at the top of her voice. I jumped back, I thought 'Christ, the cops are going to come!' She was going 'Aah, you're horrible!' and I decided that was enough of my Good Samaritan moment -- and I just legged it."13
Next up for Damian was a feature role in the film version of Stephen King's novel, Dreamcatcher (released in 2003). Actually, the part was a dual role: that of the easy-going college professor Gary "Jonesy" Jones and the evil yet jaunty alien known as Mr. Gray. "It was a lot of fun. It's kind of two-for-the-price-of-one acting, just lots of showing off basically, jumping backwards and forwards between two characters. ... It was great playing two roles because it kept me very busy."14
Damian's next role was in 2002's rousing television satire Jeffrey Archer: The Truth, playing the title character. It was a refreshing change of pace for Damian: "You put Band and Forsyte together and there are not a lot of laughs around. It was really fun to do something silly and Naked Gun-ish."15
Then Soames Forsyte beckoned once more, as Damian reprised the role of this intriguing character in Series II of The Forsyte Saga, which aired in 2003. "The second series is set 20 years on from the first, so Soames is in his 60s. I loved playing a doddery old git. It was a challenge. I don't know if I pulled it off, but I had a lot of make-up to help me."16
Other projects which Damian took on around this time included bringing three classic poems to life in the BBC television special Essential Poems To Fall In Love With, which premiered on Valentines Day in 2003, reading The Scarlet Pimpernel on BBC Radio in 2003, and recording an audio version of the David Baldacci novel, Split Second (released in 2003). Damian also appeared in the BBC television special Posh & Becks' Big Impression in 2003, performing a song-and-dance number, Just Leave Everything To Me, as Simon Fuller in this satirical mockumentary. Damian wrapped up 2003 by returning to the stage as Daniel in the world premiere of the play Five Gold Rings.
The year 2005 brought forth several cinematic releases and television premieres of the numerous other projects he worked on during 2003 and 2004, including Keane -- one of the best-reviewed films in the festival circuit in 2004. The year 2005 also brought Damian back to the live theatre stage as Karsten Bernick in a brilliant production of Henrik Ibsen's rarely performed play Pillars Of The Community, which graced the National Theatre's Lyttleton Theatre stage in London from November into early February. In 2006, Damian teamed with his brother Gareth for a family venture, a film entitled The Baker (previously known as Shakespeare's Cake). Gareth wrote the script and directed the film, while Damian played the lead role of Milo. "I'm supposed to be a hit man who unwittingly becomes the village baker. Dark comedy, you know."17 Damian, who is a partner in the film production company Picture Farm Ltd., also took on the role of co-producer of the film.
A generous, caring and compassionate man, Damian has been very much involved in recent years with the charitable organization Christian Aid and their campaigns to help the impoverished and encourage trade justice. In November 2005, Damian visited Bolivia on behalf of Christian Aid to help bring attention to the world of Bolivia's poverty issues. And in January 2006, Damian took on the role as a trade justice ambassador for Christian Aid to help champion their causes even more going forward.
In addition to a full plate of professional and philanthropic activities, Damian also enjoyed some very special personal events around this time. He and Helen McCrory became engaged in February 2006 and were married on July 4, 2007. Damian and Helen celebrated the arrival of their first child, daughter Manon, in September 2006. Their second child, son Gulliver, was born in November 2007.
In March 2013, Damian received the Freedom of the City of London honor in recognition of his outstanding achievements in acting. Responding to this honor, Damian said, "It's the most extraordinary honour to be offered the Freedom of the City of London -- the City that I have grown up in, and love, more than any other. My grandfather was a Haberdasher, one of the Great Twelve Guilds, and I trained at Guildhall in the Square Mile. For over 700 years, merchants, financiers and actors -- to name but a few -- have lived and worked here "cheek by jowl" and this illustrates just what diversity there is in the City of London. I'm very, very proud to be associated with it, and to be recognised in this way."18
In June 2014, Damian received the Orders of the British Empire (OBE) honor, which is awarded to individuals fulfilling prominent national or regional roles and to those making distinguished or notable contributions in their own specific areas of activity. In response to receiving his OBE, Damian said, “I was very surprised but I decided to do the very un-British thing of accepting the compliment.”19
Damian has continued to expand his professional CV further with varied projects, including several guest-presenter appearances on the popular UK television comedy/quiz programme Have I Got News For You, a couple of years on the US television series Life (where he and Helen shared the screen for a few episodes when she appeared in a recurring guest role), and his award winning performance as Nicholas Brody in the US television series Homeland, and numerous other television, radio, film and stage productions -- too many to list here. Damian also joined the Advisory Board for Pure Grass Films, a London-based company which produces cutting edge filmed entertainment for distribution to multiple platforms (such as including mobile phones and other portable devices). To explore the full array of past, present and upcoming projects, visit the Performance Guide.
1) Us Magazine, October 15, 2001. 2) Radio Times, April 13, 2002. 3) Daily Express, 2001. 4) Hello, April 15, 2003. 5) Us Magazine, October 15, 2001. 6) Eve Magazine, July 2004. 7) Us Magazine, October 15, 2001. 8) Us Magazine, October 15, 2001. 9) Dish Magazine, October 2001. 10) Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2000. 11) St. Petersburg Times, September 7, 2001. 12) The Forsyte Saga: The Official Companion, 2002, p. 58. 13) The Western Mail, November 29, 2002. 14) Indielondon.co.uk, 2003. 15) Empire Magazine, May 2003. 16) She Magazine, 2003. 17) Eve Magazine, July 2004. 18) City of London press release, March 11, 2013. 19) Telegraph/BBC, June 13, 2014.
Pictured above with Damian, top row: Charlotte (mother), Watcyn (father), Amanda (sister), Will (brother). Bottom row: Helen (wife); Gulliver (son), Manon (daughter) and Helen; Gareth (brother).
Pictured above: Damian and his younger brother, Gareth, during their childhood.
RETURN TO DAMIAN'S DOMINION
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