Daily Express Saturday Magazine, January 14, 2006
|Suits You, Damian
Playing a suave playboy in a new BBC drama about the hedonistic 80s was no great stretch for party-loving star Damian Lewis.
by James Rampton, Daily Express Saturday Magazine, January 14, 2006
Damian Lewis is swinging gleefully round in an executive chair in an 80s-style office set that looks like something straight out of the archetypal "greed is good" movie Wall Street.
Dressed in a flamboyant suit and white plimsolls, the flame-haired actor looks very much at home in his latest role as a maverick entrepreneur leading a hedonistic life in the height of the Thatcher era in the new BBC1 drama, Friends And Crocodiles.
"Hanging out in a 1980s office, it's a dream job isn't it?" he smiles, his grey-blue eyes glinting as he rocks on his black leather swivel chair like a naughty schoolboy. "Where else would you get paid to do this?"
For besides the retro clothes and the desk job, the character Paul -- a popular Gatsby-type playboy with rare vision and talent, who lives in a lavish country pile and surrounds himself with beautiful people -- does not seem to be much of a stretch for the star.
Since making his mark in the 2001 miniseries Band Of Brothers, ITV's The Forsyte Saga and the recent BBC adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Damian has seen his stock rise, both professionally and socially.
"A friend said to me the other day that maybe I shouldn't go to quite so many parties. I am photographed out quite a lot, and he was concerned for my integrity as an actor. But I feel secure with the work I do, so I think I'll keep going to parties!"
Mixing with the cream of the young British acting profession, his girlfriend is actress Helen McCrory, who starred with Jude Law's on/off fiancée Sienna Miller in last summer's West Endproduction of As You Like It, and in the past he has been romantically linked to Sex And The City star KristinDavis.
In Friends And Crocodiles, one of two new stand-alone dramas by the acclaimed writer Stephen Poliakoff (whose previous credits include Shooting The Past, Perfect Strangers and The Lost Prince), he stars alongside Jodhi May, who plays Lizzie, a no-nonsense local estate agent who is hired to knock Paul's weird and wonderful schemes into shape.
This is the beginning of a partnership that spans two decades. Throughout the Thatcherite period of the 1980s and 90s -- a time of cataclysmic political upheaval -- Paul and Lizzie forge an extremely close working relationship. Crucially, though, it never develops into anything more intimate.
"No one kisses or jumps into bed," Damian points out. "Their relationship is centred on work rather than any form of fancying. It's about two people who simply respect and admire each other; they complement each other perfectly. Paul has a self-destructive streak, which is part of his brilliance. He likes to create anarchy and unrest in his life and doesn't want anything to be easy or formulaic. That is in stark contrast to Lizzie. She thrives within the corporate systems set up in the 80s and 90s. Paul responds to her ordered personality and managerial skills -- he needs organizing.
"Each has facets that make the other whole. That's what you hope for in any relationship."
It seems that this is what he has found in his partner Helen McCrory, who starred as the king's mistress, Barbara Villiers, in BBC1's Charles II: The Power And The Passion. Together, they make a high-profile pair, but asked if they feel like a celebrity couple, he responds, "Not in the slightest. That perception depends on what you read. If you never read about yourself, then there is no reason to think you are anything different from the way you are when you hang out with your friends in the pub."
While he will admit that he and his partner have talked about working together, "but nothing more concrete than that", the actor won't comment further on their future.
He is, though, traditional in his views on marriage. His father, Watcyn, an insurance broker, and his late mother Charlotte, who died in a car crash in India five years ago, were happily married for 30 years.
"I'm from a stable family background, my parents were very solid," he says. "I do believe in staying together."
The actor was born and raised in London with two brothers, Gareth and William, and a sister, Amanda. He went to Eton, before attending the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After graduating in 1993, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and got his big TV break six years later with Warriors, the award-winning BBC drama about UN peacekeepers.
A succession of acclaimed TV drama follows, including Hearts And Bones, Jeffrey Archer: The Truth, and Colditz, but his most prominent work to date has been playing the lead, Major Richard Winters, in Band Of Brothers, the epic Second World War serial executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
"I met Tom and he was friendly and enthusiastic, but I didn't think I'd got the part," he recalls. "So I went out on the lash with a mate till 5 am, only to be woken at eight by the casting director saying, 'Mr. Spielberg wants to see you at 12.' I had four showers, but I still felt drunk!"
After an informal chat with the director, he was still far from confident, until Spielberg's assistant asked him if he was free to attend boot camp. "I jumped up, shouted 'Sure am, buddy', and kissed everyone in the room."
Roles such as Winters have made Damian something of a sex symbol -- which the auburn-haired star regards as a positive sign.
"If people with red hair can be perceived as sexy and land romantic leads, then that has to be good for redheads in general! Tom Hanks said to me, 'You're going to be the first ever red-headed film star!"
He has now fulfilled Hanks' prediction. As well as a critically lauded performance in Ibsen's Pillars Of The Community, currently running at the National Theatre, he also has an impressive slate of forthcoming movies. These include Stormbreaker, a film adaptation of Anthony Horowitz's first Alex Rider novel, Chromophobia with Penélope Cruz, An Unfinished Life, with Robert Redford, and Keane, a New York based thriller which is already attracting Oscar buzz.
Now, as director of a production company called Picture Farm, he is also branching out into film producing. His debut feature, which goes into production later this year, is The Baker, a comedy thriller written and directed by his brother, Gareth, in which Damian also stars.
He is relishing taking on the extra responsibilities. "It's really exciting to broaden my horizons," he beams. "I love acting, and want to explore different roles, but I'm too curious to leave it at that. I've got a great appetite for all this activity. It's good to be mentally agile -- that's what keeps you creative.
"I'm very lucky I'm in a line of work that I adore. The quality of life of a successful actor is second to none," he concludes.
"I'm trying not to sound smug, but yes, I do love my life. I don't know how else to put it."
Friends And Crocodiles is on BBC1 on Sunday at 9 pm.
Caption: From left: with David Schwimmer in the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg-produced Band Of Brothers; with Greta Scacchi in Jeffrey Archer: The Truth; with Gina McKee in The Forsyte Saga; with Billie Piper, Sarah Parish and Tom Ellis in the BBC's modern-day adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.
Caption: Friends And Crocodiles: Isabel Brook, Damian, Sasha Hardway, Sophie Hunter and Chris Larkin.
Caption: Damian with his partner, actress Helen McCrory.
Pick Of The Day: Friends And Crocodiles
BBC1, 9 pm * * * * *
by Mike Ward, Daily Express Saturday Magazine, January 14, 2006
Written by Stephen Poliakoff and set against the backdrop of Britain's rapidly evolving business environment of the Eighties and Nineties, this is the story of a maverick ideas man (Damian Lewis) and his love-hate (but platonic) relationship with the woman (Jodhi May) he initially hires as his secretary.
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