Homeland’s Damian Lewis on his early acting days – and getting caned at school
I remember the first time I met Homeland star Damian Lewis. It was back in 2000 on the set of a BBC drama called Hearts and Bones (which had a eclectic cast list including Dervla Kirwan, Hugo Speer, Sarah Parish and Amanda Holden). Damian was playing a biology teacher working at a south London comprehensive school and he was down-to-earth, effortlessly charming and a helpful interviewee. At the end of the interview I asked a usual quesion: What are you doing next?
Some actors usually mumble something about having something in the pipeline. A few have real projects to go to. Damian, however, had just landed a role that would catapult him into the major league – the starring role in Steven Spielberg’s £70 million 13-part television series Band of Brothers. I remember him telling me – and it was hard not to be impressed. After all, here was a Eton-educated Englishman and he’d just beaten every US actor of his generation to play an American war hero.
The rest as they say is history. Band of Brothers was a massive critical and ratings success. Damian delivered a flawless performance as Major Dick Winters and his career has flourished ever since. I’ve followed his progress with interest ever since and like millions I’m glued to Homeland. It’s fantastic to see a decent bloke – and a very fine actor – doing so well.
I dug out one of my old interviews with Damian. Here are some snippets…
Damian grew up in London and went to boarding school in Sussex, which is where his love of acting began. “From the age of eight I started acting in school plays and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals,” he recalls. “My first role was as a policeman in the Pirates of Penzance and when I was twelve I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he says.
“School was very structured and they were keen to drum into everyone how to behave well in any situation which is a very British upper class way of thinking. I used to get sick and tired of all the culture at school and rebelled against it, although at boarding school if you are caught having as much as an illicit cigarette you might be asked to leave. The most rebellious things I ever did always involved girls. I used to get caught in girls’ dormitory in the middle of the night, which was a caning offence when I was there. I got caned an awful lot for other misdemeanours like talking after lights out, which the headmaster just wouldn’t tolerate. He thought it kept others awake and tired pupils made the school function less well.”
As a teenager Damian went to Eton, but had decided when it came to leaving, that he wanted to become an actor. “Everyone else was off to Oxford and Cambridge and other places and I had already been in a theatre company with friends and had made up my mind that acting was what I wanted to do. Fortunately, my parents were very supportive and they said they’d help me out if I went to drama school.”