BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — British actor Damian Lewis is living in an alternate world of sorts. While it surprised him when he won the Emmy as best actor for his role as the inscrutable ex-POW in Showtime's Homeland, he admits that such characters are a subliminal part of him.
"I come from a tradition where I believe that acting is the inverse of lying," he says. "It's not lying and trickery. It's truth and honesty and sincerity. You occupy an alternative reality, and you commit to that reality utterly and honestly. And that's what will be conveyed to an audience, if you do it right."
So far he's done it right. Americans first noticed the tall redhead in Band of Brothers. Lewis portrayed a lieutenant forced to take command of Easy Company when American paratroopers storm Normandy. His American accent was so flawless that his fellow actors refused to believe he was British.
In a complete turnaround, he next played the acquisitive and uptight Soames Forsyte in the The Forsyte Saga and later starred in his own American series, Life.
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It's his role in Homeland that has set him apart.
"If you capture the essence of someone really conflicted at the heart of a serious drama, with elements of tragedy in it possibly, I think they register with an audience just that much more strongly than lighter comic roles," he says. "I think it's always far more interesting to watch an actor try not to reveal something than that moment of revelation."
For a long time Lewis, 41, despaired of ever revealing his face on film or on television. "I was filled with the most doubt just after I'd done two years at the Royal Shakespeare Company," he recalls.
"I'd done theater pretty much exclusively between leaving theater school and finishing at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and that was about a six-year stretch," he says.
"I'd done some TV, pretty inconsequential stuff. Because I hadn't been primed or groomed in any way for film or TV, I had no interest in it. ... Then I started to see there was this whole other industry out there with infinite possibilities and started becoming intrigued by being on set."
He auditioned for three TV shows, but "didn't get any of these jobs. And I thought, 'Maybe I'm just going to be one of these Ian McKellen types, Anthony Sher types. I thought, 'Maybe I'm a bit too big and beefy for the camera and maybe it'll just take me 20 to 30 years of working in theater and getting a reputation before I finally do some camera work."
Lewis is married to British actress Helen McCrory (evil Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) and is the father of a girl, 5, and a boy, 4.
Managing two careers and two children can be a challenge, he says. "You caught me on a very interesting weekend. Helen is in London working on a national theater in a new play. My kids are in Charlotte, N.C., with a nanny. And I'm here. That's not something that has ever happened to us before. Because we've always successfully managed to dovetail in and out of each other's jobs and always have (one of us) with the kids. ... They came out for summer vacation. Helen came out too," he says.
"She had to go back, and I just had to come here for three days, but I've kept the kids with me in America for two more weeks because then I get to see them and be with them, and they don't miss me so much. Then I have to send them home to mummy because mummy starts to miss them."