“Homeland” is a show that’s full of surprises week to week, and its stars are going to keep its secrets. So when Damian Lewis met with the Television Critics Association, most of the questions were about his background, since we knew we weren’t going to get any season two specifics from him.
As season two races towards its finale, find out a little bit more about what made Lewis who he is in our interview.
CraveOnline: Are American accents easy for you to do?
Damian Lewis: I’m a bit of a sponge like that. My problem is I’m not quite sure how to categorize these events because I come to L.A., I drink a lot of whiskey, I see my friends. I feel like I’m on holiday. I also realize I’m kind of in the workplace here as well. When I work on set, I wake up in the morning in an American accent and I don’t come out of my American accent until we wrap.
I do that really for self-preservation because I’d feel too awkward jumping in and out of me to an American accent and I’d end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, one of those half American, half Cockney accents. That’s a little bit what happens to me on days like this.
CraveOnline: Do you do a southern accent when you’re filming in Charlotte?
Damian Lewis: No, my Brody accent is really a kind of generic American accent that I have found that I know convinces people I’m American without being particularly from anywhere. In fact, shortly after I did “Band of Brothers,” someone came up to me and said, “Damn, you’re good. You sound totally like an American. I got no f***ing idea where you’re from but it sounds totally American.”
CraveOnline: In the season premiere, I was surprised Brody passed the vetting process with the V.P. I believe he’d come up clean for the past eight years because he’d cover anything up, but they found nothing on him at all. There’s not a single red flag on Brody even before his capture?
Damian Lewis: You know, I spent a lot of time with Heath Shuler. I had a nice long lunch with Heath Shuler who is the Democrat congressman for the 11th district in North Carolina which is in the mountains around Asheville if any of you know that part of the world. This guy was accelerated so quickly through the political system, he was an all star high school football player who was then drafted by the Washington Redskins.
When he made it clear that he wanted to go into public life, political life, he got calls from the Democrats, he got a call from Clinton personally who was no longer in power, and then Rahm Emanuel and then Bush himself called him from the Republican side.
These guys are hot property and they all wanted him and they were trying to convince him, “Come be with us.” So this Brody story, even though it’s a very accelerated trajectory, is very believable and I think the V.P. is just dying to believe that Brody is this war hero and basically he’ll ride all the way to the White House on the back of Brody, the way McCain tried to do with Palin which was not a good choice.
CraveOnline: If you were president, what would you do your first day in office?
Damian Lewis: I’d get rid of all the guns.
CraveOnline: What part of Britain are you from?
Damian Lewis: I grew up on Abbey Road actually in London. My parents had the same house for 30 years so I lived there for 30 years in St. John’s Wood, Abbey Road in North London and I live only 15 minutes from there now with my family on the other side of Hamstead Heath in Islington, for those of you that know London.
CraveOnline: What are your favorite hangouts there?
Damian Lewis: Well, we have a great tradition of gastropubs in London which really emerged in the ‘90s when British cooking finally got its act together and we weren’t just served sausage with lard smeared all over it.
There’s a great pub near me called The Junction which I adore and you can go there and get an incredible steak and a glass of wine. It has real ales. I don't know if you guys were aware of the real ale movement, it’s ales not mass produced, without antibiotics and all these other things. It’s what we would call bitter ale, not like a fizzy lager.
CraveOnline: Where did you go to high school?
Damian Lewis: My delightful parents in their wisdom, who were war babies themselves, thought boarding school was a good idea. So I was packed away at the age of eight and was at boarding school for 10 years.
CraveOnline: What teachers there influenced you?
Damian Lewis: There was a guy who used to run the little choir that I was part of, the chamber choir. He was very cool because he introduced me to the Beatles at the age of 11 because he used to write orchestrations for Beatles songs.
Then as the choir we would sing them so that was a lot of fun. I was in a school where we performed musicals every summer and it was kind of always there in my life. He was an interesting teacher to have.
CraveOnline: Why do you do so many military roles?
Damian Lewis: I just answered that, because I spent 10 years in boarding school and it’s a bit like being in barracks.
CraveOnline: Have you had any uncomfortable encounters with people since you’ve been playing the role of Brody?
Damian Lewis: There's one slightly hairy moment down in Charlotte, North Carolina quite early on in the season. There was a barbecue going on and there was bunch of Southern boys there drinking beer, eating fried chicken, eating steak. He came up to me and he said, "So, you're playing a terrorist?" And I said, "Well, you know, maybe. I don't know. I actually don't know yet." And he said, "It's going to piss off a lot of people."
He looked at me in the eye, slightly drunk, blurry-eyed, and I thought I'm about to get my head pulverized and no one will find me. But that was it. Otherwise no, nothing else. Apart from that moment, I was at the White House. Did I tell you about that?
CraveOnline: How did you end up at that barbecue?
Damian Lewis: Actually it was happening in my building. It was out at the pool.
CraveOnline: So what did you know back then in the first season when you were playing Brody? What had Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa told you?
Damian Lewis: They are unbelievably, probably to a fault, generous with sort of collaborative information. So I knew quite a lot. There was one sort of outstanding question which was if Brody was to going act, how was he going to act?
And they came to me mid-season and said, "Do you know you are going to strap on a vest, and you are going to go blow yourself up," and I went, "Really? Wait a second. I thought we'd been trying very hard to tell the story that he hadn't been successfully radicalized and created into a jihadist,” and that seemed to undo all of that.
But in the end, it didn't, and it was a big political symbolic statement, Brody doing that. It was a stroke of genius. But that was the final and biggest surprise for me last season when that emerged.
CraveOnline: How does it change your performance this year?
Damian Lewis: Brody made a mission statement at the end of the first season saying he wanted a nonviolent political subversion of American policy. He would like to think he's in control of his own destiny. He absolutely won't be, is my prediction for this season, and I think he will live in a state of heightened anxiety and paranoia and uncertainty.
Whereas in the first season, he was a man just trying to re-enter civilian life. There was a degree of damage which elicited some sympathy from the audience, but at the same time he also was the menace so people were terrified of him. He's more, I think, knowingly juggling balls this season, but essentially he's everybody's bitch. He's pretty f***ed.
CraveOnline: So how did you go to the White House?
Damian Lewis: Well, obviously, I'm called to consult on matters of Homeland Security. So then I drop everything, and I go. [Laughs] You know, it was as much a shock to me as it was, presumably, to everyone else in this room that I was on that invitation list. I think it was just a serendipity.
It was a British state visit to see the President, who happened to have this as his favorite show on TV at the time, and I'm a Brit playing an American part, and I kind of ticked a lot of boxes. So it was fantastic talking to him about it. I would just tell you one quick anecdote, and then probably we'd talk about the show again.
But I did ask him and David Cameron, I said, "When do you guys get to watch TV? Aren't you supposed to be running the free world together? And because I hear, Mr. President, you really like the show." And he said, "Yes, Saturday afternoons, Michelle and the two girls, they go play tennis. I go into the Oval Office. I pretend I'm going to work, and I switch on 'Homeland.'" So that's when he's watching the show.
CraveOnline: What are your specific memories of shooting "The Weekend" episode, that we all remember for its dysfunctional romantic scenes?
Damian Lewis: I think it came to be regarded as a pivotal sequence in last season. I think Alex and Howard have tried to create a similar pivotal moment in Season 2. It's of a very different nature, where Carrie very, very much has the upper hand but it's less romantically inclined than professionally inclined. It's just as complex and strange.
CraveOnline: We did think Brody was going to blow himself up. Were you relieved that he didn’t, and why did you think he didn’t?
Damian Lewis: In terms of surviving and being around with these lovely people for another season, it was an enormous relief. I think an ongoing battle for the writers is how you write the best possible season that's in front of you and how do you nurture the series as a whole. I think there are endings to seasons which may seem more devastating, but you could equally lose half your cast.
So how do you keep the two things going at once? And I like to think they came up with, I hope you'll all agree, something that was devastating emotionally, but where we survived. I think they're going to have the same dilemma this season, and see how it goes.
CraveOnline: Has making this show increased your anxiety level or made you more relaxed about what’s going on in the world?
Damian Lewis: Having met you, I'm a lot more anxious. It's true. No. Any good show finds a context and a narrative with which to ask more serious questions, and this seems to be asking all sorts of questions, in my view. Carrie represents a broken, slightly sort of hobbling west at the moment. Your country is rebuilding yourself, as is mine. We're all trying to.
The glory years are gone but she represents the best hope. Brody represents a strong anti‑war message, the effects of war on an individual, how that can poison an individual and then poison people around him. He's like a suppurating sore that will, I imagine, need to be lanced at some point.
So there are these bigger stories. Can nation states commit acts of terrorism? Do you believe they can? Do they? Do we? How do we perpetuate our war on terror? Was it justified? It goes on and on. It's a good show, isn't it?