Damian Lewis - The new face of terror?

By Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin talks to the very British Damian Lewis, better known for his very American roles.

Soldier on: Damian Lewis tackles tough issues in Homeland. Photo / Supplied
Soldier on: Damian Lewis tackles tough issues in Homeland. Photo / Supplied

He's made a name for himself playing Americans - first as a heroic soldier in Band of Brothers, and then as a wrongly imprisoned detective, in Life.

But the distinctively red-headed Damian Lewis is actually a formally trained British actor.

Down the line from his home in London, his Old Etonian accent is refreshingly different from his flawless American television twang, but Lewis is as serious as any of his characters as he discusses his latest role - Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody in the Golden Globe-winning series, Homeland.

The show (based on Israeli series Hatufim and written by some of the team behind 24), tackles ideas of terrorism from within, post-traumatic stress disorder, the politics of responsibility, and the natures of good and evil. All of which might be viewed as pretty challenging TV material for the American public, but it's been well received, while also provoking debate.

"Politically I think it's a liberal show for a very different America than it was 10 years ago. Western governments have gone to war against terror and have been met with pockets of resistance from their own people about the way in which they've gone about it. There's far more doubt.

"The fact that bin Laden was killed hasn't really alleviated the immediacy of the problem, people are still afraid that a terrorist attack might happen, and people aren't sure what faction or rogue element it's going to come from. And what's particularly alarming is that one of their own, a US marine - who is as great a symbol as there is - that someone like that might be turned, and might've started to ask questions about the nature of it all."

Brody is a soldier who has been kept as a prisoner of war in Iraq for eight years, presumed dead by his family and his government.

When he's found during a US raid of a terrorist cell and brought home a hero, CIA operative Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, suspects Brody may be planning a terrorist attack.

Right from the get-go it's an edge-of-your-seat, thought-provoking thriller. Brody is a true psychological character study.

A shell-shocked hero, lonely in his memory of horrific experiences, he's trying to piece his life back together, reconnecting with his wife (who has taken up with his best friend) and his estranged young children who hardly know him. But he's also the picture of conflict and suspicion, an intriguing, unpredictable and unstable element.

"The show is very cleverly written, because there is a certain sense of sympathy for a man who's come back from a war zone and is trying to set up again happily with his family, and really struggling. And that remains a real problem, however much the audience suspect something shocking."

Despite having to do some gruelling torture scenes, and some fairly graphic and intimate sex scenes, Lewis' greatest challenge in playing Brody was portraying his ambiguity.

"It's hard. You can end up not making bold choices, and that becomes nebulous and a little unfocused and so you do actually have to make choices and really connect to scenarios as they appear in the script. And if you want to cast doubt in the audience's mind, then it's really about having a quicksilver change of sword. It's about committing to moments freely, and being prepared to come out of those moments and play the next moment fully as well, and have them side by side."

Lewis was keen to make sure Brody's post-traumatic stress was delivered with conviction, and his potential Islamic conversion accurate. "There's a post-traumatic stress unit here in England. I went to visit people who are suffering from it. And, in terms of the Islamic faith, I befriended a local imam in North Carolina where we were shooting and he helped me understand the prayers and rituals, and I'd also done some research here in London at the London Central Mosque."

Though he keeps the American accent up while on set, Lewis finds it easy to slip out of Brody during downtime, and doesn't take his character's demons home to his young family. "I find work incredibly easy to leave behind, I find it much harder revving up for it again, actually."

Undoubtedly a good thing for a man who seems to have a knack for playing characters in such troubling circumstances.

LOWDOWN

Who: Damian Lewis, British actor who makes a living playing Americans.
What: Homeland
Where and when: Monday, TV3, 9.30pm

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