He may play a bad guy on Showtime’s Homeland, but in person Damian Lewis is so congenial, you want to hug him for his ability to be so polite and present. He will look you in the eyes as he talks US politics and football with the passion and precision of someone born on these shores. He wasn’t.
AStarWasBorn.com talked with the Emmy-award winning, Damian Lewis for a quick take on his own “homeland”: London, England.
While there may be a debate over who “Big Ben” was named after, there is no question that it is one of the most iconic symbols of London and England. It is over 150 years old, and is the largest four faced chimney in the world. The minute hand itself is 14 feet long.
Lewis was born in St. John’s Wood, London and spent his childhood in a house on the famed Abbey Road. His lineage has ties to royalty on his maternal grandmother’s side, as at least one ancestor was a doctor to members of the royal family.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace is not just “pomp and circumstance” with ceremonial guards, but actual serving soldiers who have a reputation as some of the most elite and skilled soldiers in the British Army.
“I grew up in Abbey Road, actually, in London. My parents lived in the same house for thirty years….”
A guitar case sits outside of one of the most famous addresses on the planet, 3 Abbey Road; made famous by the Beatles from their album titled, ”Abbey Road”.
The son of a homemaker and stockbroker, Lewis became interested in acting at age 16. After a series of private schools including the storied Eton, he graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, to later be accepted into the Royal Shakespeare Company. His life changed courses considerably after director Stephen Spielberg saw him in Hamlet opposite Ralph Fiennes and cast him in Band of Brothers for HBO.
A literal “Shakespeare’s Garden” outside the birthplace of William Shakespeare, on Henley Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Lewis was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company which led to his discovery by Stephen Spielberg to cast him in Band of Brothers. Wawickshire is approx. 2 hours from Lewis’ birthplace in London.
Lewis has worked pretty steadily since, in a slew of TV movies, shows and notably in the critically acclaimed but short-lived series, Life, for NBC. He still goes back and forth between all mediums: theater, television and film.
And despite all that American knowledge, he plays another kind of football, known not as soccer but affectionately as “footy” in England. He along with both UK and US celebrities have played in Soccer Aid for the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
He’s married to actress Helen McCrory, who aside from UK theater is most noted for her roles in Harry Potter and as Cheri Blair, wife of former UK Prime Minister, Tony, in The Queen. They split their time between Los Angeles and bohemian Tufnell Park area of North London. They have two children Manon, six and Gulliver, five.
ASWB: What was it like growing up in London?
DL: I grew up in Abbey Road, actually, in London. My parents lived in the same house for thirty years, in St. John’s Wood in Abbey Road, North London and I live only 15 minutes from there now, with my family, on the other side of Hampstead Heath.
A haven away from the hustle and bustle of London, Flask Walk in the Hampstead Heath area is a menagerie of cobble-stoned streets with cafes, ice cream parlors, antique shops and the historic Flask Tavern.
The Kenwood House sits on 112 acres adjacent to one of the most popular spaces in London – Hampstead Heath. The former stately home, houses a treasured collection of famous paintings, including a self-painting by Rembrandt.
Fenton House is another 17th Century House in Hampstead, near where Lewis grew up.
ASWB: What are some of your favorite hangouts there?
DL: Well, we have a great tradition of gastro pubs in London that really emerged in the ’90s, when British cooking finally got its act together and we weren’t just serving sausages 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 glass of wine and it has real ales. Those are ales that are not mass-produced without antibiotics.
A pint of lager from a local gastro-pub. London is known for it’s “ale”.
ASWB: Where did you go to high school?
DL: Secondary school. My delightful parents, who were secondary war babies, thought boarding school was a good idea. So I was packed away at the age of eight and was at boarding school for ten years.
Eton College, where Lewis attended boarding school, was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, and has produced 19 of Great Britain’s prime ministers.
ASWB: Did you have any favorite teachers there that inspired you to become an actor?
DL: At that time, there was a guy called Mr. Woodgates, who used to run the chamber choir that I was a part of, and he was very cool because he introduced me to The Beatles at the age of eleven. He used to write orchestrations for Beatles’ songs and as the choir, we would sing them. I was in a school where we performed musicals every summer and he was always there in my life, an interesting teacher to have around.
London is one of the leading global cities for arts, commerce, education, entertainment and finance and is steeped in history – so there’s never a lack of things to do in this exciting, historic city. No wonder Damian Lewis still keeps a home there and is proud to call London his “homeland”.
Photo credits: VisitBritain