British actor Damian Lewis is living in an alternate world of sorts. While it surprised him more than anyone when he snatched the Emmy as best actor — playing the inscrutable ex-prisoner 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 hoestly. 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. He portrayed a lieutenant who’s forced to take command of Easy Company when U.S. paratroopers storm Normandy. His American accent was so flawless that his fellow actors refused to believe he was British.
In a turnaround, Lewis, 41, next played the uptight Soames Forsyte in the The Forsyte Saga. And later starred in his own American series, Life. But 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.
Still coaxing things into place has not been easy. Lewis is married to British actress Helen McCrory ( Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows); they have a daughter, 5, and son, 4.
Managing two careers and two children in two countries can be a challenge: “It’s a little bit of a relay, handing the kids around like little packages,” he says. “I hope they don’t think we’re divorced.”