Damian Lewis, <EM>Life</EM> Damian Lewis, Life

British actor Damian Lewis talks to TV Guide about his swanky school days, sobering up for Spielberg and his quirky Life (Wednesdays, 10 pm/ET, NBC) role.

TV Guide: Your character, Charlie Crews, is a cop who was wrongly imprisoned for murder for 12 years. He's very eccentric, isn't he?
Damian Lewis:
His quirkiness is born out of subtle psycho­logical damage that one would suffer from years in a maximum-security prison. His personality is cracked.

TV Guide: What's with all the Zen pronouncements?
Lewis:
He uses Zen to control anger and bitterness. He has almost a child­like enthusiasm for life and an incredible optimism.

TV Guide: Would you call him the anti-House?
Lewis:
Yes, he's the white to House's black. But he does struggle. He's not morally perfect. He's not a monk.

TV Guide: For sure, he's always bedding some young thing. But does he have a future with his married lawyer Constance Griffiths (Brooke Langton)?
Lewis:
His approach to that com­plicated relationship is very honorable, very noble. He's not a marriage wrecker. She's his redeeming angel. And I don't judge him for the girls. There are sensual pleasures he was denied for so long.

TV Guide: Will we find out who set up Charlie by the end of this season?
Lewis:
There will be a big, satisfying revelation, though that might lead you to somewhere bigger.

TV Guide: Did you really grow up on London's fabled Abbey Road?
Lewis:
I did. It was a five-minute walk to the Beatles' recording studio. But there were no sightings.

TV Guide: You went to Eton, arguably England's most famous boarding school. Did it prep you to play an ex-prisoner?
Lewis:
All those places have to be run with a cer­tain military rigor, but for the most part, I enjoyed myself. Weirdly.

TV Guide: Did you start acting at school?
Lewis:
Yes. By the time I was 12, I'd done five Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. It was a very English introduction to theater.

TV Guide: You went on to a couple of years at the Royal Shakespeare Company. What's a favorite role from those days?
Lewis:
Wittipol in The Devil Is an Ass, a Ben Jonson play. I spent most of it in drag.

TV Guide: What was your audition like with Steven Spielberg for his HBO World War II miniseries Band of Brothers?
Lewis:
They asked me to fly to L.A., where I met with Tom Hanks. I was so excited that I went partying with friends, got really drunk and stayed out all night. I got a call at 8 am and was told that Steven Spielberg wanted to see me in a couple of hours! After drinking coffee after coffee and having three showers to sober up, I went into a slightly anxious and sweaty audition. But it all went well.

TV Guide: Clearly, since you became the star. Was it a breakthrough role?
Lewis:
It was. I was the star of a hit show that has played all around the world. And I feel very proud to be a part of that. But it didn't have that auspicious a start because the second episode came out the week of 9/11 and people didn't have much of an appetite for that sort of drama.

TV Guide: Band of Brothers, Shakespeare, The Forsyte Saga on BBC. How does playing a cop in Life compare to all that?
Lewis:
It's a huge kick. When I was growing up in England, we had Kojak, Hill Street Blues, Mag­num, P.I., Columbo — so being a detective solving the crime each week for me is about as cool as it gets. Apart from being Clint Eastwood.

TV Guide: Your wife, the actress Helen McCrory, played Cherie Blair in The Queen, and you've played Tony Blair in a TV series. Have you met England's former first couple?
Lewis:
I've been to 10 Downing Street a couple of times and sat and chatted with both Tony and Cherie. Helen did a fantastic job playing Cherie's skeptical nature in the movie.

TV Guide: You have a daughter. Is it tough raising a family with two actors working in different locations around the world?
Lewis:
Not right now because Helen is pregnant, so she won't be doing much work for a bit. We've all come out to California, live at the beach, and we're having a gorgeous time.

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