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British born actor Damian Lewis transitioned from work on the London stage to major roles in American film and television projects, working with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan. Trained at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Birmingham Repertory Company, Lewis gained prominence in the U.S. with an utterly convincing performance as a stalwart G.I. in the heralded miniseries "Band of Brothers" (HBO, 2001). Unfortunately, his first leading role in a major motion picture, the bizarre adaptation of Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher" (2003), failed to carry the momentum. Regardless of the material, Lewis' performances were always given high marks and before long he was cast as the star of the well-regarded crime-drama series "Life" (NBC, 2007-09). Although the Writers Guild of America strike of 2007 had a devastating impact on the short-lived show, the actor found more small screen success a few years later alongside Claire Danes in the thriller series "Homeland" (Showtime, 2011- ). His perfomance as the troubled Nicholas Brody, who may or may not be an Al-Qaida operative, brought the actor an Emmy for Best Actor. Whether portraying one of Shakespeare's classic characters or a modern American hero, Lewis could be counted on to elevate any project he chose to participate in.
Born Damian Watcyn Lewis on Feb. 11, 1971 in St. John's Wood, London, he was the son Charlotte and J. Watcyn Lewis, an insurance broker. Damian enjoyed a rather privileged childhood, splitting time between his family home on the famed Abbey Road and at Ashdown House School, a boarding facility in Sussex. He proved a popular student, dividing his energies between sports and appearing in the school's annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions. At Eton College, Lewis followed the same pattern - excelling at soccer, cricket and golf while also being actively involved with student drama groups. When it came time for college, he opted to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from which he graduated in 1993.
Just after graduating from drama school, Lewis found a spot with the Birmingham Repertory Company and his professional career was off. Within a year of leaving Guildhall, he had landed his first major TV role, a guest spot as a murder suspect on "Agatha Christie's Poirot" (PBS, 1989- ) and also tackled one of the greatest roles in classical literature, "Hamlet," produced at an open-air theater in Regent's Park. Perhaps ironically, his next major theater role was in another "Hamlet," this time playing Laertes opposite Ralph Fiennes' title character at the Almeida Theatre in 1995. That production proved so popular that it was imported for a limited run on Broadway, allowing Lewis to make his American theatrical debut.
Two years later, Lewis had his first film role, a small supporting part in the Pierce Brosnan vehicle "Robinson Crusoe" (1997). For the better part of the next three years, the actor concentrated on stage roles, appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Company in "Little Eyolf," "Cymbeline" and "Much Ado About Nothing." A near fatal tragedy struck during this pivotal point in his career, when Lewis was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Fortunately wearing a full-face helmet, he nonetheless was left unconscious for several minutes and suffered a severe concussion. Over the next three months, he underwent enormous mood swings as a result of his injuries, but he had returned to performing only three weeks after the crash.
Having scored good reviews in the dual roles of Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf in the short-lived Donmar production of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical "Into the Woods" (1998-99), Lewis landed a breakthrough role in the wartime-drama series "Warriors" (BBC1, 1999). Focusing on four British soldiers sent to Bosnia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission, the two-part drama moved Lewis into the spotlight and netted him rave reviews for his role as a soldier who witnesses unspeakable horrors and has trouble returning to "normal" life. (The production aired in the USA on BBC America in 2001 under the title "Peacekeepers"). The actor followed up with a turn as a man whose wife is secretly in love with his brother in the contemporary seven-part drama "Hearts and Bones" (BBC, 2000).
Noticed by Steven Spielberg while appearing in the Broadway run of "Hamlet" years earlier, Lewis was cast in the leading role of commanding officer Major Richard Winters in the acclaimed World War II drama "Band of Brothers" (2001). The ten-part miniseries recounted the true story of a company of American paratroopers who landed in Normandy in 1944 and then fought their way across Europe to Hitler's retreat in Berchtesgaden the following year. Lewis' strong performance as the flinty, teetotaling leader, struggling with his own conflicting emotions, served as the anchor for the show and earned the tall, red-haired actor excellent reviews. Following his star-making lead in "Band of Brothers," the actor went on to play Soames in the Granada Television/WGBH remake of the period drama "The Forsyte Saga" (PBS, 2002).
Lewis then landed his first bona fide leading role in the critically-panned film version of Stephen King's psycho-thriller "Dreamcatcher" (2003). Lewis was cast alongside Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee and Thomas Jane as Jonesy, one of four boyhood pals telepathically linked and ensnared in a gruesome alien conspiracy. He next delivered a gripping performance as "Keane" (2004), a deeply-troubled man haunted by the dubious memory of his daughter who disappeared in New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal months earlier. He lent support to such little-seen features as the Robert Redford-Jennifer Lopez family-drama "An Unfinished Life" (2005) and the failed spy franchise-starter "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" (2006) prior to landing a television series of his own with "Life" (NBC, 2007-09). A crime-drama about a falsely-accused detective (Lewis) released from prison and back on the force after 12 years behind bars, the show was dealt a blow by the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike. Despite the quirky, commanding performance of Lewis and an intriguing premise, the series was canceled after two seasons.
After some time away, Lewis returned to features with a small role as a treacherous knight in the fantasy-comedy "Your Highness" (2011), one of the year's biggest box-office bombs, starring James Franco, Danny McBride and Natalie Portman. More successful was his next attempt at series television, the psychological-thriller "Homeland" (Showtime, 2011- ), on which he played a recently freed prisoner of Al-Qaida who falls under the watchful eye of a suspicious CIA operative (Claire Danes). The acclaimed role earned high praise from critics, a loyal audience and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2012. Lewis finished off the year with a Golden Globe win and SAG nod for Best Actor in a Drama.
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Joined the Birmingham Repertory; acted in "Rope" and "Romeo and Juliet"
British TV debut in bit part in "Rik Mayell Presents: Mickey Love" (Granada Television)
First major TV role, in the Hickory Dickory Dock episode of the series "Poirot" playing a medical student who becomes a murder suspect
Played title role in "Hamlet" at Regent's Park
Again appeared in "Hamlet", this time as Laertes to Ralph Fiennes' Melancholy Dane
Feature film debut, supporting Pierce Brosnan in "Robinson Crusoe"
Acted in the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions of "Little Eyolf" and "Much Ado About Nothing"
Injured in a motorcycle accident; suffered a concussion in the frontal lobe of his brain; returned to performing three weeks later as Don Juan in "Much Ado About Nothing"
Reprised RSC role of Posthumous in "Cymbeline" at the Kennedy Center (DC)
Portrayed a British soldier stationed in Bosnia in the BBC series "Warriors" opposite Ioan Gruffudd (retitled "Peacekeepers" when aired on BBC America)
Cast in the BBC miniseries "Hearts and Bones"
Headed the ensemble of the WWII miniseries "Band of Brothers" (HBO) as Major Richard Winters
Starred as Soames Forsyte in the British TV remake of "The Forsyte Saga"
First leading role in a feature in Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher"
Played an abusive husband in Lasse Hallström's "An Unfinished Life"
Cast in "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" based on Stormbreaker, the first novel in the Alex Rider series
Cast opposite Connie Nielsen in the Iraq war drama "The Situation"
Starred in the NBC series "Life" as a former police officer who returns to the force after having been wrongly imprisoned for years
Co-starred with Claire Danes on Showtime's acclaimed drama thriller "Homeland"