Damian Lewis reveals useful skill that kick-started his acting career

Damian Lewis reveals useful skill that kick-started his acting career

Damian Lewis has opened up about the helpful talent that saw him cast in his first play at London’s Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park right after leaving drama school.

The Homeland actor, 53, was cast as the titular part in Tim Pigott-Smith’s production of Hamlet when he was 24 – a role he will be reprising at the same venue this summer for Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year — Live! based on Allie Esiri’s anthology.

He said it was his ability to project his voice to the back of the auditorium that secured him the coveted part. Lewis added that he was the only to audition who managed to make his voice heard all the way through the theatre.

Speaking to The Times about his forthcoming Hamlet reprisal, Lewis recalled a piece of career advice from Pigott-Smith, which he still adheres to 29 years later: never to read his reviews.

“He said, ‘Know yourself where the strengths in your performance lie and take responsibility for it. Know where it works better than in other places, and back yourself,’” the actor explained.

“‘You don’t need someone to tell you whether it’s good or not. You’ll roll over and gladly have your tummy tickled by the good reviews, but if you’re going to listen to those you will also have to listen to the bad ones, and sometimes they’re pretty nasty.’

“So, since I was 24 years old I have not read reviews, except collectively towards the end of the run. Theatre is too raw. You’re too vulnerable.”

Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII in ‘Wolf Hall: The Mirror and the Light’ (Playground Television (UK) Ltd)
Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII in ‘Wolf Hall: The Mirror and the Light’ (Playground Television (UK) Ltd)

The Golden Globe winning star has sung to crowds at packed festivals, and dodged explosions in Second World War epics. But still, he says, nothing scares Lewis more than press night in the West End.

Last November, the actor turned musician told The Independent: “I will say there is still nothing more terrifying than a press night in the West End, or at the National Theatre.”

He added of his recent foray into songwriting: “Even an attack on your performance alone can be as devastating as a detailed evisceration of your own words.

“If you want to offer it to the world, you have to stick your head above the parapet and say, you can like it or you can take a shot. And in that moment you’d better be clear about why you’re doing it.”