The prince of premium cable
In the post-Sopranos television renaissance, our perception of actors relegated to the tube is finally changing. With Hollywood A-listers flocking to the small-screen in droves, TV—most notably premium cable—has slowly transformed itself from purgatorial stepping stone to a destination in and of itself. See, actors aren’t “TV stars” anymore. They’re just stars. Period. And by that standard, Damien Lewis has to be considered one of the brightest stars in the business.
Born to an upper-crust family in London, Lewis developed an interest in acting as a teen and, after graduating from Guildhall School of Music and Drama, performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His first major break beyond the stage was as Dick Winters, the lead character in Spielberg’s critically acclaimed HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, which garnered him a Golden Globe nomination and attention in the states.
But after Band of Brothers, Lewis returned to relative obscurity, turning in solid but overlooked performances in Keane (2004), as a mentally disturbed father or in Life as a wrongfully imprisoned police officer in NBC’s short-lived but promising drama.
Although he was working steadily, it wasn’t until premium came calling again that Lewis’ career got another shot in the arm. This time it was for a show called Homeland, and he was to play Nicholas Brody, a marine-turned-POW-turned-terrorist. In retrospect, casting him seems like a no-brainer. But bigger names had already passed—Brody was a terrorist after all. Lewis himself was on the fence but, after no small amount of hand-wringing, the ginger-haired Brit returned to the States to play a hardened American soldier.
Needless to say, the move payed off big for Lewis, who was, along with the series, showered with accolades. And after a successful three-season run alongside Claire Danes, Lewis finally got to parade around in his native accent as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall, a miniseries for the BBC. But this post–Homeland stint away from premium cable proved to be short-lived. In 2015, Showtime came calling again.
Nowadays, most actors would probably die happy with one solid premium cable show on their résumé. Yet Billions, a head-to-head clash between unscrupulous rogue billionaire Bobby Axelrod (Lewis) and headstrong U.S attorney Chuck Rhoades (Giamatti), marks Lewis’ third. Forget Gandolfini, Hamm and Cranston, actors-turned-icons for one career-defining role. With Billions returning for a second season of epic horn-locking this winter, Lewis has a chance to be immortalized for three different series. So even if he never shows his freckled face on the silver screen again, it wouldn’t much matter: Lewis is the golden boy of a golden age.