Damian Lewis, Homeland's Dark Heart
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Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger
Those same executives vowed Damian Lewis would never play Brody. Back in 2010, Danes had already been cast as the female lead. But finding her foil was proving difficult. "It was really hard because you needed an actor who could play a cipher in the first few episodes," says 'Homeland' co-creator Alex Gansa. "Actors always want to make a choice: My guy is a bad guy; my guy is a good guy. I really thought Damian could pull off not going either way."

But the studio didn't agree. Gansa went back to work and found a guy, but Danes exercised her veto power. So he went back to the studio with Lewis' name again. Their reaction was not positive.

"They told me, 'I never want to hear that name again; Damian Lewis is a dead issue,'" says Gansa, chuckling. The show was in danger of being stillborn when Michael Cuesta – director of the show's pilot episode – told Gansa about a barely seen 2004 indie film starring Lewis.

The film is called 'Keane,' and it follows Lewis in some state of psychotic breakdown as he wanders around Port Authority looking for a lost daughter who may or may not exist. It's 90 minutes of the most harrowing film I've ever seen.

Fortunately for Lewis, Keane was available for streaming immediately on Netflix. "I can guarantee you that if it wasn't streamable, I wouldn't have watched it," says Gansa. "We got it to the studio, and the network watched it that evening."

Keane changed everyone's mind. Only Lewis needed convincing.

He spent much of his 20s doing Shakespeare in both London and New York. He never felt the American itch. (Even Band of Brothers was filmed in England.) He made a good living on British television and met his wife, Helen McCrory, a British actress, in 2003. They were married in 2007 and had two kids, Manon and Gulliver; the domestic life he never had as a child was right there.

But then Hollywood called. It was for an NBC show called 'Life,' in which Lewis played a semi-nutty detective back on the streets after serving 12 years in prison on a trumped-up charge. Lewis loved the writing and saw it as a great adventure for the family, and they moved to Santa Monica. The show won awards, and Lewis' performance was praised to the heavens.

There was just one problem: Lewis was working long days. The show creator promised him a B story that would give him more time to spend with his wife and kids, but it never happened. He had an agreement with McCrory – who was in the last three 'Harry Potter' films – that they'd alternate whose career received priority, but Life was all-consuming. If you look at pictures of Lewis at the time, he already had the hunted, gaunt look of Brody down. He suspected he had a virus or something similar, but he simply didn't have time to go to the doctor. After two seasons, Life was canceled so Jay Leno could start his disastrous 10 pm experiment. It was a sort of blessing.

"Helen was stuck with two small children, and I was working 70 hours a week in the Valley," says Lewis. "It was a lot to handle. And we were determined to have a social life, so weekends became extremely active. We went to Twentynine Palms or just made sure we had a great evening. We saw people and threw dinner parties." Lewis laughs. "Come to think of it, I think that's why I got sick."

When 'Homeland' came calling, the idea of moving the family – now reestablished in London – to North Carolina or leaving them back in England weighed heavily on Lewis. In the end, he said yes.

"The problem was the script was so good," says Lewis. "I didn't want to play the upstanding American man. But that's not what they wanted to do. There's no Gary Cooper on the show."

But the question remained whether he would have real chemistry with Danes. It wasn't magic from the start. Danes and Lewis' first scene was a group interrogation after Brody is repatriated. The scene was so flat everyone agreed it needed to be reshot. It wasn't until their next scene that things clicked into place. Carrie ambushes Brody at a veterans support meeting – acting like it was a mere coincidence – and they have a short conversation about how difficult it is to talk about "over there" with people back home. There's a moment where Danes and Lewis both flash electric smiles of recognition. Gansa was back in Los Angeles, where the Homeland writing room is located, when his assistant told him he needed to watch the dailies as soon as possible.

"I asked, 'Is it bad?' " Gansa recalls, laughing. Quite the contrary, she told him. "That's when we knew we had something with Claire and Damian."

But how long will it last? Gansa admits to giving Lewis weekly updates. "I think Damian probably has two minds about it. It's been three seasons, he's won a Golden Globe, he's won an Emmy – is it time to move on to something else? He may feel that way. I don't know. At some point, that Carrie-Brody relationship is just going to be exhausted. And the show will morph into something else."

While Lewis is happy to argue both sides of whether Brody should live or die, he won't cop to a preference. We rode to lunch near his Charlotte residence, and he busily texted his wife and kids. "I'll just see what happens," said Lewis. He sounded most Brody-like.