Damian Lewis

New York, NY — Homeland star Damian Lewis returns to Showtime with Billions, playing a hedge-fund titan using all his power to stay ahead of the law. Just in time for the show’s January 17 debut, he sat down with Cigar Aficionado to talk about his latest anti-hero role, his time on Homeland and the show’s portrayal of Islam, and how he maintains work-life balance with his wife, Helen McCrory (a semi-regular on Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful”) and their two children, among a variety of other topics.

The February cover story in Cigar Aficionado hits newsstands January 12. Select quotes include:

On Billions and his new acting role: “Bobby is a character who plays right to the strength of what is best about television right now. I feel very fortunate, really, to be working in this particular realm at this particular moment. It’s my great fortune that I came of age at a time when this new form of television was developing.”

On why TV today is better than film: “It’s become increasingly difficult to make movies. So the sophisticated, interesting stories are being told on TV, where it’s easier to get them made. People realized they could write scripts that were more complicated, that you can tell over a 12-hour period. And people take these 12-hour movies and binge-watch them. David Simon (creator of The Wire) referred to this form as novelized drama. Watching one of these long-form dramas does feel more like getting involved with a novel.”

On Homeland and his fame that came from the show: “The immediate effect was a more aggressive kind of fandom. I was used to being stopped in the street, but there was something a little more hysterical about those encounters after ‘Homeland.’ People will physically grab you and stand right on your toes, to get a camera to your face.”

On talking with President Obama, who, at a state dinner, informed Lewis that Homeland is his favorite show: “He was extremely charming and funny, talking about how much he enjoyed the series. I finally asked him, ‘When do you have time to watch TV?’ And he said, ‘Well, on Saturdays, when Michelle takes the girls to play tennis. I go into the Oval Office and watch some TV.’ That was such a great image to me: of POTUS, his feet up on the desk, kicking back to watch ‘Homeland.’”

On an encounter with Bill Clinton, in which the former president spent 20 minutes offering a private assessment of how important he thought Homeland was in its portrayal of Islam: “It was fascinating…I can’t tell you how often I get stopped by people, who appreciate my depiction of an observant Muslim.”

On Homeland character Nicholas Brody: “What was interesting about Brody was that, really, he didn’t know who he was. He’s a soldier, he’s a prisoner, he’s a terrorist, he’s a patriot. He came back to commit an act of terror – and wound up going back to Iran to service his country.”

On Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and working with them on HBO’s Band of Brothers: “That show changed my career. It changed my life…You have to understand that film and television never really figured in my plans…Theater was my focus. Then I’m suddenly flown to Los Angeles, put up at this lovely hotel at the beach in Santa Monica – and then ushered into a meeting with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. I mean these men are iconic artists. But they both had such warmth and were so welcoming to me. And here I was, one step removed from the poor roving player.”

Claire Danes, his Homeland co-star, on working with him: “He’s just so smart and charismatic, you never could be sure what machinations were ticking behind the façade. But of all the cat-and-mouse business, he was very clear about what the rules of the game were in the actual act of playing the scene. We could afford to delve into the darkness and dishonesty in the land of make believe, because we were so open and direct with each other as actors. To have that communication and consideration with a partner – which translates into trust – is a beautiful and rare thing.”

On cigars (a byproduct of his time on Homeland): “With a glass of whiskey at the end of the evening, a cigar is just right…I like milder, creamier Dominican cigars, although I’ve also enjoyed the occasional Cuban. You can buy them in London. I got a nice humidor full.”

On playing a character with duality – the public face, the private demons: “Really, it’s like being a good poker player. When you’re in that situation, there are always two people you’re playing with – the other character in the scene and the audience. Then there’s the question of whether you allow the audience to enjoy knowing the secret as well – or whether you keep it to yourself. As an actor, you have to play everything with total sincerity. You play it from moment to moment, the way every good liar does.”

On doing a British accent versus an American accent: “When I’m shooting something where I’m playing an American, I’ll put the accent on as soon as I get to the set and just never drop it. There are people on ‘Billions’ who have never heard my British accent.”

On family balance for two actor-parents: “The easiest thing would be to have a wife that stayed at home. But my wife has had success and has a career that needs to be nurtured and encouraged. It’s a constant negotiation, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

On what he would be doing if acting hadn’t worked out: “Teaching. History…And drama. Of course.”

About Cigar Aficionado 

Launched in 1992, Cigar Aficionado is the definitive lifestyle magazine for men. Dubbed “The Good Life Magazine for Men”, the print publication and its accompanying website (CigarAficionado.com), focus on luxury lifestyle topics such as golf, travel, alcohol and accessories. Cigar Aficionado also sponsors events such as The Big Smoke, the country’s premier event for cigar smokers. Parent company M. Shanken Communications also publishes Wine Spectator, Whisky Advocate, Market Watch, Shanken News Daily and Shanken’s Impact Newsletter.