Damian Lewis interview: "Why I'm playing a gig at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds despite my Hollywood fame"

Damian Lewis is best known for his critically-acclaimed roles in Homeland, Billions and Band of Brothers but the actor now takes on an entirely new role as he pursues a career in music.The 52-year-old Emmy and Golden Globe-winning star released his debut album ‘Mission Creep’ in June and is now about to embark on a UK tour, which includes a date at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club on 1 October.

It is always a risky career move when someone at the top of their respective profession switches lanes to uncharted territory.

This risk isn’t lost on Lewis as he is fully aware of the pitfalls and public perception when an actor ventures into music.

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Throughout Hollywood history, there have been a number of high-profile actors who have made this career move, such as Steve Martin, Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves and Eddie Murphy. However, despite the array of A-list names that have come before, it doesn’t make this transition any easier and is often met with cynicism from the general public.

Damian Lewis @ Brooklyn Bowl by Kyle Terboss/Decca RecordsDamian Lewis @ Brooklyn Bowl by Kyle Terboss/Decca Records
Damian Lewis @ Brooklyn Bowl by Kyle Terboss/Decca Records

“Our own prejudices get in the way a bit, but I'm as guilty of that as the next person," says Damian Lewis.

“The human mind prejudices naturally, it's just part of our filing and sorting mechanisms. We have heroes and we fantasise about people and we want that person to continue being that person for us, because they fulfill a role. When that person changes and tries to do something else it sometimes ruins it for other people.

“I'm not trying to be more famous. I'm trying something different, which is risky. I'm quite aware of the pitfalls of it but it hasn't stopped me because life is short. There was an opportunity to do something fun, creatively satisfying and creatively different,” say Lewis, who knows all too well how fragile life can be having lost his wife, Peaky Blinders’ actress Helen McCrory, two years ago to cancer.

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It can be difficult to overcome public perception and thrive in a different creative venture but Lewis knows the only way to overcome that is through good music.

Damian Lewis -  (photo credit Rhys Frampton).Damian Lewis -  (photo credit Rhys Frampton).
Damian Lewis - (photo credit Rhys Frampton).

“Maybe people won’t fall in love with you all over again, as a musician, but you can’t be in control of that. You can just make good music, just be in control of that,” he says.

Lewis seems to have managed this as ‘Mission Creep’ has received favourable reviews from critics and the general public alike.

He described the response as “surprising” and that he is “delighted” with how people have taken to his new music.

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The actor describes his musical journey so far as a ‘series of accidents’ and that it suddenly got big on him, not initially planning on making a record or signing to a major label.

Damian Lewis photo credit Rhys FramptonDamian Lewis photo credit Rhys Frampton
Damian Lewis photo credit Rhys Frampton

Lewis initially pursued a music career when he became restless during Covid-19 and wanted a new creative outlet that would be fulfilling during this difficult period.

He was introduced to Jazz musician Giacomo Smith, who also produced the album, and started a band performing covers.

However, this bored Lewis as he found it much more creatively exciting to write his own music.

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He said that in the past he always felt self-conscious when writing songs but with Giacomo’s encouragement he revisited this and it came naturally to him.

Damian Lewis live - photo credit Joseph Lynn.Damian Lewis live - photo credit Joseph Lynn.
Damian Lewis live - photo credit Joseph Lynn.

The ‘Billions’ star may have only just recently pursued music as a career in the last couple of years but it has been a passion of his ever since he picked up a guitar at the age of 13.

He was inspired by the likes of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, The Beatles and T-Rex and in his early 20s he bought a motorcycle and went on a transformative experience busking around Europe.

“I would go around the South of France or Spain and put myself down in a market square somewhere and play to a restaurant. If the patrons eating made the mistake of sending out a beer to me then that was it, I ruined their evening because three or four beers and then I just wouldn't shut up.

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“But it was really good training, just getting out on the street and playing in front of an audience. Sometimes people stop, sometimes people walk by, sometimes I found myself playing to 60 – 70 people because they’d stop and have a listen, outside the Pompidou in Paris or wherever it happened to be,” he says.

With ‘Mission Creep’, Lewis wanted to make an album that had a spontaneous and raw feel to it, reminiscent of his busking days that would take listeners on a journey.

“I wanted the album to give a sense of a journey to this point, from busking ‘til now.”

He said that he wanted a Jazz/Blues vibe to the album and for the listener to feel as if they were in the room.

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He adds: “I didn’t want to do some overproduced thing. My musical experience is busking, it’s a voice and a guitar - it’s raw and stripped back. I wanted to recreate that, but better.”

Lewis hits the road yet again, but on a larger scale than his busking days, as he supports his debut album with a tour across the UK.

He didn’t want to use his pre-existing fame as a cheat code to perform in big venues straight away but instead learn his craft at more intimate venues, like the 400-capacity Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.

“We’ve played smaller gigs in and around London and then bigger gigs like Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Wilderness Festival. I think that’s why we are a fun live show because we’ve done it a bit now and I feel ready to take it on a UK tour. We are playing at some iconic venues that some big acts have been in on their way up.”

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People know Damian Lewis best as the Wall Street billionaire Bobby Axelrod in Billions or as Nicholas Brody in Homeland; however, the actor is hoping that through this tour, fans will be able to see a more authentic version of himself onstage.

Nevertheless, his acting background will come in handy as the father of two may be a relative novice as a touring musician but as a thespian, he has experience that can be easily translated to live performance.

“I love being in the theatre and this is similar, it’s a live performance in front of an audience,” said Lewis. “I love the immediate response. You get a dialogue going with the audience, there’s a sense of a conversation. You can feel if there’s an energy in the air and you feel all of that and you feed off it. You feel that communally there is a good experience happening for everyone in the room and that is very satisfying.”

Lewis finished by saying how excited he was to tour the UK, especially as his album has now been out for a couple of months.

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“I’m hoping there will be a sense that people know one or two of the songs when we play them, that would be thrilling if that happened. It would be amazing, living the dream!”

Damian Lewis will perform at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on October 1. Tickets are sold out, www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk

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