Damian Lewis, ‘Life’

Leading men in Emmy contention

A Brit playing an eccentric American in a position of authority? At one time it might’ve been sneered at, but not anymore. Not considering the way Stateside auds have bought into Hugh Laurie as the mercurial Dr. House.

Yet the similarities between Laurie and “Life” star Damian Lewis go way beyond their onscreen personas.

While the two are from the same area and are living somewhat similar career paths right now, they had never spoken to one another before a phone call last year.

“I bought his house in London,” Lewis says from the U.K., just a few weeks before coming to Los Angeles to begin filming the second season of his NBC drama. “His agent was a mutual friend, and I called him to say I’m sitting in your bedroom.

“Hugh’s advice was, ‘You better get used to working hard. Incredibly hard.”

While Lewis may never get the attention Laurie’s received for “House,” he received plenty of notice for his first American venture, HBO’s miniseries “Band of Brothers,” which took home six Emmys. In the World War II-based project, Lewis played Maj. Richard Winters, a soldier who quickly rises through the ranks.

That exposure led to other opportunities in the States, but Lewis passed.

“I had offers for network TV series, but the timing hadn’t been right,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate not to chase work for money. ‘Life’ was attractive for creative reasons.”

One was the way his character undergoes a philosophical rebirth after getting released from jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

“Rather than being a vigilante, he has embrazed Zen somewhat unsuccessfully, and uses it as anger management.”

And like Laurie, Lewis hides his Blighty accent for an American one that sounds pitch perfect, as if he were born and raised on L.A.’s Westside.

His motivation for keeping it authentic? Sheer embarrassment.

“I have sessions with dialect coaches to make it specific, but my ambition has always been to not sound like the Limey doing an American accent. Luckily, I’ve had opportunities to play with it.”

Favorite scene: “When Crews delivers a fairy tale white horse to his ex-wife because he ‘always promised.’ It succeeds in being both incredibly romantic and eccentric.”

What you like most about your character: “He’s someone who’s tremendously engaging and has been given a second chance to reinvent himself. He sees the world with new eyes and is reborn.”

TV guilty pleasure: “We just had our baby, and I’ve been watching ‘X Factor’ and ‘Pop Idol.’ “

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