Damian Lewis: My Goodfellas bid failed to grab a piece of the accent
Wolf Hall star Damian Lewis has revealed his failed attempt to use gangster film Goodfellas to help with his American accent in his new TV show.
The British actor is no stranger to playing Americans after successful starring turns in Homeland and Band Of Brothers and will next take on the role of a hedge fund titan in the drama Billions.
The series explores the psychological and legal battle between Lewis's billionaire financier Bobby Axlerod and a US attorney played by Paul Giamatti, but Lewis has admitted that crafting his character's New York accent took some work.
He told the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills: "The challenge with this accent for me is when they said 'blue collar', I wanted to go Goodfellas and thought I would have a fantastic time pretending to be a gangster from the Bronx and was just told it was awful and to stop. My generalised American accent is generic Midwest nothing, and that is how I bluff through."
He said the key to his Yonkers tones were the vowel sounds. "You just tighten it up a bit and I'm trying to just concentrate on that. Having seen the pilot, I was struck by how little I thought I was doing and different my accent is in this show than Band Of Brothers or Homeland or anything else. So they're small little shifts, but they read large."
Asked about comparisons between the hedge fund king and his portrayal of Henry VIII in BBC drama Wolf Hall, he said: "I think the king analogy might be apt. But I think they came from different places."
He added: "Henry VIII was born into quite a lot of power and Bobby is a blue-collar guy who, if you like, is nouveau riche, new money, and I think lives by a code of honour, a set of street rules. A kid from a blue-collar community where loyalty is fiercely protected and people are dispatched ruthlessly if they don't adhere to that code.
"What's going to be interesting about this story is specifically this story. So who will Bobby Axelrod turn out to be? And what is he prepared to do to retain power?
"You will see powerful men, kings if you will, struggling to maintain power in their kingdoms."
Billions will be shown in the United States in January, but does not yet have a UK date.