Friends and Crocodiles
Damian Lewis plays Paul
In Friends and Crocodiles, Damian Lewis plays Paul, the unorthodox yet brilliant business innovator with an uncanny knack for predicting the trends of the future.
Paul's unconventional working relationship over several decades with the more straight-down-the-line Lizzie is what forms the core of this riveting film.
The moment he read the script, Lewis was captivated by Paul's maverick
"Paul is the son of a Dagenham car plant worker. He has got rich
through property and leads a Gatsby-esque life in this fabulous mansion.
There he surrounds himself with the talented and the beautiful.
"There is evidence that he enjoys the trappings of success, the ubiquitous
women, the suggestion of drugs.
"But what sets him apart from the crowd is
that he's a man of ideas. What drives him in life is not women or drugs,
"Having around him those who are brilliant, he creates an
environment where people can have time to think, debate and discuss,
which is so crucial.
"The film laments the lack of time given to individual thinking. We're in
the grip of think-tank-ism and the general dumbing down of original
But nothing ever stays the same in this drama, or indeed in life itself.
"This world he has created is a Xanadu, an Eden of sorts," the actor
carries on. "But Paul sees it being squeezed by the advent of the corporate system of the Eighties. He treads a maverick, independent path and at first seems to be losing out to the great Eighties money-making monoliths.
"In the end, though, Paul comes good because he remains true to himself.
We realise that he's a man of tremendous sincerity. He's flawed, but all the more fascinating for that reason."
Lewis was equally drawn by the highly unusual nature of the relationship
between Paul and Lizzie.
"Stephen writes sophisticated characters with a lot of ambiguity," asserts the 34-year-old actor, who has previously starred in such well-regarded work as Band of Brothers, The Forsyte Saga, Colditz,
Jeffrey Archer: The Truth and Warriors. Mostly recently Lewis excelled as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, opposite Sarah Parish as Beatrice.
"What is gripping about the script is that it portrays a profound intimacy between two grown-ups without ever turning it into a love story.
"There is never any flirtation or come-hither from either character. It's very much a platonic relationship. That's vital to the piece.
"It's a far more adult and complex relationship than a straight love
affair. The film embraces the complexities of relationships between men and women without succumbing to the pressure of getting them together at the end.
"It's an extraordinarily ambitious premise for today's film world because
the perception is that audiences want romance, that romance sells and that
love sells. But what is brilliant about this is that it demonstrates that
love can manifest itself in many different ways."
Lewis adds that, "The film explores the nature of love in the broadest sense. Paul and Lizzie love each other, but they are not in love. Through equally strong forces of respect and appreciation, love grows between them as life-long friends.
"Friends and Crocodiles is the absolute opposite of When Harry Met Sally. It demonstrates that there can be love and intimacy and respect between a man and a woman, which doesn't necessarily lead to sex.
"The reason Paul and Lizzie come together is not because one fancies the other, it's because they utterly respect each other."
Lewis, who has recently completed work on a dizzying array of movies - Chromophobia, An Unfinished Life, Keane and Brides - continues that Paul and Lizzie each offer something the other lacks.
"She admires him for his ideas and his gift of predicting fads, while he is drawn to her for her directness, honesty, intelligence and unequivocal sense of integrity. He needs someone like that in his life and understands exactly how precious that is. He recognises in her an invaluable asset to his business empire.
"Although they're very different - he's a maverick and she's more strait-laced - they complement each other perfectly. The only problem is that they can never sustain the relationship because their differences are precisely what first bring them together and then drive them apart."
Lewis closes by paying tribute to his writer-director. "In his work, Stephen is always positing a raft of different ideas. They may be overtly political or they may be a contemporary sociological critique. But these ideas are never there for their own sake. They are always conveyed through character.
"Stephen has a lot of control over his work, which is great because the best art is always achieved through one person's vision and not a committee.
"He is a very ambitious and original voice and, given the paucity of intriguingly-written drama on TV right now, he should be treasured. Stephen should always be given whatever money he needs to carry on making his unique films."