He may be a Hollywood movie star, but A-list actor Damian Lewis has closer ties to little old Essex than you might think. Not only does the 53-year-old, known for his roles in Homeland, Billions, Band of Brothers and Wolf Hall, own a house in a picturesque part of North Essex, he’s preparing to hit the stage at the Palace Theatre in Southend this month- just don’t expect him to be acting.

Hardcore fans of the red-haired heartthrob will already have been aware of his musical abilities, but it wasn’t until 2022 when he released his debut album, ‘Mission Creep’, that the rest of the world was introduced to the vocal and compositional talents of Mr Lewis.

As well as starring in some of the most successful TV shows in recent years, the star was and is, an accomplished guitar player. As a child he never stopped playing and even went busking around Europe in his twenties before he decided to plough his efforts into acting.

But even though acting roles such as captured US Marine Nicholas Brody in Homeland, Hedge Fund trader Bobby Axelrod in Billions and more recently as King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall, catapulted him to global stardom, it’s music that remains a driving force in his ongoing career.

Great British Life: Damian LewisDamian Lewis (Image: Joseph Lynn)

Lewis would occasionally perform at wrap parties on film sets as part of a scratch band but when Covid and the ensuring lockdowns hit, he realised he, at last, had time and space away from a busy acting schedule to throw himself into playing and writing songs. With the additional maturity and experience that life has given him the ideas for tunes and lyrics began to flow.

When he embarked on his first ever tour last year, for many it was a case of ‘oh yeah, another actor wanting to be a rock star’. However, as he performed a series of sold-out shows across London and made a few festival appearances, it quickly became evident that in this case this was a man who really can play guitar and really can write and sing.

At the time of writing, Lewis was embarking on an eight-date tour with his band for March 2024- with Southend on the list of the handpicked intimate venues where the music magic will happen.

Lewis will be performing all of the original songs from the album but he’ll also be sharing brand new material destined for his second album, with Palace theatre-goers.

'I’m looking forward to coming to Southend. These old Victorian and Edwardian theatres like the Palace are wonderful. I also really love to be by the coast,' he said.

The star, who was married to British actress Helen McCrory, until her tragic death from cancer in April 2021 (and with whom he shares two children) is as modest as he is private. He’s not someone who you’ll see plastered all over social media. He doesn’t want to say exactly where he lives, but he shares the fact that has a house in north Essex, near to the Suffolk border.

Great British Life: Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory (Image: Ian West/PA)

'I love Essex, of course I do. I love the coastline and the coastal towns like Mersea and Southend, such lovely places to visit. Essex is special in the sense it’s very much an extension of the East End with a cockney culture but also has its own identity. It’s the land of Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable after all. I feel very lucky that I have a house in one of the most beautiful parts of Essex.'

This new music chapter for Lewis is something he’s going for it in a big way. With a career that has seen him star in films including Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time In America’, where he played Steve McQueen, he’s got a job to convince people he’s as much of a musician as an actor.

Many of the tracks on Mission Creep were written by Lewis himself, mainly during the lockdown, while others have seen him put his own stamp on covers such as ‘After Midnight’ and Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’. So, does Lewis have a favourite track on Mission Creek? 'I love all my children the same', he jokes, but he admits ’She Comes’ has a special place in his heart.

'It’s special to me because it was the first song I ever wrote,' he explains.

With other tracks including ‘Down on the Bowery’, ‘Makin’ Plans’ and ‘Hole in My Roof’, Mission Creep dips its toes into a fusion of blues, rock, folk and jazz.

'I’ve heard some people describe the album as eclectic and I love that,' he said. 'But I hope it works in the sense it’s not all over the place with different styles.

'When I announced, I was going to record an album I was ready for the onslaught. People are going to be sceptical and cynical. I mean, come on, what the world doesn’t need is another movie actor wannabe rock star.

'You can almost hear the scraping of the knives out to get you when you make a crossover like this.'

The onslaught, however, didn’t come. In fact, when it came to Mission Creep the critics were upbeat, kind even. The Daily Telegraph described the album as 'romantic, offbeat, witty, wise, very touching and unarguably accomplished' while Rolling Stone Magazine labelled it 'A record of largely roots-y Americana, backed by an accomplished band of eclectic musicians'. Buzz Magazine praised Lewis for successfully ‘breaking the mould’ when it comes to accomplished actors turning musicians.

'I’m not craving rave reviews to be honest, to me, someone saying ‘I heard your album and it was actually quite good’, is like a five star review!

'I’m under no illusion that I’ve got to prove myself as a musician. I’m in awe of the people I’ve been working with. The talent that is out there is just incredible. It’s actually surreal to be performing with all these amazing musicians and I say to then ‘how long you have been doing this?’ and they say, ‘25 years’ and they ask me and I’m like ‘18 months’.'

Confidence and talent aside, stepping out on stage to do something completely different, even for an accomplished actor, must get the palms sweating?

'Before each gig it can get nerve wracking just like it does as an actor I suppose. But it’s different because when you go on stage as an actor you are performing someone else’s words and interpreting someone else’s work. When I’m performing a song that I’ve written myself and I’m singing it, you could end up feeling exposed in some way.

'Oddly though I don’t feel any more exposed than I would be standing on stage in the West End for a press night, probably because I want to do this so much. I want people to come to the theatre, to have a good night, to listen to the songs and go home feeling like they’ve enjoyed some good music.”

In one of the tracks on the album, ‘Soho Tango’, Damian has to perform a fair bit of whistling. Doing it in the recording studio is one thing but it can’t always be easy to produce a whistle live on stage?

'Actually, it can be quite difficult if you go out on stage and you’re nervous and your mouth dries up!' he confessed. 'I’ve got a thing that I do where, If I think I’m not going to be able to whistle, I give a nod to my band and they sort of play over that bit.'

Does the star wet his whistle, so to speak, with a few drinks before the show? 'It’s weird because when you’re with a band it’s a completely different vibe so I might have a beer before the show. I’d never dream of doing that when I’m acting. I’ve never been the kind of actor who could down a couple of tequilas and head out onto the stage but a beer before a musical performance, that I can do.'

Damian has famously had a love of guitars since he was a child exploring his passion for music and creativity and, yes, singing in the school choir. He normally brings two instruments on his tours including his beloved Martin D-28 dreadnought acoustic guitar that he bought in Nashville.

He almost went full throttle into music when he was younger after he went busking all over Europe.

'I’d sit my guitar and my tent on the back of my motorbike and off I’d go,' he said.

'I’d drive all over Europe and perform the latest cover versions of whatever songs were big at the time. It was certainly an experience.'

Fate intervened, however, and it was acting that proved to have the greater appeal back then.

Damian is keen to stress this isn’t just a fad for him. Of course, he’s going to keep acting, but he wants the musical side of things to progress.

'You can’t do everything in life that you want but you can do things you get sheer pleasure from,' he said. “That’s what this is for me, but I need this to work financially. If I record an album and go on a tour and the tickets don’t sell and I’m thousands out of pocket, then I’d have to think again.

'It’s an expensive industry and obviously it’s got to be worth it. In a way this is young start up business. I hate to call it a business, but in a way, this is what it is and I have a band to look after and they are putting their faith in me.'

Stressing his point Lewis recalls a lavish party in Cannes, France, years ago when he found himself invited onboard the mega yacht owned by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

'There were 200 people invited to go on this huge yacht and somehow I was one of them,' Lewis recalled. 'We’re all on this yacht then Paul Allen takes of his jacket, pulls out his electric guitar and started playing. He was really good. But that was a rich man’s hobby. For me this is not a hobby.'

When it came to putting his band together, Lewis- a self-confessed Elvis superfan who was also inspired growing up by David Bowie, The Beatles, Neil Young and Lloyd Cole- got a helping hand from his good friend, the renowned jazz musician Giacomo Smith.

After Lewis played Smith his songs, Smith liked what he heard and gave Lewis all the encouragement he needed, offering to produce the album via Decca Records.

Led by Lewis, the pair then set about putting a band together, with Smith introducing Lewis to an array of talented musicians, many of whom had played with Smith in the hugely popular Kansas Smitty’s House Band.

As he embarks on his musical journey Lewis will continue gracing our screens – small and big. Fans of Hilary Mantel’s historical novel masterpiece, ‘Wolf Hall’ will be aware of Lewis’s performance as Henry VIII opposite Mark Rylance’s Thomas Cromwell.

Lewis has been filming the second part of the story- the BBC adaptation of the book, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ which is expected to be out at Christmas. In the sequel to Wolf Hall, we can expect to see Lewis portray the king as he battles ageing, problematic wives and an increasingly ambitious Cromwell.

So what’s it like acting with Rylance?

'He’s an amazing man- a pure, pure actor. He’s a serious actor but he’s got a cheekiness about him,' said Lewis.

It’s hard to imagine Damian Lewis has been on TV and film screens for more than 20 years. One of his earliest performances on mainstream TV was in a 1995 episode of ITV’s Poirot entitled ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ opposite David Suchet.

'I was at home a little while ago and that episode came on the TV and I just couldn’t believe how young I was,' Lewis says. 'Where did all those years go?'

Damien Lewis and his band will be at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff on Sunday, March 10. Tickets are £30. trafalgartickets.com