Damian Lewis: When your wife dies it’s a fertile and raw time as well as sad

Homeland actor Damian Lewis said he was drained and exhausted for “four or five months” after the death of his wife Helen McCrory.

Acclaimed actress McCrory, who was known for playing powerful women such as Shelby family matriarch Aunt Polly in the BBC gang drama Peaky Blinders and Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, died in April 2021 aged 52 following a battle with cancer.

Lewis, 51, said losing his wife of 14 years, with whom he shares two children, was a “very fertile, very creative, raw, open time, as well as being flattening and difficult and sad”.

Charles Finch and Chanel pre-Bafta party
Helen McCrory (Isabel Infantes/PA)

He told The Times mazazine: “It’s all those things at once. Anybody who hasn’t been through it won’t fully understand, but I think anybody who has been through it will.

“For four or five months, you’re physically drained. Helen was ill for four-and-a-half years.

“They say that the first day of diagnosis of an illness that could be terminal is your first day of grief. You are in a state of semi-grief while the person is still alive because there is always the sense that something might go wrong at any point.

“There’s a hyper-alertness and you are incredibly present and charged at all times. You’re on a sort of war footing. You’ve got something to deal with that gives you great focus. Everything is going into getting that person better.

“Until the moment of death you’re fully engaged in living the best possible life that can be lived for the person dying, and for you as a family and for the children. It takes an enormous amount of energy. So the collapse in death, the exhaustion, comes with that.”

Serpentine Gallery Summer Party 2019 – London
Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory (Ian West/PA)

Explaining what he meant by “fertile”, Lewis added that death is “oddly ecstatic”.

“Along with birth, it’s the ultimate act of life, and it brings this enormous energy to it. And you carry that energy around with you,” he said.

“However deep and profound your sadness, a new beginning always has an energy to it. And it is a new beginning when your wife dies and you’re left on your own. Life has changed. So, there is an energy in that.”

Among his best known roles are Army Major Richard Winters in the HBO mini-series Band Of Brothers, Nicholas Brody in the Showtime series Homeland and Henry VIII in Wolf Hall.

His latest offering as Nicholas Elliott in A Spy Among Friends, created by Homeland’s Alex Carey, is his first role since the death of his wife last year.

He has also been branching out into the world of music, creating his upcoming album Mission Creep, which he described as a “mini mid-life crisis”.

Speaking about whether the death of McCrory inspired the album, he added: “When you’ve been married to someone and they die prematurely, you’re left careering in a different direction.

“There’s nothing more annoying than an actor who thinks he’s Bruce Springsteen. By the way, I don’t think I’m Bruce Springsteen. This is a mini mid-life crisis, but it’s not a full-blown mid-life crisis.”