Damian Lewis says his elite upbringing, attending Eton public school, helped to prepare him for his portrayal of a king in Wolf Hall.
The 43-year-old star, who plays Henry VIII in the forthcoming BBC six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning historical novel, said his background has given him an insight into structure and social circles of royalty.
Damian, who has become an international name after his leading role in Homeland, said taking the role felt like a natural fit and he had found much in common with Henry.
“The more I read about him the more I was happy – and alarmed – to find that I did share character traits with him,” he said.
“I suppose everyone else will be the judge of it, but certainly sitting in the clothes, it feels like a canny piece of casting, because I do find similarities between myself and him.
“I think there’s no question it helps having had the kind of schooling that I’ve had to play a King. The way the court structure, hierarchies, were set up, it’s something I feel I implicitly understand,” Damian added.
He said it was easy to understand the fascination Henry continues to arouse as “a memorable, almost cartoonish king” with the fundamental changes in state religion during his reign and the flourishing of the arts.
Although Damian added: “But of course the reason we’re interested is his six wives, the fact that two of them were beheaded, and his obsession with having a son.
“I think we all have this understanding that Henry VIII was this womanising, syphilitic, bloated, genocidal Elvis character. And, actually, the truth is – though it might be an odd thing to mention – he had a 32-inch waist and he remained that way for quite a long time,” Damian explained.
“He was the pre-eminent sportsman in his court. He was much taller than anyone else. His beautiful, pale complexion was often remarked upon by commentators.
“The grandiose, more paranoid, self-indulgent, self-pitying, cruel Henry emerged in the period after this series.”
Watch a trailer for the series below.
Wolf Hall starts on BBC2, January 21, 9.00pm