Damian Lewis of Homeland and Billions is now heading the Smithsonian Channel’s docuseries Spy Wars with Damian Lewis that examines some of the most pivotal international spy operations in the last 40 years. Covering cases of espionage from the Cold War to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration attempt to bring down Kremlin-backed Viktor Bout, the factual series satisfies even the most selective of spy buffs.
One upcoming episode details the true story behind Ben Affleck’s Academy Award-winning film Argo, interviewing several of the people who participated in the legendary plan that saved American lives.
Damian Lewis as narrator and co-producer
Hosting the historical series, Lewis has a big part to play in the making of Spy Wars. The former Homeland star produced the docuseries from his recently-launched company Rookery Productions, along with London-based Alaska TV, according to Deadline.
The eight-part program airs on ViacomCBS’s Smithsonian Channel Sunday nights at 8 p.m., showcasing interviews with real-life operatives from the KGB, CIA, and MI6 along with dramatizations of events. Lewis narrates each episode.
In his interview with Deadline, Lewis shared the challenges of producing material that doesn’t have a script but relies on sifting through information. Yet the actor reveled in the investigative process. A fan of espionage history, Lewis wanted to add the fact-based spy exploration to his list of credits. “I’ve never done factual before but I have broad taste and I want to dabble in this,” he said.
Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’
After proving himself as a director with critically-acclaimed films Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck once again manned the helm for a film chronicling the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis.
When Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, they held over 50 Americans as hostages. Under the guidance of CIA Agent Tony Mendez, the operative launched a rescue mission acting as a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film in order to rescue six Americans hiding in the homes of Canadian diplomats.
“It never would have worked if it weren’t a true story, because people would have just thought there is no way the CIA would be working with Hollywood,” Affleck told ABC News in 2012.
The film was a box office hit and earned Affleck a Best Picture Oscar. “This movie, as I started working on it, has become more relevant,” the Good Will Hunting actor noted. “It’s a movie about the consequences of revolution, and who the United States allies itself with, and what happens in these counter revolutions.”
‘Spy Wars’ spotlights the real ‘Argo’
Through interviews and reenactments, Spy Wars tells the true story of how American operatives accomplished their unparalleled rescue mission in the episode “Escape From Tehran.”
Among those giving their account of events is CIA Officer Bill Daugherty, who was held hostage in the American embassy, sometimes being interrogated for 12 to 13 hours at a time by captors. Mark Lijek and Cora Amburn-Lijek, two U.S. Embassy staffers hiding out at the Canadian ambassadors home who each took a role in the cover story for the escape.
Matt Baglio, co-author of Argo, Roger Lucy of the Candian Embassy in Tehran, and Gar Pardy of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs also give their accounts in the episode.
Lijek found it a challenge to watch the film that depicted his ordeal. “It was almost the first time I’d thought deeply about what it must have been like for the 50 or so Americans in the main building,” he told the BBC in 2013. “Those scenes were quite difficult to watch.”
The entire episode gives details of the escape straight from the captives, with Lewis including surrounding facts of the groundbreaking mission. For viewers who enjoyed the film Argo, the historical account presented by Spy Wars is must-see TV.
Spy Wars with Damian Lewis airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel. “Escape from Tehran” airs on April 19.