By Monica Rizzo
December 17, 2012 12:00 PM

He plays an all-American Marine and newly elected congressman on the hit series [Homeland], so when Damian Lewis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama in September and revealed his British accent during his acceptance speech, many fans were shocked by what they heard. “I’ve spent a lot of time in America,” Lewis says with a bashful shrug before chalking his flawless stateside speech up to experience. “I even wake up in an American accent sometimes.” The London-born actor is so convincing, even his costars sometimes forget his background. “He stays in the American accent the whole time we’re working,” says Morena Baccarin, who plays his long-suffering wife on the Showtime series. “So there’s always a jarring moment where we’re having a beer at the end of the day and he’s a completely different person.”

After the past year Lewis admits that he often feels like he’s living a different life. Until now the actor, 41-best known for his memorable role in the popular World War II miniseries Band of Brothers and for the 2007-2009 NBC series Life-had lived mostly under the radar. But the raging success of Homeland, which dominated the Emmys, boosted Lewis to new levels of fame. Playing Nicholas Brody, a prisoner of war who returns home with terrorist ties, alongside Claire Danes‘s indefatigable CIA agent, he’s won critical acclaim-and a fan in President Barack Obama. (“It surprises me that the President watches TV at all, so it’s a huge, huge honor,” Lewis says of Obama’s endorsement.) With the sudden presence of paparazzi and fans’ camera phones, Lewis says, he realized shortly after the series began airing that “we created a monster with this show…and that’s exciting.”

But transitioning into the spotlight hasn’t been simple. Lewis films for five months a year in Charlotte, N.C., while his wife, actress Helen McCrory, 44, daughter Manon, 6, and son Gulliver, 5, have remained based in London. “It’s not a sob story because we film through the summer vacation, so they come for two months and we all hang out,” he says over afternoon tea at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont. “But there’s still a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to make it all work. Thank God for Skype. It’s a godsend.”

When he’s alone on location, “the cast is like a little family,” says Lewis. “Everyone is away from home, so you have to keep an eye on each other.” That means lots of golf outings, hikes in the mountains and frequent cast dinner parties. “I can cook, but it’s not like I have a specialty or anything,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t say I was a chef!”

By the end of a season, “you do start going crazy,” Baccarin explains. “So we are always trying to make each other laugh.” Lewis is often the ringleader. “He’s kind of flamboyant and goofy and a lot of fun,” says Morgan Saylor, who plays his sullen daughter Dana. When the scenes they’re shooting get a little too dark-torture, assassination plots and subterfuge are all in a day’s script-Lewis knows how to lighten things up. “I’m learning to tap dance. That’s what I love doing,” he says. (Danes even bought him a Gene Kelly box set for inspiration.) “And I love to sing show tunes.” With costar Mandy Patinkin, a Broadway veteran who plays CIA honcho Saul, “we’ll just break out into a cappella. We did ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ together. He corrects me on the words.”

Back home in London, Lewis relishes his time with his kids “just sitting on the floor of the playroom and playing,” he says. “My little guy likes to set up figures and have a battle: Castles attack castles or cowboys versus aliens. And we all just hang out.” Dad may be a celebrity across the pond, but his children haven’t yet taken note. “Since my wife and I are both actors, we just tell our kids we are storytellers for a living,” he says. If they’re a little unimpressed, Lewis is okay with that. Besides, he says, Mom’s jobs have been way more impressive. “Helen was in Harry Potter, and they’ve been to the Harry Potter set,” he says. And while Lewis is remaining mum on whether he’ll be back on Homeland’s set for a third season, he’s content where he is right now. “At the moment,” he says, “I’m the luckiest man in the room.”