Don’t cast the ambitious hedge-fund king as the bad guy in Showtime’s new series Billions, hedge-fund portrayer Damian Lewis and New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin advised reporters today at TCA.
When one reporter asked Lewis if playing Bobby “Axe” Axelrod was similar to playing Henry VIII on PBS’s Masterpiece presentation of Wolf Hall, Lewis responded, “the king analogy might be apt” but that the two characters “come from different places.” Henry VIII was born into power, while Axelrod is nouveau riche, self-made, and possessing a set of “street rules.”
The contemporary drama takes an insider look at the world of finance by tracking the approaching collision of hard-charging, politically savvy U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), and brilliant Axelrod.
“You’ll see powerful men, kings if you will, struggling to retain power in their own kingdoms,” Lewis told reporters. Over time, viewers will discover who his character turns out to be and what he’s prepared to do to retain power, the actor said.
“I spoke to a lot of these guys. They’re fascinating,” Lewis said of hedge funders. “They’re risk averse…scientific and analytical,” Lewis said, acknowledging that “might not be the best ingredients for an explosive TV series.”
Throughout the Q&A, EP/co-creators/showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien repeatedly said they do not moralize with this series, and are more interested in the specifics of these two characters, as played by Paul Giamatti and Lewis. Koppelman forecast viewers may find themselves rooting for one man in early episodes but having switched camps by Episode 7, and said they hope viewers become “completely invested in all of the characters.”
New York Times financial columnist/Billions EP and co-creator Sorkin got asked to weigh in with his thoughts as to what tendencies he sees among people “at the top of the world” in his capacity as the New York Times financial columnist. “It’s so hard to generalize,” Sorkin hedged. When you look at this world you tend to think about fear and greed and money, he said. “But on some level it’s as much about power and pride,” he explained. “When you really spend time with people and understand what’s motivating them, the money piece of it is just a scorecard.”
Lewis wound up the discussion, telling the journalists, “It’s up to these [EPs] whether they take an amoral view of the world,” and that, should the series survive many seasons, they might just decide his character is corrupt and “we’re going to hang him” –
“We don’t do that,” Koppelman jumped in, reassuringly.
– and to approach the series with a preconceived idea as to who is good and who is bad is to “do yourself a disservice,” Lewis told the journalist who’d asked the question. “Stay more open minded, dude,” he scoffed.