New Money

Hitting Neon’s platform on June 28 is the hit show Billions. A complex drama which dives deep into the high-flying world of finance by colliding two titanic figures – the hard charging, whip-smart U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), and the brilliant, ambitious hedge fund king, Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis). Weaving an intricate web of power politics, finance and a fiscal game of predator-versus-prey. We talk to Damian Lewis about his latest project.

 

How would you describe the show to someone who’s never seen it?

‘Billions’ is a show about two men who believe in wildly different things. One of these men is the US Attorney [Chuck Rhoades] who works in office, who is played by the extraordinary Paul Giamatti. And he’s had enough of me [Bobby Axelrod] a hedge fund billionaire. You’ve got these two alpha dogs: ambitious, smart, large ego’d. Proud men really getting in the boxing ring and slugging it out. For Chuck Rhodes, it’s that he is also being investigated by his own department, just to make sure he’s acting according to the letter of the law, which of course, being ‘Billions’, we know that letter is stretched and stretched to breaking point. But that’s the fun of it.

I love the idea the show is on the other foot too, like the hunter is the hunted, the predator is the prey.

I think part of Axe’s indignation about the whole thing is, you know, dude, why did you get this bee in your bonnet. What’s going on? Why did you just come at me so aggressively? We were very happy in our own little worlds. I was making billions – you were making, 175 thousand a year, less? Bobby is a full believer in libertarianism and the individual’s right to go make money and make something of himself. Having the edge is everything. That is how Bobby runs his life.

Axe is starting to learn a little bit about the limitations of his power. What can’t money buy and what can’t he get his hand on.

He’s not old money, and sometimes, these billionaires are new money. But a lot of them are old money, and they come from old, established families. It’s waspy, it’s East Coast, and he’s still a young contender by comparison. He’s not a sixty-billion dollar guy, but, he’s ten, twenty – he’s arriviste. He’s nouveau-riche in that respect, but he doesn’t understand the nuances of that upper class stroke, aristocratic way of doing things – less is more.

Can you elaborate?

That confidence of the old moneyed, East Coast families. He has a tendency to think money talks and money buys everything – which is a mistake. Bobby discovers that when he is told to get back in his box. So King Bobby is loved and admired and adored in certain areas, he’s feared in others. But in another strata of society, he’s still slightly looked down upon and that’s quite an interesting dynamic.

What do you most like about the show?

It’s ended up being kind of the perfect job. The people involved in all areas of the job have been fantastic. It has the ambition that I’m used to, of wanting to be the best show out there. It’s not just cranking out a show. They’re like small, one hour movies we try to make every ten days. I like the themes of the show and I love playing Bobby Axelrod, I think he hits right in the sweet spot as does Paul’s character. We’re right in the sweet spot of the antiheroes of this golden age of TV we keep talking about. These characters who, you know, you’re not supposed to like, but they have great redeeming characteristics.

What do you want audiences to take away from it?

I think the thriller element, [is something] which I think people really respond to. The wives play strong, central roles, so the family elements are there, and I think watching these families fracture is equally gripping. The cat and mouse thing between Chuck Rhodes and Bobby Axelrod. But, you know these are two men who will be pushed more and more to the extreme and as with the best drama, it’s what lengths are they prepared to go to, to be king of the castle. What’s becoming clear, is they’re on two castles. There’s one castle, and there’s gonna’ be one king.