In Showtime Networks’s new Sunday night drama BILLIONS, Damian Lewis plays hard-charing wealthy Wall Street trader Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is the target of Paul Giamatti’s ruthless U.S. District Attorney Chuck Rhoades. Adding to the complications, Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) is a professional advisor at Bobby’s firm.
BILLIONS was created by the writing team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien, in collaboration with Andrew Ross Sorkin. All three are executive producers on the series. Koppelman and Levien’s first produced screenplay was the cult favorite poker movie ROUNDERS. The pair’s later credits include the scripts for RUNAWAY JURY and OCEAN’S THIRTEEN. Koppelman and Levien also serve as BILLIONS’ show runners.
At a party thrown by CBS, Showtime and the CW for the Television Critics Association, Koppelman talks about his new out-of-the-gate hit show.
AX: Was there a particular inciting incident that inspired you and David Levien to write BILLIONS, or was it just an interest in that Wall Street world?
BRIAN KOPPELMAN: Years of thinking about it, years of thinking that this space was really ripe and fascinating, an intersection of ambition and greed and power, and it feels like, as the titans of business make whatever decisions they make, the ripple effects are gigantic and effect everybody. So trying to understand what makes that whole world tick, and looking at the people whose job it is to prosecute them, it just seemed like battles of kings.
AX: Did you have Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti in mind during the process of creation?
KOPPELMAN: We wrote wrote the script on spec, without any studio involvement or network involvement, and then yes, as soon as we had the thing finished, they were our first choices and we were thrilled to get them. We’d made a movie called THE ILLUSIONIST with Paul before and knew him. Didn’t know Damian. When we found out that there was a chance he’d come back to television, you couldn’t have sent it faster than we sent it to him. And we were thrilled when he said he’d do it.
AX: What are we supposed to get out of the sadomasochistic sexual relationship between Chuck and Wendy, with Chuck enjoying the submissive role? Is he aroused by losing?
KOPPELMAN: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? I’m really fascinated by the question of why. I hope the show will explore that. I really can’t wait to explore it in the show.
AX: There’s a bit of Wall Street jargon in the first few episodes. Is the show going to maintain that level of insider talk, or get a little less dense?
KOPPELMAN: Well, what we hope is that the language becomes a language that the people who like the show become comfortable with in a way. We just try to make it real to the world. The first movie Dave and I wrote was this film called ROUNDERS. And what we found in that movie, although at first it seems like there’s an insular language, it helps you really feel like you’re inside this world and a part of it. And so, we think the audience is really smart, and we feel like the audience can hang with it. And so we’re excited. We had to learn this language and we hope that there are handrails all over the place for people to grab onto.
AX: How many episodes do you have in Season 1 of BILLIONS?
AX: Is the season open-ended or closed-ended? Can you do another season after this?
KOPPELMAN: Oh, for sure. We hope to do many seasons of the show. We are endlessly fascinated by the two couples [Chuck and Wendy, Bobby and his ambitious wife Lara, played by Malin Akerman] and the lives that they’re living and we hope that we can write about them and talk about them for a long time.
AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?
KOPPELMAN: No, this is an all-consuming endeavor.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about BILLIONS?
KOPPELMAN: That these incredible actors have signed on to help us tell this story, and I am thrilled that it’s on Showtime. When you have to sit down and write a script on spec, the chances that you’d be sitting here with Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis in your show are so remote that I feel really lucky about it.
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Article: BILLIONS: Brian Koppelman chats about the new Showtime series – exclusive interview