In Showtime’s BILLIONS, now in its second season on Sunday nights, Damian Lewis stars as up from the streets but now very wealthy Wall Street businessman Bobby “Axe” Axelrod. Bobby has drawn the wrath of Deputy District Attorney Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti. Their situation was considerably complicated by the fact that Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) has been Bobby’s professional advisor and coach. At the end of Season 1, Wendy separated from Chuck and quit her job with Bobby, disturbing both men.
At the start of BILLIONS Season 2, Bobby embroils Chuck in a massive lawsuit, but the tactic may backfire. The London-born Lewis, who won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of U.S. Marine-turned-terrorist-turned-spy Nicholas Brody on Showtime’s HOMELAND, fills us in on where Bobby and Co. are going this year.
ASSIGNMENT X: Can you talk about the evolution of Axe?
DAMIAN LEWIS: I think Axe is a man who wants to be left alone. He’s a libertarian, he believes that a man should be able to make money. The goal posts in that industry move all the time, so what’s legal, what’s illegal is very hard to prove or disprove a lot of the time. They all take advantage of that all the time, and he a past master at it. I think he just feels indignant and disgruntled that this man has decided to come at him so aggressively, which he has. He’s not going to go away. I think Axe feels that, in order to thrive, he needs to dispose of Chuck Rhoades, so he files this lawsuit against him, and that’s how we start Season 2. After that, there are hard decisions. I think a lot of people are concerned that this show will burn out because [they think] it’s just going to be a show about two men cracking skulls. But actually, I think what they’ve done quite artfully this season is, there’s a whole investigation by his own people into his own office, and I in the meantime am looking at an investment.
AX: Why does Axe spend his money so conspicuously?
LEWIS: That’s all about status, that’s all about acceptance, that’s all about being a blue-collar working-class guy, self-made billionaire, a nouveau-riche guy who wants to be accepted by the Establishment, by the East Coast, old money guys. And so these different stories have emerged this year in an interesting way. It just turns out that there’s a longer game being played. And I get played in the end. So we just see the way in which the emotional lives of these characters is finally what undoes them. So when they’re irrational, emotional, envious, angry, needy, then they perform less well. When Axe is dependent on the algorithm, when he’s rational, when he’s clear-headed, then he’s better at what he does. He has more chance of taking him [Rhoades] down and more chance of just doing his job well. But certainties are eroded. Season 1 was a great ride. It was being in this playground with these powerful people in the playground that’s New York. And of course there was an effect to the way they behaved, but there was no real consequence. I think there’s more consequence this year. So it goes deeper.
AX: In what way?
LEWIS: Axe has a significant birthday in the course of the season, and I think he examines where he is, what he is, what he’s achieved and what he wants from life. He then gets pushed into a position which is a little bit like the gunslinger who’s put down his guns having to make one last kill. And he does something abominable, which is a place he’s pushed into because of his fight with Chuck. There is a shifting in his self-awareness of who he is. There’s a little more introspection, which is something you could never accuse Bobby of normally.
AX: Does Bobby ever look at the ethics of the companies he’s acquiring? Things like whether they pollute, or cure people, or ignore worker safety, things like that?
LEWIS: The short answer is, at the moment, no, but it’s not made absolutely clear. And we also don’t get into the mechanics of what happens to a company when someone like Bobby Axelrod comes in and makes it work more “efficiently.” That’s not something the guy seemed particularly concerned with, until this moment that I was just alluding to, which is later in the season, where there is a brief discussion about the way in which government, local communities, have a responsibility to take care of their own towns, and then there is a little riff on what happened in Puerto Rico recently, about the way in which an entire country has effectively been privatized, because the hedge fund guys have been able to go in and invest and start to take over huge numbers of assets, hard assets, and infrastructure in the company in order to rebuild it. This show never wants to become too didactic, because there are people, of course, who will understand it, there are people in New York who will understand it, but mostly, I think you need to understand the show through the prism of people’s emotional beats, you need to know that someone has won and you need to know that someone has lost, and you know to know what’s the cost. And I think the show will work most successfully in that realm, without becoming too didactic, I suspect.
AX: Can you tease at all where Axe and Wendy’s relationship goes this season?
LEWIS: Yes. As the paranoia increases, their relationship is challenged, too. Wendy is quite capable of taking care of herself, as we saw at the end of last season, when she plays Axe in that last moment and runs away with the Maserati and a five-million-dollar bonus. Was it five million? It suddenly doesn’t seem like very much in the world of BILLIONS. And she doesn’t work with Axe anymore. Axe relies on her heavily, though. Of course, there’s always going to be a question of pride with him, and he attempts to lure her back. But it’s because, I think, there is some truth in the fact when she says, “We built this company together.” I think she is good counsel for him, and he needs her. He feels more confident with her. There certainly isn’t, for now, any kind of romantic interest between them.
AX: What’s the strangest audition that you’ve ever had?
LEWIS: The strangest audition I ever did was, when I was a younger actor, and I was auditioning for a commercial, and there was a sleeping bag at the end of the room. And they said, “Go and get into that sleeping bag.” I said, “Okay.” They said, “Now, turn away from us, face the wall.” I said, “Okay.” And they said, “On ‘Action,’ roll over towards us.” And I said, “Okay.” And I rolled over in my sleeping bag, and they said, “Okay, thanks so much for coming in.” And that was it. It was the last commercial audition I ever went out for, because I felt it was such a waste of time.
AX: Do you get recognized out on the streets, when you’re in airports, walking around?
AX: Mostly for BILLIONS, or HOMELAND, or something else?
LEWIS: I’m old, I get recognized for everything. I get recognized just for being me now [laughs].
This interview was conducted during Showtime’s portion of the winter 2017 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour in Pasadena, California.
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Article: BILLIONS: Damian Lewis talks Season 2 – interview