Catching up with Bobby Axelrod:
Billions Comes to Upper West Side!

As I mentioned a billion times before, Billions is my dream show! And not only because my favorite actor is in it, but also New York, from its landmarks to city parks to its distinct neighborhoods, appears as a cast member! As someone who feels the only home she has in the world is the city that never sleeps, I love it that the show is taking over New York, the big film studio that it is, and shooting all over the place, from Manhattan to Queens to Brooklyn to The Bronx to Long Island and to northern suburbs. I cannot thank enough to the show creators and show runners Brian Koppelman and David Levien for giving us a love letter to the city in Billions.

That said, one little problem I had until last October was, while they shot Billions all over Manhattan, they did not shoot a scene showcasing not only my but also Mr. Koppelman’s neighborhood, the Upper West Side, or as Lewisto and I love to call it, the Upper Best Side 😀

If you have seen a leafy, residential Manhattan neighborhood on a TV show or a movie, chances are, it is the Upper West Side. It is where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks hang out in You’ve Got Mail. It is where Jerry Seinfeld lives in Seinfeld. And it is where Liz Lemon lives in 30 Rock. In fact, Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey live on the Upper West Side, too! So does the wonderful Frances McDormand! The neighborhood is known to be one of the cultural and intellectual hubs in the city with several universities as well as the American Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Center.

Museum of Natural History

Yet, the neighborhood has a relaxed feel to it with young families pushing strollers, people walking their dogs and friends hanging out at low-key bars and restaurants. It is also one of the greenest sections of the city since the neighborhood is nestled between Central Park and Riverside Park.

Yes, you are right! I LOVE the Upper West Side and thanks for bearing with me as I brag a bit about my beloved neighborhood!

Boat Basin, Riverside Park

Now, I know how meticulously they choose where the characters live, eat, and hang out in Billions and so it makes perfect sense that the only character that lives on the Upper West Side in the show is Lonnie Watley, who we have been missing this season! Lonnie is an AUSA at the Southern District and his wife is a pianist who could be playing in one of the city’s many orchestras.

Lonnie’s building at 194 Riverside Drive

Their demographics is just right for the neighborhood: a forty plus, two-income couple, probably with a kid or two, they could easily be my next door neighbors. They belong to the Upper West Side exactly like Bobby Axelrod belonging to a penthouse in Tribeca, Chuck and Wendy belonging to a brownstone in Park Slope, and Chuck Senior belonging to a luxurious pre-war on the Upper East Side.

So I completely understand most Billions characters would not regularly hang out in my neighborhood. But can’t they take their kids to the Museum of Natural History, see an opera at the MET, or attend a concert at the Beacon Theatre?

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center

And I admit the neighborhood does not have the glamorous food scene of the downtown restaurants but can’t some of our favorite characters grab a bite at one of the neighborhood gems we have?

It turns out they can! 😀

On a Sunday afternoon last October, I noticed this sign on 72nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam as I was heading back home after running the big loop in Central Park.

source: Damianista

I was thrilled not just because I now knew Billions would finally be coming to my beloved neighborhood (I did not know at the time they shot Connerty’s fuckin’ serious top spin at Wang Chen’s Table Tennis Club earlier!) but also it could be a great opportunity to have Damian’s blessing on our new crazy endeavor: damian-lewis.com

Most of you know it was a big moment for the Fan Fun team when we started to manage the fan site damian-lewis.com in September. The site had been on a hiatus for almost a year and a half when we took over and we had the ambition to make it a Damian Lewis database like no other. So Gingersnap, Lewisto and I worked our asses off to restore the archives, fill the gaps and maintain the site for a month. Just to give you an idea: the memo we sent to Damian’s PA Michael about the work completed on the site was four pages single spaced. And we received a very kind thank you note, too. Yet, I really really wanted to take my blessing in person 😀 And, even if I would not be able to take a few minutes of Damian’s time, maybe I would at least be able settle a discussion Gingersnap and I had for a couple of weeks!

When the first set of pictures from Billions Season 3 surfaced in late September, these were Gingersnap’s first words:

“Bobby is not wearing a wedding ring.”

source: Getty Images

Mark my words, the girl has eyes! So we sort of knew he and Lara would be separated in Season 3. But we did not want to say a word before they made it public. And the shoot on the Upper West Side presented itself as an opportunity to examine the ring situation closely! 😀

Lewisto and I went out to look for Billions set Monday morning. I saw some movement in front of Viand Cafe, our local diner (where it turns out they filmed the scene with Ira and Bryan) while Lewisto walked down on Broadway.  And he whatsapped me a few minutes later saying he just spotted Damian at Gray’s Papaya, a 24/7 open hot dog joint famous for its cheap and yummy hot dogs, at Broadway and 72nd Street. Their “recession special” (yes, it is a real thing) is, as Bobby Axelrod would agree, one hell of a deal: Two dogs and a drink for $5.95

source: Damianista

Here is a quick glimpse into Gray’s Papaya for you. The customer in the red jacket is Lewisto buying a hot dog! And if you are curious about where the “papaya” in the name is coming from, it is a papaya drink sold at the joint. Yum!

As soon as I arrived at Gray’s Papaya, the first thing I noticed next to Damian was Ben Shenkman aka Ira Schirmer! Well, given that Chuck threw his best friend under the bus, it makes perfect sense for Axe to try and make friends with him, doesn’t it? And the second thing was that Damian was wearing a wedding ring. Hmmm…

It all became clear when Damian came out, saw us, and said hi, and the first thing I told him was he was in MY neighborhood! But, hey, he is getting into a car… Is he leaving already? It turns out they were rehearsing until now so Damian was in his own clothes (how did I miss his black leather jacket?) and was wearing his own wedding ring! He would now go change into Bobby clothes and come back for the shoot. And when he came back as Bobby Axelrod, he was not wearing a wedding ring 🙂

We saw the scene being shot without the slightest idea that it would be one of the most hilarious moments of the episode: Axe got into Gray’s Papaya and stood behind Ira in the line. A bit later, Ira opened the door and left, visibly upset. And Axe held the door and shouted something after him.

“Go for the recession special.”

It is an extremely fun experience to watch a show being shot, especially if it is your favorite show, and you just stand a feet or two away from your favorite actor and see him in action, and moreover he waves at you before he shoots the scene. Yet, you also find out about how serious and complicated filming is.

“Two dogs and a drink at that price is hell of a deal.”

How long does the scene at Gray Papaya’s last in the episode? I held time: 1 minute 34 seconds! But they shot the scene again and again and again. I do not know how many times Damian came and stood in front of us for a minute or two before he got into Gray’s Papaya and did his thing again and again and again.

I am obviously not in show business so I do not know the details about shooting different versions of a scene but I think they shoot subtle, moderate and intense versions of the same scene multiple times. Then it is probably up to the show creators to make the final decision about what take to use in the episode. And they work for a few hours to get the right one and half minute take out of it. No wonder they have 14-hour days on the set, and it takes two weeks to shoot an episode and six months to shoot a season!

“What juice do you want? Oh, too soon? Couple of cokes!” 😀

Here is a couple of things I have noticed as I had the privilege to watch the shoot for half an hour or so.

Damian carries a chapstick in his pocket and uses it often.

Damian drinks a lot of water between takes.

Damian talks a lot on the phone between takes.

Damian stretches as he gets ready for the scene.

You can see some of the stretching in the fan photo below. The people standing behind Damian? They are the extras who play the customers getting in and out.

To be honest with you, I did not even touch my phone standing there because I did not want to risk getting kicked out of the set. In fact, a guy from the crew was coming towards us, probably to tell us we should not stand there, as another crew member told him “they are Damian’s friends.” Well, not exactly, but I will take that! 😀 We think that guy thought we were Damian’s friends because of the way he said hi to us when he was on his way to changing into Bobby clothes. I mean, anyone would think Lewisto and Damian were best friends if they saw the very friendly hi Damian said to Lewisto. My theory is that Damian feels for Lewisto because he is constantly bearing with his crazy wife. That said, now that Damian has the Fan Stories book in his hands, and that Lewisto has a hilarious story in there, he may be thinking we so deserve each other! 😀

“It’s not very open-minded of you, Ira!”

During one of the short breaks they took, I was able to have my blessing! Damian said it was fantastic we took over the fan site and that it looked great. And these were the only words we needed to hear to go full force ahead! If you have not yet, please visit damian-lewis.com for the latest interviews, articles, and photo shoots! It is one big Damian Lewis library!

Because we wanted to keep the fact that Axe was not wearing a ring a secret until they made it public, I carefully cropped the picture when I tweeted about having Bobby Axelrod in my neighborhood back in October! Damian had this jacket on top of his Bobby clothes between takes because it was a cold October day.

And here is the original “live” picture with no hand cropping – credits go to Lewisto! – where you can see Damian’s smile happening! 😀 Cheers!

72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, source: Damianista

28 thoughts on “Catching up with Bobby Axelrod:
Billions Comes to Upper West Side!”

  1. You did it again! You are amazing! I love that not only do you keep having these amazing expirences, but that you share them with us! Oh, and I do love me some Gray’s Papaya! What NYer doesn’t?

    1. Thank you! Well, they were filming literally around the corner from me. Restraint was not an option! Right?!?! 😀 Yes, what NYer doesn’t like Gray’s Papaya? And, as Axe points out, their recession special is hell of a deal! 😀 😀 😀

  2. See I’m not the only one who knows you have an old pal! I have a few questions, what does he smell like? What is his touch like? Do you feel small standing next to him? Does he pay attention to you?

    1. HAHAHA yes – I love my old pal 🙂

      1. Fresh. No cologne.
      2. Firm hug. Firm hand shake, too, Thank God! 😀 You may laugh at me but I find people who barely hug you or shake your hand (woman or man) quite annoying!
      3. I don’t. I am 5’6″ and I usually wear a bit of heels. I know many people find Damian very tall but all the guys in my family, except for my husband, are 6’1″ or taller so I am very much used to them 🙂
      4. He was obviously very focused on his work this particular day but yes he definitely pays attention. I think JaniaJania wrote about it at some point, either after we met him at the New Yorker Festival or at the Goat Play. He uses my first name (his pronunciation is PERFECT!), he asks about life and work, and I was shocked to find out he was paying attention to my purple coat. But, again, maybe you don’t need to pay attention to notice that coat 😀 😀 😀

  3. How FUN is this? How fantastic is this? So wonderful of you to share with us fans the behind the scenes action! Yes, Notlinda….what does he smell like????

    1. Thank you! It was beyond FUN, a thrill, to watch the scene being shot – without any idea that it would be one of the most hilarious moments of the episode. It is interesting that you really do not hear a thing even when Damian shouts after Ira at the door – it should be a challenge to film in New York, the people, the traffic, the constant construction work, lots of noise everywhere 🙂

  4. I think Damian has said he studied Alexander Technique, so maybe that’s what his stretching is about! Alexander technique has roots in Delsarte 🙂

  5. Hello Damian’s friend :D.

    You did it again, you met him. It’s becoming some kind of habit :D. Thanks to always share with us your encounters with him (and his smile <3 ), it's always filled with details and anecdotes, I love it

    And thanks for sharing your love for your neighborhood it's very pleasant to read <3

    1. It’s all about impressions 😀 😀 😀

      Well, they were literally filming around the corner from my apartment. Restraint was not an option 🙂 Besides, I told Damian he was in my neighborhood! Come on, Damian, who is stalking who? 😀 I absolutely try my best to pay attention to details so I can share them. Thank you so much for your kind words!

      So glad you enjoyed reading about my neighborhood. I am not a full-time New Yorker. My husband and I worked there for five years then had to move for jobs but we could not give up on NY so still keep our tiny apartment and we are quite mobile since we do not have kids and spend a lot of time there. It is the only place I feel free. No driving – and that is totally my kind of life!

  6. This post is so much fun! I was excited to hear of the scene in the Viand Cafe – my husband and I had breakfast there on our visit to New York. It was right next to our hotel and we walked past the hot dog stand many times. What are the odds in a city that big – and it was our first visit in over 30 years. We were a few months too late to see billions shooting but your post brings it alive.

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy! What are the odds that you come to the city and stay at the Beacon — literally one block from my apartment? I so wish I had been in NY then, we could have had some eggs benedict at Viand Cafe together. Next time! But I am so glad you had a good time, and I forgot to tell you earlier, we loved Mark Rylance in Farinelli and The King!

      1. Some day we will meet in New York City! I’m happy to hear you enjoyed Farinelli and the King. I kept meaning to ask you if you saw it. Mark Rylance is captivating on stage!

  7. What a fabulously fun story! You with your being in the right place at the absolute right time. Gotta bottle that skill!
    Of course, the crew knew you as his friends. You are!! <3<3<3

    To answer NotLinda's very pertinent questions:

    1) A waterfall
    2) Sad to say, I don't remember enough to describe...because my mind was churning at the thought, forgetting to actually perceive. Cool and warm at the same time? (but not at all tepid!)
    3) Not really, surprisingly. He is taller than me, obviously, but something about the way he leans in all attentively doesn't make you feel like he's towering over you.
    4) Abso-freakin-lutely. Much more than you really want him to. He pays attention to everything, to everybody. If he's ever called into testify in court, he's one of those people who could tell you what everyone in the room was wearing and what emotions they were giving off. He absorbs all life around him and makes you feel seen and heard.

    1. Thank you! <3 Well, they would not be able to shoot at a better time: It was my fall break! Thank you, Billions!

      A Waterfall. YES! I was thinking pure, clean, water. Altogether. I told NotLinda that you wrote in one of your posts about Damian paying a lot of attention to a person he is talking to. I could not remember which post. Maybe New Yorker Festival or meeting at The Goat? So happy you answered the question here. Very well-said!

    2. JaniaJania, thank you for sharing this! I already knew that he pays an over-attention to everything, and that’s one of the things about him I so admire. I think few lady-journalists have mentioned it. All his sights and gestures reveal a real profiler 😀 I understand that could be pretty embarrassing especially for an introvert like me. I would be totally intimidated by him in atête-à-tête situation. Along with his charisma… it seems frightening 😀 God bless Damianista for being such a child-like, frankly solder on a mission, so no Damian’s allure can restrain her from examining him! Thank you both for the fresh-waterfalls whiff! <3 And thanks to Notlinda for rising the questions!

  8. You may not be his old pal literally, but you are the most loyal, compassionate, caring and loving fan that someone could ever have. Who would keep in secret a wedding ring affair for more than half a year 😀 Thank you for sharing all those precious experiences with us, and thank you for letting him know how we love and admire him. It’s a great generosity!
    A huge THANKS goes to Gingersnap and Lewisto too for they have worked their asses off to pull that entire database in damian-lewis.com <3 Both teams *fan-fan* and *com* are just great! I love you, girls! And of course, Lewisto is the best partner that a crazy Damian’ fan could ever dream for. “And he whatsapped me a few minutes later saying he just spotted Damian at Gray’s Papaya” is just cool! 😀

    1. Awwww THANK YOU! These are some of the most beautiful words I have heard from anyone. You are such a lovely friend. Thank you!

      I cannot thank Gingersnap and Lewisto enough for restoring the archives and maintaining the site especially during that first month. Now it is 90% Gingersnap doing the site (and 10% me giving a hand here and there) and I mean the girl is a machine! Say an article comes up and it is on the site within 5 minutes. I am not kidding. Yeah we may be doing this voluntarily but we work like as if we are, say, CNN or the New York Times 😀 As I told Damian several times, and I don’t want to be humble about it, I don’t think there is another actor that has such a dedicated group of fans voluntarily running a fan site and a fan blog simultaneously. That said, it is the fans, our wonderful readers, giving us a lot of love and support, who are inspiring us to keep going and going. Damian Lewis fandom is like no other fandom. WE ROCK! <3

      Lewisto is definitely the best partner-in-crime anyone can ask for - he is simply the best thing that ever happened to me! And I forgot to put it into the post but when I got to Gray's Papaya Lewisto told me it was fascinating that he could pinpoint Damian in a crowd of maybe 30 men at Gray's Papaya (show creators, crew members, the director, other cast and extras) and he said he did not know if it was his posture or what it was but Damian just stood out in a crowd. He's right, isn't he? 🙂

      1. The girl is a machine, indeed! I’m witnessing every day her promptness. Always two steps ahead, promoting his work. You should not be humble at all! As I told you, he has his own Damian’s Angels (Bobby’s Angels these days  )
        YES, WE ROCK! <3
        And yes, he definitely stands out in the crowd. I don’t know what stars there must have been up there at that very moment he was born, but God is my witness – this man spreads out charm like no other. Good Fairies at his baby crib trow. 🙂

        1. When I went to set last year as they were shooting a scene at 9/11 memorial, I arrived, and you know, I wear glasses and don’t see that well, and I was able to see him from VERY far immediately. I don’t remember if we talked about it back then but here is the post and you can see the picture where I detect him from very far. https://www.fanfunwithdamianlewis.com/?p=24681

          You are certainly a profiler! 😀

          1. Thanks for this! He is the only one in the crowd whose hair perfectly fits on the leaves of the trees 🙂

            His walk… unfortunately I can not remember much from my back stage evening. I watched him from behind while he was leaving. There is something boyish and carefree about it. It’s eager and blithe at the same time. It is hard for me to find the right words in English, but defenetly sporty.

            What is the journal? Can I read it online? Can I read your paper?

            I love the ‘grasshopper’ proverb!!! 🙂

          2. It was incredible I could distinguish Damian from across the memorial. But it happened. He stands out. Amazing. His walk coupled with his posture is quite distinct. I sent you the paper in a private message 🙂

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