American Dream… It’s a cliché, isn’t it? But, as an immigrant to America, I know that it is real.
I came to the US as a young graduate student — a good research university saw some potential in me, I think, that they gave me a stipend for several years plus subsidized housing. And, with real hard work, and a little bit of luck, I made it here — I can actually say that I am living the American Dream… However, I am well aware that hard work does not necessarily make you reach your dreams… There are millions of people that are nowhere close to their dreams despite hard work and right choices… And then, on the opposite side of the socioeconomic spectrum, we have the “one percent” that has REALLY made it… And, some of them, unfortunately, even have a hand in hindering others from reaching their dreams, and sometimes, in shattering these dreams altogether.
Damian Lewis will be bringing to life two major characters this year, one on stage, and the other one on TV, that represent the opposite sides of the American Dream! First, he plays Walter “Teach” Cole in American Buffalo, a man that cannot be further away from the American Dream and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod in Showtime’s Wall Street drama Billions, a man that is the “American Dream” itself.
We will of course talk about both “Teach” and “Axe” in much more detail in the coming weeks and months — you know we love to micro-analyze every single Damian Lewis character here… but today I want to focus on the fascinating contrast between “Teach” and “Axe”… Some telling nicknames, huh? 🙂
Both productions are very timely thanks to the financial crisis that we have gone through for the last couple of years. Damian Lewis explains this in the context of American Buffalo — which, of course, also applies to Billions in a similar way — in an interview with Evening Standard: “It seemed to be a good project thanks to the tough times we’ve been in for the last few years. This is a play that has a real working-class voice”.
Yes, it does. American Buffalo has “blue-collar desperation” at the heart of its story. It is about guys that never really make it. The three characters, Don, Teach and Bobby, more or less, span three generations — Don is an older man, Bobby the young kid, and Teach the middle-aged. They are not necessarily family, but they ARE, in a sense — three generations living the exact same life.
Having one’s share of the American Dream happens through hard work, right choices, and a little bit of luck… Don, Teach and Bobby have not been able to get there… I don’t know if they worked hard, they probably did not make the right choices, and they, I am sure as hell, did not have much luck. But they are desperate to get there… The play, in this context of three men hoping to make it, questions where “friendship” ends and “business” begins.
Walter “Teach” Cole is the perfect depiction of blue-collar desperation. He is the dominant character among the three and he likes to lecture — so the “Teach.”
Teach is pissed off.
First with his friends. A LOT. “I cannot brush this off. They treat me like an asshole, they are an asshole. The only way to teach these people is to kill them.”
Then with his decisions in life: “If I kept the stuff that I threw out… I would be a wealthy man today. I would be cruising on some European yacht.”
He would most probably not be cruising on some European yacht. But he has to hold on to a justification for not having been able to make it… And, maybe it’s wrong choices — if only he had kept the stuff he threw out… or the stuff his dad had kept in his desk drawer…
Finally with guys that have made it: “Fuckin’ fruits…”
Teach is aggressive and ambitious, he preaches to others about how to conduct “busines”; however, he is rather clueless about it. And, in his hopeless pursuit of getting “business” done, Teach is, in fact, drowning in his deep-down brewing fury. He seems he can turn violent any moment.
Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, on the other hand, is a member of what we call “The One Percent” in America. We, at this moment, do not know much about the character other than he is a “brilliant, ambitious hedge-fund king.”
[Side note: We don’t even know how Damian Lewis looks like as Bobby, so I have just used some recent pic of him in this post.]
My imagination is already at work with this brief but extremely loaded description!
Bobby is most probably everything that capitalism in its most brutal form represents. Well, he’s an “Axe” after all, isn’t he? In the interview with the Evening Standard, Damian Lewis adds something very important about who Bobby is. He says he will play a “self-made man – though he does work his way up to be a hedge fund manager” in Billions.
Now, THAT IS interesting. Bobby may be coming from humble beginnings, from a family whose dreams were never realized… or were shattered somehow… that further motivated young Bobby to make it! I wonder, if we will have some flashbacks to Bobby’s past where he remembers some opportunities he missed because of his background or some family moments from when he was a young boy? I believe it adds layers to the story that he’s a self-made man.
It seems Bobby is NEW MONEY — which brings me to discuss the differences between OLD MONEY and NEW MONEY. Old money has been there for generations, and because they have been able to keep the wealth in the family for generations, they feel secure and confident about their status even though there is always a possibility that they lose it all. NEW MONEY, on the contrary, is always on the fence about losing. Because they know how hard it is to climb the socioeconomic ladder, they can do what it takes to protect what they have. And, in this context, Billions may also get into the territory of questioning where personal loyalties end, and business begins…
NEW MONEY is anxious, NEW MONEY can be ruthless, and Bobby seems to be exactly THAT, which, I think, can play into the story with gripping twists and turns! And, most importantly, it is very likely to create this quite complex persona in Bobby, a very confident looking and acting man with some deep insecurities and anxieties. And, because he is a “I will never ever be back to where I came from” type, Bobby can get completely ruthless — so the “Axe.”
Ah, I know that Bobby will be a wonderful anti-hero that I will desperately root for and certainly be shocked with myself that I am rooting for the Wall Street hedge-fund guy! Quoting the great 007, “Never say never” and quoting the great Charlie Crews, “I am not attached to Bobby Axelrod. I am not attached to Bobby Axelrod. I am a little attached to Bobby Axelrod.” 🙂
Playing these two “contrasting” characters with some possible similarities back to back, attests to the diversity Damian Lewis has in his acting portfolio — in contrast to typical Hollywood hunk that always plays the same character in exactly the same way, just with a different character name.
And, I am, of course, clueless if it has ever run through Damian’s mind but it has through mine — what if… what if… we had “Teach” and “Axe” in the same room, what would they talk? Oh, man! That would be CRAZY! 🙂 I remember JaniaJania mention, in one of her tweets, that “Teach” has the potential to use an ashtray on someone like Brody did on Akbari in the penultimate episode of Homeland Season 3. I’d second that and say Teach would definitely make good use of an ashtray with Bobby Axelrod —especially if he knew they were both coming from humble beginnings!