“It’s a good thing that I’m a rich ****in’ man.” — Bobby Axelrod
Damian Lewis is no stranger to playing men with money, in particular NEW MONEY. In The Forsyte Saga, he brings us Soames Forsyte, a member of an upper middle class family in Edwardian times, who is nicknamed “man of property” thanks to his ability to accumulate material possessions. Only a few generations removed from their farmer ancestors, the Forsytes are very much self-conscious about their status and do not like to be reminded of being “new money.”
Damian also brings us Charlie Crews aka “Officer New Money” in Life. Charlie sues the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD successfully for his imprisonment of 12 years for a murder he did not commit and receives an undisclosed settlement money that is rumored to be around 50 million dollars. Charlie splurges on things he was deprived of in prison: Space. He buys a huge house and no furniture. Fresh fruit. He buys an orange grove. Light. He invests in solar energy.
Now, 50 million is a very very VERY serious amount of money for (almost) anyone. But everything is relative in life and 50 million may not sound as serious to a man like…
Bobby is a billionaire whose Axe Capital is worth 15 billion in assets! He can simply afford everything and anything money can buy and probably some things one may think money cannot buy, too! He owns multiple luxury and vintage cars. He owns a Passoni bike. A 1969 Dodge Charger. A helicopter. A yacht. He owns a private jet (or does he own two?) for God’s sake!
We see him buying a $83 million dollar house in the Hamptons without a blink and paying $125 (minus sixteen!) million to re-name a concert hall after his own family name. So even though both of them are in the “one percent” Bobby Axelrod is still planets away from Charlie Crews. He is in the “one percent” of the “one percent.” And THAT I believe makes it a whole different ball game that an actor who brings to life a billionaire on screen inevitably gets asked about his own relationship with money! 😀
I should have read or heard most of the interviews Damian has done in the last decade so I know he has constantly been getting asked about his upper middle class upbringing as well as his elite education at Eton. These questions make sense because his background being so far away from the blue collar American men that he plays on screen makes it even more fascinating that Damian pulls it off so seamlessly. But I never really saw him getting asked directly about money until he played a billionaire. But now that he is playing one; Damian’s take on money is obviously the center of attention and questions are coming from left and right not only about the money Bobby Axelrod or the real life hedge fund managers make which we blogged about here and here, but also about his own money!
Damian may remind people that he is NOT a billionaire but he is just playing one — exactly like he reminds people he is not a WWII war hero but he is an actor who is playing a real-life WWII hero Dick Winters. He may be opening the London Stock Exchange to promote Billions premiering on Sky Atlantic, but this does not mean he plays stock market on his laptop. He tells LA Daily News: “I don’t play the stock market on my laptop; that would be very foolish.” He is using an investment adviser. What kind of a hedge fund manager would he be? He tells TV Insider: “I’d be terrible at it, because I’m not quick enough with numbers. But I certainly understand a lot more about the hedge fund world now.”
When asked by Luxury London about his investment portfolio, his answer is quite modest:
“I have some investment and I don’t think anyone would take my meagre sums of money into their hedge fund. I have a typical layman’s portfolio which is a little bit of moderate risk, a little bit of greater risk, something put aside for my kids, the usual stuff.”
I grew up in a family that never talked about money. I guess it was because we had enough of it but then we never had much of it. So we had what we needed and did not dream about more. And that may be the reason why I find it quite strange when someone asks someone else, in particular to a stranger, a direct question about money. Okay, yeah, an actor is not necessarily a stranger, but he is not your family or your friend, either. So his relationship with money is private; in fact, as private as his political standing or his religious beliefs.
Having said that I just LOVE Damian’s down to earth answers about money that I could not help put together a post on that. So here we go: Damian Lewis and Money: A Moderate Relationship 😀
Lauren Collins deftly brings money into the conversation at New Yorker Festival in October 2015.
“Let’s talk about money more because everybody loves to do that on stage in front of bunch of people.”
So, what are Damian’s feelings about money and how has working on Billions changed them? Oh, one more: What would he buy with a big paycheck?
We are all ears, Damian!
“For me, it’s buying, you know, probably a new pair of jeans. It’s not very exciting. But if I like those jeans, I buy seven… Money is, hmmm, I think you’ve got to know how much you want. And I think I know how much I want. I know how much I need. I think, working in America is interesting, you know, I do think there is still sort of a small cultural difference between working in Europe and the UK and here. You know, you continue to succeed and do well, the more money you earn here. And, although, of course, money is desirable, if you want to pursue the things you want to pursue in life, and have a comfortable life… I think just knowing when to stop, knowing money is not a motivating, driving force in life, is an important revelation, an important thing to know. And that you should pursue other things that give you satisfaction personally, spiritually, creatively whatever happens to be… so I’m a moderate when it comes to money.”
Then he laughs and adds:
“Having said that, it’s quite fun playing a billionaire! I have been on more yachts, private jets, and helicopters than in my entire life in the span of the last two months. It’s quite fun.”
Well, I guess what Damian has recently told TV Guide is also proof that the perception of a hedge-fund billionaire may vary from country to country!
“When I’m in New York and I walk around, people go, ‘Yeah, Bobby Axelrod, yeah, love you man!’, and when I’m in England, where I live, people go, ‘Oh, Bobby Axelrod, you’re a real arsehole!'”
I guess the obvious next question is what he would buy should he have the kind of money Bobby Axelrod has, isn’t it? Lauren Collins does not go there but a few months later, Luxury London, in an interview with Damian just before Billions hit the UK, does ask exactly that and guess what? Damian seems to be set on what he would do should he have the kind of money Bobby has 😀
“A jet. I’ve been on a private jet only two or three times in my life and it’s one of life’s great luxuries. You arrive at a small airport that looks more like your sitting room and are offered a cappuccino, while your bag is whipped from out of your hand and then just ten minutes later you’re asked to step onto the plane and then you’re off. And it’s just totally terrific.”
And he does not rule out the possibility of buying Liverpool Football Club with the left over cash:
“Liverpool FC could do with a bit of help, so yeah, why not?”
Now THAT would be fantastic!
In a quite recent interview with Parade Magazine, Damian adds to how he would spend the money if he had the kind of money Bobby has:
“Immunotherapy trials. A lot of it would go to charity, but I’d definitely have a private jet to avoid [the hassles] at the airports, and a house in the South of France.”
And even though he does not have a house in the South France yet, he and Helen have recently spent some money on a second home in the English countryside. Besides, it seems Damian has his priorities straight about spending on music and sports! He tells News Corp Australia that asks about whether he has any extravagancies.
“Well, I have a very nice sound system in my house which I spent a load of money on. My wife [actor Helen McCrory] complains and says it makes her feel like she’s in a hotel because the same song comes up in three different rooms [but] I quite like that.”
“We’ve also just bought a very nice house in the [English] countryside as a second home, so those are my extravagances for now. Am I one of these guys who obsessively collects antique typewriters that cost me $10,000 each to buy?
No. I’l leave that to Tom Hanks.”
“I do have a very expensive ping pong paddle, but that didn’t cost me $10,000. That’s not me.”
In an interview with Damian a few years ago, Mindfood asks him what he spends his money on and how important money is for him.
“That’s a good question. I spend money on my children’s school fees and I have just renovated my house and anyone who has done this knows it’s cost twice as much as I thought it was going to cost. (laughs) I don’t own a second home and I don’t have a yacht, nor do I have a share of a private jet.
We don’t need a lot of money and we don’t think it’s terribly important actually in my family, as long as there is enough money to go on a couple of nice vacations and my kids are in private school. We can go to the theatre and eat in nice restaurants and we are pretty happy. We don’t acquire many things. We live in one of those Victorian terraced houses, like a brownstone so with every inch of space you try to create light because otherwise they are dark, depressing, narrow Victorian places with very little storage. So we don’t buy lots of extra things to put in it. I spend a little bit on clothes maybe, but yes, it’s interesting isn’t it, how much money do you need?”
And this is a question for anyone who is in a position to make a lot of money, to ask yourself the question of what will make you happy, what is sustaining and what isn’t? I don’t think a billion is necessary for anybody, personally.”
I like Mindfood’s next question even better because, even though I am not a parent, I believe teaching kids about money is an important part of parenting: What does Damian teach his kids about money? Does he give them an allowance? Do they work for it?
“If they clean the chimney well, (laughs) then they will get 50p. Yes. They are eight and nine so they don’t have an allowance, there is a bit of a negotiation over pocket money occasionally and in order to get them to help a bit more around the house, I did try to give them incentive with 10p tips for making their bed and they got 10p for taking their plate from the table and putting it on the side after meals. 10p for managing to remember their own school bag in the morning when they walk out the door, so one or two incentives. And then they became a bit cynical about hard fought negotiations and they said, ‘We don’t want your 10p anymore.” (laughs)
OK I really REALLY need to jump in here! This 10p story takes me back to my own childhood where my mom did everything, including bribes, and believe me, more than 10p worth of bribes, to get me eat vegetables. But I was like “I don’t want your money.” I just did not care. Life was good without vegetables. I found out about vegetables later in life and now I can live on a vegetarian diet. But I admit, being the spoiled only child that I am, I still do not make my bed when I am staying at mom’s. Sorry!
Back to Damian: So what did he do when the kids refused to take his 10p?
“So then we just went back to shouting at them, which seemed to work just as well. (laughs) But yeah we teach our children, I think they need to know that you have to earn money in order to live. Certainly that is a helpful explanation when I am walking out the door full of shame and guilt because I am not going to see them for three weeks as I go to film in New York or Charlotte or wherever you go as an actor.
So I haven’t introduced them to the concept of money and just trying to make the equation a bit simpler for them that daddy going to work equals nice holiday and Christmas presents. (laughter) So just to help them understand a bit why I am going off to work.”
Damian has kids that will be in school for some time, and given that Damian also loves what he is doing, daddy will be working long hours for a long time, too. But I just hope he ultimately has the time and the money to live his deepest fantasy in life which he shares with Lauren Collins in her wonderful New Yorker profile of him:
“I think probably my deepest fantasy is that I will have money enough and time enough, that I won’t get so caught up in the rat race to succeed, that I’ll just take time out to create an artistic salon with a pool and a tennis court and a gorgeous country house, and glamorous and brilliant friends will come and spend a weekend there. It’s what I long for.”
Well, who does not long for that? And for some reason, this brings to my mind one of the best tunes ever written — and you already know I love to close with music — that I love singing around the house. Enjoy!