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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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!
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! 😀
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