Highlights from Billions at TCA15

“It’s like Highlander, there’s only One.”  – Bobby Axelrod

The Television Critics Association gave the stage this morning to the show runners and talent behind Billions at TCA15, and, boy, did they give us a lot to take in. Foremost is the news that Billions is set to premier on Showtime on Sunday, January 17 at 10pm! And here’s a new extended trailer:

We already know the premise and players, so let’s get to the highlights from TCA15.

Damian Lewis gets right to the heart of the matter as reported by Hollywood Reporter: “What’s going to be interesting about this story is specifically this story… who will Bobby Axelrod turn out to be? And what is he prepared to do to retain power?”

Damian Lewis Bobby Axelrod
source: Showtime
Damian Lewis Billions
source: Getty Images: 2015 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.

Deadline reported that Damian admonished the reporters that “to approach the series with a preconceived idea as to who is good and who is bad is to ‘do yourself a disservice.'” Indeed, we could have told them that if Billions were a simple story of black or white, good vs. evil, Damian Lewis wouldn’t have signed up. The challenge for any actor worth his salt is to play those cloudy gray areas of human emotion that leave the audience thinking and guessing and talking. And Damian is one to rise to that challenge every time.

David Costabile, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Maggie Siff, Condola Rashad, Damian Lewis, Toby Leonard Moore, Billions
The cast of Billions: David Costabile, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Maggie Siff, Condola Rashad, Damian Lewis, Toby Leonard Moore
Damian Lewis Paul Giamatti
Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti at TCA15

Hollywood Reporter also tells us that Damian was asked about comparisons between Wolf Hall‘s Henry VIII and Billion‘s hedge-fund king Bobby Axelrod. His response: “Henry VIII was born into quite a lot of power and Bobby is a blue-collar guy who, if you like, is nouveau riche, new money, and I think lives by a code of honor, a set of street rules, if you like, a little bit more. A kid from a blue-collar community where loyalty is fiercely protected and people are dispatched ruthlessly if they don’t adhere to that code.” Sounds like a bit of Henry VIII meets Tony Soprano, perhaps?

Deadline reiterates Damian’s observation that “the king analogy might be apt”. He continues, “You’ll see powerful men, kings if you will, struggling to retain power in their own kingdoms.” Seems our guy has run the gamut from an infamous English king to a kingpin of Manhattan’s financial district .

Damian Lewis
Damian himself jumped immediately on the mobster aesthetic and, in terms of the specifics of his American accent, said “I wanted to go all Goodfellas with it. I thought, ‘This is going to be great. I’m going to have a fantastic time pretending to be some gangster from the Bronx.'” His colleagues on the series shot down that schmaltzy idea: “The guys repeatedly said, ‘That’s awful, can you stop that?'” Ultimately, Damian ended up with “generic midwestern nothing” accent according to Surfreport’s Diane Gordon.

Hollywood Reporter affirmed Damian’s approach to the accent. “Having seen the pilot, I was struck by how little I thought I was doing and different my accent is in this show than … Homeland or anything else. So they’re small little shifts, but they read large.” What I heard as a singsong NY accent in the pilot may in reality be a generic American accent presented with NY confidence and swagger. All of this attests to Damian’s facility of managing all the moving parts of a character: accent, posture, stance, and expression.
HR reports: “Also helping him get into character are Bobby’s clothes, which include jeans (instead of suits) and a Celtic cross.” Damian said, ‘All these things just help make him be a guy from his neighborhood who happens to have a lot of money, and that empowers him…I think Bobby is one of these guys who’s quite empowered by his sense of himself anyway without the money.’”

Billions, despite the title, is principally a story about power, where money is just a vehicle for power. And it’s a story about class. The guy ostensibly on the right side of law, Giamatti’s US attorney, is well-connected upper class, whereas the guy attempting to break class barriers nefariously by sheer cajones and ability to sneak through the cracks in the system, Damian’s hedge-fund manager, is a kid from Yonkers.

Diane Gordon tweeted Koppelman saying: “Damian’s character Bobby wasn’t admitted into the club at an early age.” He continued, “we’re not moralizing, we’re interested in specifics about these characters. Want viewers to feel passionate, invested.” David Levien, another show creator, confirmed: “our interest was in digging underneath & understanding who the real people are in capitalism vs regulation.”

Quite a premise, and quite a lot to think about already!

Deadline reports of Damian researching Bobby and him saying of hedge fund managers: “I spoke to a lot of these guys. They’re fascinating…They’re risk averse…scientific and analytical.”  Damian Lewis playing someone scientific, analytical, ruthless and driven? Yes, please.

In reference to Damian’s character’s sad demise on the last Showtime series he did, Deadline reports Damian saying: “‘It’s up to these [producers] whether they take an amoral view of the world,’ and that, should the series survive many seasons, they might just decide his character is corrupt and ‘we’re going to hang him'” – to which Brian Koppelman promptly “jumped in, reassuringly, ‘we don’t do that.'”

TCA15 gave us an appetizing taste of the power politics we’ll be seeing in Billions.  Watch this space for my next post on Billions where I’ll attempt to provide a window into the romantic complications I foresee …

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