Damian Lewis on His Return to Showtime® in Billions

January 13, 2016

Though already an accomplished actor for his work in his native England, Damian Lewis is best known to American audiences for his frequent work playing…Americans. His breakout role as the enigmatic Nicholas Brody on Homeland on Showtime® brought him wide acclaim, earning him a Golden Globe® Award and a Primetime Emmy. After his character made a rather dramatic (and fairly conclusive) departure from the show, he’s headed back to Showtime® on January 17 playing yet another fascinating character in Billions, Bobby “axe” Axelrod, alongside fellow respected actor, Paul Giamatti. Lewis joined us for a discussion of his latest project, what drives his character, and the meaning of the word “billions”. 

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Don’t have Showtime®?
Enjoy it all weekend long during our FREE preview January 16-18!
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How did you first get involved with this project?

Showtime® called me up and said, “Would you like to play this guy, Bobby Axelrod, who is a hedge fund billionaire? The show’s called Billions, Paul Giamatti is playing an attorney, district attorney…” Uh no, he’s not a district attorney. He’s a U.S. attorney. I keep downgrading him—he won’t be happy with that. I might throw that in actually as an insult just at some point during filming… No, so U.S. attorney and, I read the script. I loved the script… I wasn’t looking to get into a long-running TV show, but it’s, I just find, just repeatedly, well not repeatedly but this script was just, was the strongest script I’ve read in a while and so I wanted to be part of it.

Could you give us the elevator pitch? What is Billions?

Billions is a look at the lives of the wealthy and the powerful, just in terms of a plot to just get us going, there is a prominent, actually quite well loved, but suspiciously rich hedge fund manager, Bobby Axelrod, who I play, and there is a U.S. attorney played by Paul Giamatti. Part of his remit day to day is prosecuting fraud, fraudulent business, insider trading; anything that is illegal on Wall Street, and they get a sniff that something might be going on over at Axe Capital, which is Bobby’s company. And really that sets us up. So we have, I suppose, a “Masters of the Universe”-type story. Someone working in the public sector for the public, ostensibly, going after a guy who ostensibly is there to make money out of the private sector for himself. And I think the show, because it’s a Showtime® show, and because we like to deal with grays and not blacks and whites, you will see, a great degree of ambiguity, and your preconceptions constantly challenged about who’s good, who’s bad, where does ambition take people, what are people prepared to do to get what they want, and that will happen both in the attorneys’ office and also in the billionaire hedge-fund world.

Who is Axe and what can we expect from this character?

Well, Axe is, you know, as I said he’s a…hedge-fund billionaire, you know, he probably has a big global strategy, multi-strat fund, which means he’s got a finger in almost every pie. He’ll invest in anything. Any company across the whole spectrum, globally, not just American companies. So he has the kind of life where he’s got people in his office who are up all through the night as markets open in different places, parts of the world. He owns an enormous house, somewhere like Westport…but it’s just out of town. But it’s, you know, it’s big, it’s larger than some small villages you’ve been to, you know? At the beginning of the story, he’s looking to buy another house. Because, he should have another house, you know, this house just happens to cost about 80 million dollars and it’s out in the Hamptons and it’s a status thing for him. Axe is competitive, thrusting, but at the same time, I hope we’ll sort of like Axe. It’s become my lot to be given assholes and make them likeable, you know? Can we say that? You know, be given guys [who] on the face of it you might not think you’re gonna like, but maybe through their enthusiasm, their conviction, their passions, that you might like them. And I think Axe has great warmth, great generosity; but he’s a competitive alpha male billionaire who is a billionaire for a reason.

I think he likes his place at the top table, but he had to, you know, you have to barge your way in through the Ivy Leaguers, through the guys born into privilege who inherited, 50-million-dollar houses in the Hamptons rather than having to buy their own, and that very much defines him. That’s part of who he is. He’s not averse to flying out to the Hamptons in his chopper, you know. He’s not on the Jitney.

What does the word “billions” mean to you?

Well…you know, oddly, “billions” has sort of lost its meaning. In the last four or five years. We’ve heard of billion, we’ve heard of trillion-dollar bailouts. Billionaires, millionaire—it’s nothing to be a millionaire anymore. It’s like, what are they, two-a-penny, millionaire, whatever? So I think it sums up this world very well. Billions are the numbers that these people trade in. They are used to just trading in billions and billions of dollars, and…it’s like the GDP of some small countries. Some large countries. These guys make billions. I met a guy two days ago who in 2008 made his company 15 billion dollars in one year.

15 billion dollars in one year.

Don’t miss the series premiere of Billions, January 17 at 10/9c on Showtime®—live at home and on the go with DIRECTV Everywhere.

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Don’t have Showtime®?
Enjoy it all weekend long during our FREE preview January 16-18!
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