Why Axe Would Cut Off His Arm to Make an Extra Billion
by Nathan McAlone | Business Insider | March 26, 2018
- The third season of “Billions,” the Showtime series that looks at the high-stakes world of hedge funds, is currently airing Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
- The creators talked to Business Insider about how the show has been received by the finance world.
- They also discussed why giving up trading feels like such an existential threat to Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), and how their characters would metaphorically amputate their arm to make that next billion dollars.
“Billions” is back for its third season on Showtime (Sundays at 10 p.m.), and its power-hungry cast of characters is more morally compromised than ever.
This season — don’t worry, no spoilers — takes the battle between hedge fund titan Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) in new directions, and sees an expanded role for fan favorite Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon).
The series has developed quite a cult following in the finance world, and creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien told Business Insider that Wall Street certainly isn’t shying away from the way it’s depicted.
“Our experience has been, before the show aired, there was lot of trepidation,” Levien said in a recent interview. Finance folks were preemptively disavowing the show, saying the creators wouldn’t be able to nail the details. But Koppelman and Levien, who co-wrote “Rounders,” have a penchant for capturing insular worlds.
“By the second season, people were saying, ‘You know that was based on me right?'” Levien said. Levien estimated that he’d heard, secondhand, at least 50 guys on Wall Street say that a character on “Billions” was based on them. And if they weren’t claiming they were the inspiration for a character, they’d say things like, “I’m the Wags of my office,” Levien continued, referencing the character Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile), the incorrigible rogue and COO of Axe Capital in the show.
Why do we let charm and intelligence stand in for quality of character?
Part of the reason people are going up and down Wall Street saying characters are based on them is because “Billions” has an uncanny ability to make its cast likeable even when they are doing bad things — sometimes very bad things.
Koppelman credited the actors for much of that, especially in conveying what it is the characters truly want.
“If you can understand what the character wants you can empathize,” Koppelman said.
But Koppleman also explained that the feeling viewers have gotten watching the show — that of being charmed by these flawed characters — was linked to one of the central themes the creators were trying to explore in “Billions.”
“Why we as a culture will forgive so many wrong actions, and wrong actors, if those people doing those things are smart, charismatic, successful, interesting,” Koppelman said. “Why do [those attributes] stand in for true quality of character?”
Would you cut off your arm for an extra billion?
One reason viewers are so quick to forgive is that it’s hard not to be impressed by the intensity of will of the characters in “Billions,” and people like them in real life.
During the last season of “Billions” (and in this one), Axelrod struggles to deal with the possibility that he could be forced to give up trading.
For Axelrod, this feels like an existential threat to his being. “Why is that?” I asked the creators.
“Controlling their own destiny has a lot to do with it,” Koppelman said of people like Axelrod (and Rhoades, for that matter). “Almost like a Greek god, being able to control fate … It makes them feel alive.” Koppelman said in this season all the main characters are in a position where they have to fight for that type of self-determination.
To keep that status as master of their own destiny, the characters in “Billions” will certainly get in the muck, and push themselves to the limit.
Read the rest of the original article at Business Insider