Damian Is So Game
by Derek Lawrence | Entertainment Weekly | May 1, 2020
Season 5 of Billions is set to find rivals-turned-allies Chuck (Paul Giamatti) and Axe (Damian Lewis) returning to rival status, but Axe is going to be on the attack from all sides as Corey Stoll joins the hit Showtime series in a formidable new role.
Creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien say they’ve long tried to cast the “immensely talented” House of Cards alum, especially after he filled in at a table read for one of their films and “killed it,” so much so that Levien wishes they would have filmed it. “Finally a break in his schedule coincided with our season,” Levien tells EW, “and we were able to write a character for him that is super intelligent, aggressive, charismatic, all of the things that he’s really built to play.”
And that character is Michael Prince, a billionaire who looks at this world through the perspective of an impact investor. “He’s aware of the consequences of modern life, meaning he’s aware of environmental impact, he’s aware of the sort of corrosive impact of the world of high finance,” shares Koppelman. “But, at the same time, he’s all the way in that world, too. And he and Bobby Axelrod do not see the world the same way, but they’re both titanic figures in the world of finance, and so sparks fly when the two of them are in the same room.”
Adds Koppelman of season 5: “Axe and Chuck have their rivalry reignited, but there are these new enemies who rise and take aim at them and force them to fight back. It’s really a season where these characters are at the brink, and they have to find a way to survive, to recapture ground lost in the past seasons and to try and gain the high ground for the battles that they know they’re about to face.”
Ahead of his debut in the season 5 premiere, EW chatted with Stoll about turning down past opportunities to join Billions and deciding that Michael Prince was the role he was waiting for.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you like about this opportunity?
COREY STOLL: I think this show is so smart and the cast is so incredible. That’s the thing that’s been exciting to me from when it started. It feels like old home week when we do the table reads; it’s full of these great New York actors, and so it feels comfortable to do it with this group of people, a lot of whom come from theater. It’s been a very comfortable joining the cast in that sense. There were a couple opportunities to work on Billions through the years, and they didn’t really work out, based on scheduling and, frankly, I was holding out for something a little bit more exciting in terms of the role. [Laughs] And I’m really glad that I did, because this guy Mike Prince is so much fun to play and I think he brings a lot to the whole ensemble.
What can you tell me about Michael Prince?
He comes from about as far from Axe’s background as possible. He’s a suburban kid from Indiana, this very two-and-a-half kids backyard, very wholesome Midwestern community. He has within him that same incredible competitive streak that Axe does, but it’s tempered with this incredible drive to do good and to be a good person and to see himself as a good person. So there’s a lot of conflict between Prince and other characters this season, but probably stronger than that is the fight within himself to reconcile being the capitalist that he very much is and being a good person.
How have you enjoyed playing out this Prince and Axe dynamic with Damian?
That’s been so much fun. Damian is so game and from our very first scene we’re sparring. It’s an interesting challenge coming onto a show that’s in its fifth season now and everybody knows their characters so well and the writers know the actors well enough to write towards them, so there’s this comfortability that everyone has. I felt lucky that people helped me get onboard quickly. But one of the things that I’ve keyed into on this show is how everybody is very competitive and every scene is a power struggle — but the characters are happy warriors, there is this joy that almost all of the characters take in the fight. And having Damian to play against has been just a lot of fun.
You were the lead of The Strain for four years, but, besides that, you’ve really had a nice run of popping in for memorable arcs on good shows, whether it’s House of Cards, Girls, Homeland, or The Deuce. Do you enjoy getting to just swoop in for a bit?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s an incredible opportunity. Because when you’re starting a show, those first few episodes, that first season, everybody is sort of just getting their sea legs. So to come into a show that is this finely tuned machine, they make space for me to play and explore in a great way. Several of the actors have said that they felt like there really hasn’t been a character like Prince before, someone who is an incredibly successful alpha figure, but who is really, truly engaged with being a good, moral, ethical person. A lot of these episodes that I’ve shot so far have been about me figuring out the style and the tone of the show and I can feel like I’m sort of shifting it somewhat myself, just because there hasn’t been a character like Michael Prince on the show before.
What’s it been like diving into the scripts for Billions? The dialogue is really unlike anything else on TV, between the speed, financial jargon, and pop culture references.
It’s very theatrical. You can tell that everybody shows up really prepared. It’s not always like that on a TV show, a lot of actors treat TV scripts as a suggestion. [Laughs] But it’s very clear as soon as you read this script, it really just makes sense to be as close to verbatim as possible, because it’s so well thought out and it’s just really good writing. It’s a joy to lean into that and be a part of helping move this dialogue along at a clip, because it’s so dense…
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