Beverly Hills, Calif. — To the creators of Billions, their upcoming Showtime drama set amid the power politics in New York City high finance is not about generalities.
“We’re not moralizing,” said cocreator and executive producer Brian Koppelman Tuesday during the show’s TCA summer press tour panel. “For us it’s about the specifics. Who these specific characters are. What their specific mission is.”
The specific main characters are played by a pair of Emmy winners in Damian Lewis (Homeland) and Paul Giamatti (John Adams). Lewis plays corrupt hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod, who is being chased by Giamatti’s U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes.
“Both are driven by individual things and personalities in their pasts,” said cocreator and exec producer David Levien, adding that it was import to get “past those preconceived notions into something that was more true and interesting.”
Lewis’ character, a blue collar guy from Yonkers, N.Y., wasn’t “admitted to the club,” Koppelman said. Axelrod, who went to Hofstra and came into new money, enjoys his new wealth and power.
“He lives by a code of honor, a set of street rules ... where loyalty is fiercely protected and people are dispatched ruthlessly if they don’t adhere to that code,” Lewis said. “What’s going to be interesting for this story is the story of who will Bobby Axelrod turn out to be. What is he prepared to do to retain power?”
The third cocreator and EP on the show is Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times financial columnist and Too Big to Fail author. Koppelman said Sorkin was able to get him and Levien to meet with real people from that world. “When you get inside the room they become much more layered complex people,” Sorkin said.
Billions debuts Sunday, Jan. 17 at 10 p.m.