Damian Lewis Talks 'Billions' | WBEZ
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Damian Lewis on "Billions" and the meaning of fame

Damian Lewis had no plans on doing another premium cable drama after his character Nicholas Brody was killed in season three of "Homeland."

"I figured it might be a way to sort of go out on top because it [‘Homeland’] was such fun and so well regarded and smart," he said.

But when he read the script for a new pilot written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, he was hooked.

I suppose in the same way ‘Homeland’ was able to dovetail with hard news, contemporary news, this has the ability to do the same thing- borrow from the headlines or not, but the parallels are there to be drawn and they’re fun to draw as the season goes on.

Lewis had just wrapped up filming the first season of "Billions," which premieres Sunday, January 17. He plays Bobby Axelrod, a successful hedge fund investor who draws the eye of district attorney Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti.  

He’s a successful, self-made man. He’s a representation of the American dream in many ways. He’s somebody who has started with not much, made an awful lot, and really the defining characteristic in Bobby is his ability to do great and generous things, acts of great magnanimity, but he’s not able to walk away from an opportunity for the upper hand or to use something to his advantage, so we find him often working in that duality.

Lewis says there were challenges that came along with the role, starting with the fact that he had to learn exactly what a hedge fund investor does. 

The consensus was that they’re a risk-averse, analytic, scientific bunch. And I think there’s an element of feeling like they’re the underdog. They are taking risks that others aren’t prepared to take…And in many ways they are (underdogs) because they’re betting against the market and they’re in the minority. But I think what was interesting mostly is that even though it’s a nice metaphor to think of Wall Street as just a big casino where the odds are set by the house and the house is Wall Street, these guys are really risk averse, they don’t like risk. They don’t want to run risk so their research and analysts are working, they maintain, harder and in greater detail than any other analysts.

Lewis is from the UK, but conducted his entire Marketplace interview with an American accent. He says he keeps it on set to avoid confusion.

I speak in an American accent from the moment I get in the van in the morning … I’m not good enough to flip in and out of my Brit accent to my American accent. We have English members of the crew. I don’t avoid them, but there’s always a moment when I have to re-calibrate after I’ve spent five minutes talking to them.

Despite the critical acclaim of his work in "Band of Brothers," "Homeland" and "Wolf Hall," Lewis said he still hasn't "made it."

I don’t think people ever think they make it. I am extremely lucky and I enjoy the level of work that I am able to work at. I’ve been careful to work with good people on interesting material, mostly. No, I don’t think I’ve made it. You know, I don’t have an Oscar.

And an Oscar may not be in the cards for Lewis, because he said most of the work he’s drawn to now is on television.

I found that the quality of TV material that came to me was so great and was just often better than the film material I got. And when I find a good movie that I really like I jump on it because it’s exciting to do. But mostly I just find the witty, ambitious, political, and smart material comes to me through TV more than it has in film.

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