Damian Lewis Discusses the Future of ‘Billions’

This article includes spoilers from Sunday’s Season 5 finale of “Billions.”

One of TV’s last nice antiheroes departed Sunday night on Showtime’s “Billions.” 

Bobby Axelrod, the proudly venal hedge-fund titan performed by Damian Lewis, flew off into the sundown within the Season 5 finale, slipping the grasp of the legislation and his chief nemesis, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), one last time on his way to a much less punitive future in Switzerland.

While the character’s final scene was considerably open-ended, with Axe (as he’s most generally known) being welcomed by the Swiss authorities after fleeing America, Lewis confirmed in a recent video interview that he was leaving the show.

“There’s an opportunity maybe for me to return,” he said from his home in North London. “But for now, broadly speaking, Axe has been vanquished.”

Lewis’s exit ends what quantities to “easily the most time I’ve spent playing one character,” he said. The actor was beforehand best known for his three-season stint on one other Showtime series, “Homeland.”

It also comes simply months after a personal tragedy. Lewis’s wife, the acclaimed actress Helen McCrory, died in April, not long after “Billions” returned from its pandemic production hiatus. Lewis shot much of his final stretch on the show remotely, from England.

Over 5 seasons on the pulpy markets-and-machers drama, Axe embodied the culture’s usually contradictory emotions about the superrich. A self-made, self-described capitalist monster, he shamelessly destroyed something — careers, lives, complete cities — that obtained between him and his subsequent billion. But he did so with enviable audacity and panache, with an equally alluring penthouse-and-private-jet way of life.

“When I’m walking down the street in New York, it’s: ‘Axe, you the man!’” Lewis said. “He’s a really despicable human being, but no one seems to care.”

That’s owed largely to Lewis, who from the start imbued a personality that might have been a sneering caricature with emotional depth and a predatory physicality. (When he was growing the character, his appearing workouts included shifting about on the ground like a cheetah.) Much as Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston made Don Draper and Walter White irresistible even after they were terrible, Lewis made Axe’s monetary marauding enjoyable to look at.

“Damian Lewis is not an actor who’s scared the audience is going to dislike him,” said Brian Koppelman, who’s a showrunner together with David Levien. “He is willing to play the character in as caustic a manner as the character requires, and he has faith that if he’s true to that, it will connect with the audience.”

But after 60 episodes of elaborate, at instances inscrutable schemes, and of Chuck and Axe squaring off in various configurations, Lewis was prepared to maneuver on.

“It’s difficult to keep mining, creatively,” he said. “We know who he is.”

And after six years of spending months at a time in New York filming “Billions,” he plans to stay close to home and to his two teenage children after “we had a sadness in our family,” he said, referring to McCrory’s death, at 52, from most cancers.

It’s a topic he’s reluctant to speak about, his normal expansiveness giving way to terse responses. He desires to stay in London for the foreseeable future for “obvious reasons,” he said. “It is self-evident.”

Lewis said McCrory’s death didn’t clarify his departure from “Billions.” He initially signed on for 5 seasons and “always just assumed that would be enough,” he said. Koppelman said the show, which premiered in 2016, had been constructing towards Axe’s departure for a number of years.

But it does clarify why Lewis spent much of the last few episodes showing remotely. Actors and crew flew to England to shoot scenes that were framed throughout the show as a stint for Axe in Covid quarantine. (Lewis did return to New York for a part of the final episode.)

“We wouldn’t ask him to come to America in that situation — right after the love of his life passed away, who was a remarkable, incredible artist and human being,” Koppelman said.

“It’s Damian’s private life, so it’s not really ours to comment on,” he continued. “We just feel truly, unbelievably lucky to have had five years with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti together.”

From the start, the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Axe and Chuck has been the show’s defining dimension. (A close second: The plentiful awkward cameos by real-life financiers and Manhattan luminaries.)

When the show returns on Jan. 23 for its sixth season, Corey Stoll’s Mike Prince, who arrived this season, would be the master-of-the-universe foil for Giamatti’s ethically ambiguous lawman. The finale found Prince actually taking Axelrod’s seat, after shopping for his firm in an offer Axe couldn’t refuse.

With his rigorously cultivated picture and world-saving rhetoric, the Prince character has more in frequent with our present crop of rocket-riding billionaires than with the mercenary hedge-funders Axe channeled within the wake of the Great Recession. (Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times editor and columnist who chronicled the 2008 crash in his book, “Too Big to Fail,” is a creator and govt producer of “Billions.”)

“A long-running show has to evolve,” Levien said. “So it’s like a reload in a great way, at the right time.” Showtime has not but dedicated to a seventh season, but Gary Levine, the network’s president of leisure, said, “From what I’ve seen of Season 6, I’m very encouraged.”

For Lewis, who’s at present making ready to shoot the British Cold War series “A Spy Among Friends,” his departure from American television comes almost precisely 20 years after he was launched to U.S. viewers, as a star of the HBO World War II mini-series “Band of Brothers,” in September 2001. It also wraps up a decade he spent totally on Showtime, starting together with his time on “Homeland” because the soldier turned sleeper agent Nicholas Brody. (“I’ve had to say goodbye to Damian twice now,” Levine said.)

An Eton-educated Brit, Lewis has displayed a outstanding knack for enjoying blue-collar Americans. (Axe wears his Yonkers roots on the sleeve of his cashmere hoodie.) But he isn’t positive when, if ever, he’ll hunt down one other American series.

“I don’t like closing chapters,” he said. “But it does feel like it’s the end of that for now.”

Lewis gained’t miss enjoying Axelrod, he said. But he’s proud that he and the writers had been capable of seize something about each the attract and the corrupting affect of extreme wealth. While there are still loads of appealingly terrible wealthy people on TV — “Succession” returns Oct. 17 — Axe’s explicit taste of swaggering villainy has gotten rarer in an period at present outlined by the likes of Ted Lasso.

“We did somehow make him a thing in the culture,” Lewis said. “And that’s always fun to achieve.”

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