We catch up with the Billions star at the 2019 Monte-Carlo TV Festival to chat about how the show is more relevant than ever, super-rich fans and not being a good cook
RD: Given how intimidating attorney Chuck Rhoades is on Billions, do you find people are more wary of you these days?
[Laughs] Maybe yeah, actually. But then I’ve played a lot of these kind of pathological people before so I’ve always felt the public are a little wary of me. It’s fun to play on that.
RD: With Trump in the White House and people in the business world impeding on people’s lives, do you feel the show resonates even more now?
I do, yes, but I think it’s just more obvious now that they’re impeding on our lives. They’ve always been impeding on our lives, but now it’s more obvious that billionaires are running everything. I suppose the show is more relevant that way, but this kind of thing has always been relevant. The robber barons never really go away. They’ve always been around, as have the crazy political monsters.
RD: With four seasons so far and a fifth on the way, what do you think keeps viewers coming back for more?
The writers are geniuses at plotting stuff. The show is 97 per cent plot and they’re brilliant at keeping it moving and interesting. They have this basic scenario of a cop and a robber going after each other and they’ve managed to spin it out, and now it’s this triangulated thing with Chuck’s wife Wendy [Maggie Siff] being used as a pawn to play them off against each other.
RD: There was criticism about Season One not having enough women in senior roles. Do you think that’s since been addressed, both in Billions and other TV shows in general?
Well, certainly one of the most powerful people on the show is Maggie’s character. But it’s a male-dominated world we’re depicting and in some ways the show is about idiotic male power. I do feel there’s a lot of interesting female characters in it, but on TV in general? No, there’s never enough good roles for women.
RD: How is it playing Chuck’s love of fetishism?
I find it interesting. People ask me if it’s hard or embarrassing to do, but sometimes it’s the more emotional stuff that’s hardest to do than hanging in a harness [laughs].
Giamatti in Saving Mr Banks
RD: How is your relationship with money in real life?
I’ve been very careful with my money for years and very worried about my money too because I’m a character actor, you know, not a star. I feel a bit more comfortable and a bit more stable now so I try to enjoy it a little bit more too, but I’ve always been a pretty parsimonious person with money.
RD: Have you met any super-rich fans of Billions?
There are often billionaires who appear on the show. Some of them are sort of famous, like Mark Cuban, and I think they like the idea they’re being portrayed as bad-asses. Attorneys find the show very funny, I’ve heard, because none of it is remotely believable to them. But I’ve also heard people say that a lot of the money shenanigans are pretty accurate and for the money-men it’s a mirror. They like to think of themselves as semi-criminals, these gambler/gangster-y types. They like to see themselves as hotshots when really they’re just glorified accountants.
RD: Do you still have time for other projects?
I have six or seven months off so I do other stuff, sure. I would very much like to do plays again. The last time was six years ago and it’s tricky to schedule it because it’s a big commitment, but I do want to do more theatre.
RD: You work a lot but how do you spend your free time?
I don’t have a whole lot of free time, actually, because I like to work.
RD: You’re part-Italian. Does that mean you’re a good cook?
[Laughs] No, I’m not a good cook at all. I prefer to go to restaurants. There’s an amazing restaurant in New York called Carbone and another one in Brooklyn Heights, where I live, called Noodle Pudding. Terrible name but the food is really good.
RD: Any English food favourites?
I do like a good trifle.
RD: Getting back to Billions, do you think Chuck will ever escape his demons?
I doubt it. That’s what keeps the whole show interesting. Although you never know with these guys. Who knows, they may suddenly make him a born-again Christian or something. I could actually see them doing something like that.
RD: What do you most enjoy about playing him?
I like how smart he is and how effectual he can be. I generally play ineffectual people. I usually play people who can’t really change their lives or change reality in a way they’d like to but he actually does. He controls his world in a really great way. I used to play characters like that on stage when I was younger and it’s nice to be able to do that again. Of course he’s a deeply flawed person but I like how sort of chessmaster-y he is.
RD: Some critics have likened Billions to Game Of Thrones. Do you see any similarities?
I haven’t watched Game Of Thrones enough but from what I have seen of it it does seem similar. Both shows seem based on an I, Claudius theme with this dynastic shifting of power. They both feel very Roman.
RD: Other than Chuck, what have been your favourite roles to date?
There’s a movie I did called The Illusionist that I liked a lot, where I played a chief inspector in 1880s Hungary. I loved playing that part probably more than any other part I’ve ever played.
RD: What about the wine-loving Miles in Sideways?
That’s a great movie too. But you know what, I never drink wine. I like scotch and tequila and beer, but not wine.
Billions season four is available on Sky Box Sets
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter