Billions' stars Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti continue their onscreen battle

Damian Lewis as Bobby 'Axe' Axelrod in Billions.
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Damian Lewis as Bobby 'Axe' Axelrod in Billions.

The war between rival masters of the universe Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) hit some pretty lofty extremes during the first season of SoHo's Billions, but as season two has demonstrated thus far, the conflict is set to become more and more savage.

Rhoades, a crusading United States Attorney from an old money family, is obsessed with prosecuting Axelrod, an ethically agile billionaire hedge-fund manager. 

Axelrod has always been willing and able to do whatever was necessary to stay one step ahead of Rhoades but, as Lewis tells TV Guide, that may soon no longer be the case. 

Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades, a character loosely based on former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
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Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades, a character loosely based on former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Bobby is not given to a lot of self-doubt," says the former star of Homeland. "But there are vulnerabilities that do emerge. He has now made a lot of money, but he is a nouveau-riche, blue-collar, arriviste young punk in this world of old money and East Coast families and I think he wants acceptance by the establishment. 

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"This season is full of failure for him and, without giving the end of the season away, he is actually outplayed this season by Chuck." 

It is a reversal of fortunes driven by a more ruthless Rhoades, according to Giamatti.

"It genuinely plays out as a guy who doesn't feel like he has much to lose," says Giamatti of his character. "And he gets even more sort of embattled and threatened pretty early on. 

"But I think that's very much what the creators and writers wanted to do and it is what they did. He is much more clear-eyed and focused. You know, he does become a lot more sort of surgical about how he's going to go about things."

Both Rhoades and Axelrod are titans of their respective fields, and both characters incorporate elements of real figures. 

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"Well, every hedge-fund billionaire I meet thinks that Bobby Axelrod is (based on) him," says Lewis with a laugh. "And I don't know how closely they are watching the show because I don't think he would want to own up to that, given some of the things that Bobby does. But I've had billionaires or their employees coming up to me saying, 'It's so incredible that you are playing my boss'."

Even though Lewis met with actual high-profile hedge-fund guys to research the role, he maintains that Bobby Axelrod is a fictional creation. 

"I've found Bobby to be a far more swaggering, athletic, prowling, sort of blue-collar alley cat than any of the people that I met. And once I settled on that for him, I just went to town with that, and so I used that physicality a lot for him and developed a physicality for him."

Real world inspirations for Giamatti's character are a little more apparent – it's difficult not to draw comparisons with former New York mayor and current Trump mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani, who was a hedge-fund-targeting US Attorney in the 1980s. 

Like Rhoades, he was more than willing to use the media to advance his agenda.  

"Well, I think a lot of those guys," Giamatti explains. 

"I mean, (Giuliani) was one of them but all the guys – Chris Christie did it in New Jersey. And Eliot Spitzer was another guy who did it. It requires a very colourful person or it brings out something in these guys. They're very smart. 

"Giuliani, for everything about that guy, he's smart though, actually. Well, he was smart. I don't know if anyone would say that any more. I don't know what happened to him. 

"But he was smart. And they all have a certain sense of themselves of persona and theatricality. The guy who's there now is very theatrical, in a great way. He's very smart. And he knows how to work a crowd."

For all the epic swagger both characters exhibit in their high-powered game of billionaire brinkmanship, Lewis says the battle between Bobby and Chuck is a simple one. 

"What makes someone like Bobby tick, someone like Chuck tick," says Lewis. "I think it's the game and the game only. I think that becomes more important than the money or status and everything. 

"It's just the desire to win. And the greater your desire to win the greater you will compromise yourself. I think we all love watching people try to win."

Billions, SoHo, Monday.

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 - TV Guide

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