This text contains spoilers from Sunday’s Season 5 finale of “Billions.”
One of TV’s final nice antiheroes departed Sunday night time on Showtime’s “Billions.”
Bobby Axelrod, the proudly venal hedge-fund titan performed by Damian Lewis, flew off into the sundown in the Season 5 finale, slipping the grasp of the regulation and his chief nemesis, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), one final time on his approach to a much less punitive future in Switzerland.
Whereas the character’s ultimate scene was considerably open-ended, with Axe (as he’s mostly recognized) being welcomed by the Swiss authorities after fleeing America, Lewis confirmed in a latest video interview that he was leaving the present.
“There’s a possibility possibly for me to return,” he mentioned from his dwelling in North London. “However for now, broadly talking, Axe has been vanquished.”
Lewis’s exit ends what quantities to “simply the most time I’ve spent taking part in one character,” he mentioned. The actor was beforehand greatest recognized for his three-season stint on one other Showtime sequence, “Homeland.”
It additionally comes simply months after a private tragedy. Lewis’s spouse, the acclaimed actress Helen McCrory, died in April, not lengthy after “Billions” returned from its pandemic manufacturing hiatus. Lewis shot a lot of his ultimate stretch on the present remotely, from England.
Over 5 seasons on the pulpy markets-and-machers drama, Axe embodied the tradition’s usually contradictory emotions about the superrich. A self-made, self-described capitalist monster, he shamelessly destroyed something — careers, lives, total cities — that acquired between him and his subsequent billion. However he did so with enviable audacity and panache, with an equally alluring penthouse-and-private-jet life-style.
“Once I’m strolling down the road in New York, it’s: ‘Axe, you the man!’” Lewis mentioned. “He’s a very despicable human being, however nobody appears to care.”
That’s owed largely to Lewis, who from the starting 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 transferring about on the floor like a cheetah.) A lot as Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston made Don Draper and Walter White irresistible even after they have been terrible, Lewis made Axe’s monetary marauding enjoyable to observe.
“Damian Lewis shouldn’t be an actor who’s scared the viewers goes to dislike him,” mentioned Brian Koppelman, who’s a showrunner together with David Levien. “He’s prepared to play the character in as caustic a fashion as the character requires, and he has religion that if he’s true to that, it can join with the viewers.”
However after 60 episodes of elaborate, at instances inscrutable schemes, and of Chuck and Axe squaring off in numerous configurations, Lewis was prepared to maneuver on.
“It’s troublesome to maintain mining, creatively,” he mentioned. “We all know who he’s.”
And after six years of spending months at a time in New York filming “Billions,” he plans to stay near dwelling and to his two teenage kids after “we had a disappointment in our household,” he mentioned, referring to McCrory’s dying, at 52, from most cancers.
It’s a topic he’s reluctant to speak about, his regular expansiveness giving approach to terse responses. He needs to stay in London for the foreseeable future for “apparent causes,” he mentioned. “It’s self-evident.”
Lewis mentioned McCrory’s dying didn’t clarify his departure from “Billions.” He initially signed on for 5 seasons and “all the time simply assumed that can be sufficient,” he mentioned. Koppelman mentioned the present, which premiered in 2016, had been constructing towards Axe’s departure for a number of years.
But it surely does clarify why Lewis spent a lot of the previous couple of episodes showing remotely. Actors and crew flew to England to shoot scenes that have been framed inside the present as a stint for Axe in Covid quarantine. (Lewis did return to New York for half of the ultimate episode.)
“We wouldn’t ask him to come back to America in that state of affairs — proper after the love of his life handed away, who was a outstanding, unimaginable artist and human being,” Koppelman mentioned.
“It’s Damian’s non-public life, so it’s not likely ours to touch upon,” he continued. “We simply really feel really, unbelievably fortunate to have had 5 years with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti collectively.”
From the starting, the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Axe and Chuck has been the present’s defining dimension. (An in depth second: The considerable awkward cameos by real-life financiers and Manhattan luminaries.)
When the present returns on Jan. 23 for its sixth season, Corey Stoll’s Mike Prince, who arrived this season, might be the master-of-the-universe foil for Giamatti’s ethically ambiguous lawman. The finale discovered Prince actually taking Axelrod’s seat, after shopping for his firm in a proposal Axe couldn’t refuse.
Along with his rigorously cultivated picture and world-saving rhetoric, the Prince character has extra in widespread with our present crop of rocket-riding billionaires than with the mercenary hedge-funders Axe channeled in the wake of the Nice Recession. (Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Occasions editor and columnist who chronicled the 2008 crash in his ebook, “Too Huge to Fail,” is a creator and govt producer of “Billions.”)
“An extended-running present has to evolve,” Levien mentioned. “So it’s like a reload in an effective way, at the proper time.” Showtime has not but dedicated to a seventh season, however Gary Levine, the community’s president of leisure, mentioned, “From what I’ve seen of Season 6, I’m very inspired.”
For Lewis, who’s presently getting ready to shoot the British Chilly Struggle sequence “A Spy Amongst Mates,” his departure from American tv comes nearly precisely 20 years after he was launched to U.S. viewers, as a star of the HBO World Struggle II mini-series “Band of Brothers,” in September 2001. It additionally wraps up a decade he spent totally on Showtime, starting together with his time on “Homeland” as the soldier turned sleeper agent Nicholas Brody. (“I’ve needed to say goodbye to Damian twice now,” Levine mentioned.)
An Eton-educated Brit, Lewis has displayed a outstanding knack for enjoying blue-collar People. (Axe wears his Yonkers roots on the sleeve of his cashmere hoodie.) However he isn’t certain when, if ever, he’ll hunt down one other American sequence.
“I don’t like closing chapters,” he mentioned. “But it surely does really feel prefer it’s the finish of that for now.”
Lewis gained’t miss taking part in Axelrod, he mentioned. However he’s proud that he and the writers had been capable of seize one thing about each the attract and the corrupting affect of excessive wealth. Whereas there are nonetheless lots of appealingly horrible wealthy folks on TV — “Succession” returns Oct. 17 — Axe’s specific taste of swaggering villainy has gotten rarer in an period presently outlined by the likes of Ted Lasso.
“We did by some means make him a factor in the tradition,” Lewis mentioned. “And that’s all the time enjoyable to attain.”