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Between antics, he kept pushing the director to refine the encounter.“I asked for some more specific psychology,” he said, “and I didn’t really get an answer.”It was soon time for the first take.Axelrod was beginning to question the ruthless behavior that has enabled his success.“Billions” seems to aspire to be to bankers and lawyers what “The Wire” was to drug dealers.(A private screening of the first episode will be held at Goldman Sachs.) In the pilot, Axelrod meets Hall, his fixer: Upstate, the sun was going down in Orangeburg, yellow and purple above a deer crossing, contrails making looseleaf paper of the sky. A right off Chief Bill Harris Way and a quick left led to Corporate Drive, where a location scout had seen fit to turn a former Olympus headquarters—“Certain required positions will relocate, and it is our intention to consider any of those employees as a good candidate for the relocated positions or for new locations,” a company representative had asserted, in the tortured flackspeak of the summer of 2008—into Axe Capital, a showcase of Fairfield County extravagance.Another was the financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. He wanted to know what made a hedge-fund manager more than “a paper shuffler.”The hedge-fund manager said that he and his peers basically function as market-based regulators—that they have a financial incentive to expose wrongdoing. In “Billions,” which premières on Showtime this week, he plays Bobby (Axe) Axelrod, a knockaround guy—Yonkers native, Hofstra grad—who scraps his way up from golf caddie to hedge-fund eminence: library benefactor, wearer of cashmere hoodies, keynote speaker at the Delivering Alpha conference.
One of them was a hedge-fund manager, a famous short seller.
The scene seemed fairly straightforward, but, after several tries, Lewis stopped under a tree, pulling over the director.“The dialogue is written as though they’re mid-stroll, walking over—to me it seems that way,” he said, presenting his argument as modest while brooking no disagreement.
“Which just presupposes a very short distance.”They huddled for a few minutes.“I mean, part of me feels like there’s something great in having this be the piece that transitions us from not wanting to talk about this tragedy to doing it,” the director said.
One of them urged Lewis to consider an underperforming company with entrenched management or a sclerotic board: an activist investor, even if he came in and cut things and fired people—well, that’s capitalism.“What about your compensation? He is the son of an insurance broker (Lloyd’s) and the brother of an equities trader (Merrill Lynch).
He went to Eton, where he recalls scaring up funds from “somebody’s rich uncle” to rent the school theatre—he and his troupe of friends, calling themselves the Chameleons, put on a production of “The Long and the Short and the Tall.” As Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a United States marine and recently rescued prisoner of war, in “Homeland,” he reportedly commanded two hundred and fifty thousand dollars an episode.The set designers had refreshed the walls with would-be Basquiats and reimagined a dated atrium as a sort of gangway that led to Axelrod’s terrifyingly spare office.The trading floor suggested the presence of a finicky overlord—even the staplers were white. Bruised bananas languished on desks, suggesting a certain meanness amid the plenty. As Ira and his fiancee are having dinner at Craft, the new Halls are sitting at the next table recording their conversation.