There are a lot of great shows and movies about bad men from which people take the wrong lesson. Some guys wish they could be feared and respected like Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) or Walter White (Bryan Cranston). They wish they could live in Mad Men times because "men were men" then. They watch The Wolf of Wall Street and see the criminal excess as aspirational, failing to recognize that it's a cautionary tale.
Those are exactly the kind of people who watch Billions and shout "Yo Bob-ay!" at Damian Lewis out of passing cars when they see him on the street. Lewis' character, hedge fund titan Bobby "Axe" Axelrod, is not someone you're supposed to root for. He's a greedy crook who made millions by shorting airline stocks while his employees were dying on 9/11. So it's weird to Lewis when wealthy women come up to him and say "you are playing my husband, did you know that?" What kind of person would want to be (or be married to) Bobby Axelrod?
Even Lewis' co-star Paul Giamatti gets yelled at by adoring Bobby fans. Giamatti plays U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, who is willing to do anything to put Axe behind bars. He's a terrible person, too, but he's at least nominally on the side of justice. And Paul Giamatti is just an actor, not an actual evil attorney. But that didn't stop one overzealous Billions fan from screaming at him about how horrible Chuck was being to Bobby.
"And he was dead serious," says Giamatti. "His wife was mortified."
Lewis says that every hedge fund billionaire thinks they're Bobby Axelrod (and there's some truth to that; he's an amalgam of the stories and character traits of a bunch of different very rich guys). "I say 'are you watching the show? Do you know what Bobby Axelrod does?'" he says with a bemused grin.
"Is that something you want to say in public?" Giamatti concurs.
The deliciously despicable saga of Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod returns for Season 3 on Showtime Sunday, March 25 at 10/9c.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)