Damian Lewis on Happy Accidents and What Animal Influences His ‘Billions’ Character


“Ever since I was trained as an actor, I’ve always enjoyed using animals, finding that sort of anthropomorphic quality between human beings and animals.” – Damien Lewis

English actor Damian Lewis has portrayed billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod on Showtime’s Billions for four seasons. Speaking about his career on NPR, Lewis revealed what animal has influenced his portrayal of Axelrod and also speaks about the origin of his frequently-used American accent.

When it comes to portraying Axelrod, Lewis explains his characterization. He says, “I wanted to give him a sense of the street so nothing too refined. He is a guy who’s committed to wearing, you know, thousand-dollar sneakers and jeans and cashmere hoodies – that’s his thing – rather than an expensive Italian suit. And so I wanted to find a prowl in him, something predatory in him. And ever since I was trained as an actor, I’ve always enjoyed using animals, finding that sort of anthropomorphic quality between human beings and animals. And I sort of found a cheetah quality in him that I have used, you know, from the get-go.”

The interviewer points out to Lewis that he has a “particularly interesting face,” and to that Lewis responds with a memory from drama school:

“There was a very brutal exercise that we were asked to do in – at drama school. We spent – one semester, one of our classes was on makeup. And they give you a piece of paper with a blank oval shape on it, which is your head. And you had to stare at yourself in the mirror for an entire semester and draw on this blank oval your face with all its imperfections. So you knew every imperfection on your face. And there is nothing that is straight or symmetrical or matching on my face. I can tell you that. So I – it’s kind of a depressing exercise when you do it, but it’s also incredibly useful when you’re trying to – when you’re making yourself up in the theater. But no, I never thought I had an interesting face. In fact, the opposite – I probably worried that I was – I didn’t have the right kind of face.”

Lewis often portrays Americans (as he does on Billions), but he is English — in fact, his name has come up in the past as a possible James Bond. Lewis’ long career of portraying Americans originated in the miniseries Band of Brothers, in which Lewis played the lead role of Pennsylvania native Major “Dick” Winters. Lewis spoke about how his drama training prepared him to portray a 1940s American:

“Something happened in the casting of Band of Brothers, I think, which caused such a frenzy amongst all the young acting community in LA when it was announced that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were going to make this show with HBO. When they came to London – and they were always going to use some British actors. I’m afraid it was for no more romantic reason than for tax breaks because they were going to film it almost entirely – we filmed it almost entirely in a studio north of London and in the countryside around… I don’t think they ever expected to find the hero of the piece in London, but the way they explained it to me was that these guys were 1930s men born in the first half of the 20th century. And there was something – as explained to me, there was something in me, something in my bearings, something in – I don’t know – an upright way in which I walked, maybe to do with my theater training or something – that gave me an old-fashioned air that they said wasn’t necessarily typical of a cool, hip, you know, Hollywood actor of the 21st century. And that’s what they seemed to identify. So totally by accident – and obviously, my American accent was good enough. And they cast me in it. And it was the happiest accident of my life.”

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