Damian Lewis Talks ‘Billions’ Moral Dilemma: ‘Powerful Men Struggling to Retain Power’

TCA 2015: Former ‘Homeland’ star joins creators of new Showtime drama to discuss “Breaking Bad” and “Wolf Hall” comparisons

Showtime’s “Billions” appears to be an eternal struggle between good and evil, but the show’s cast and creators see plenty of shades of grey in the tale of powerful men and women struggling to maintain their stronghold.

Series star Damian Lewis, who rose to fame on Showtime’s “Homeland,” sees the clear parallels between his new drama and his last one, BBC’s “Wolf Hall,” about Henry VIII.

“I think the King analogy is apt,” said Lewis onstage at the Television Critics’ Association’s summer press tour in Beverly Hills on Tuesday. “It’s about powerful men struggling to retain power within their kingdoms, exert power over other kingdoms. The big difference is that Henry VIII was born into power, but [‘Billions’ character] Bobby Axelrod is a blue collar guy. He has a certain code of honor, a set of street rules, more akin with blue collar communities. It’s where loyalty is fiercely protected. We’ll see Bobby enjoying his power and wealth, but at what cost?”

Lewis’ Axelrod character is pursued by Paul Giamatti’s character, U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades, and while at the beginning Rhoades is presented as the good guy and Axelrod as the bad, the story will stay away from deciding for the audience about who’s right or wrong.

“We’re not moralizing,” said executive producer Brian Koppelman when asked whether he’s afraid the audience will take a “Breaking Bad” approach to rooting more for the bad guy. “Hopefully viewers will be drawn to both guys. Wherever they start, maybe they won’t be there by episode three or seven, and that would be wonderful for us. It would feel like we’re engaging with the audience.”

“To start with the preconception that one is one and one is another, you do yourself a disservice,” added Lewis. “Stay open minded, dude.”

“Billions” premieres Sunday, Jan 17, 2016 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.