Welcome to Remote Controlled, Variety’s podcast series featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
This week’s episode features Variety executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum and chief TV critic Maureen Ryan in conversation with “Billions” creators and executive producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, as well as stars Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti.
In the second season of “Billions,” which arrives on Sunday, Chuck Rhoades comes out swinging — in more ways than one, according to Giamatti, who plays the federal prosecutor.
Partly in reaction to various crises in his life, including his ongoing battle with hedge fund magnate Bobby Axelrod (Lewis), Chuck takes up jiu jitsu early in Season 2.
His training at the gym “becomes metaphorical for him and for the show,” says Giamatti, who notes that Chuck learns from the martial art “that you can win from a position of vulnerability.”
That insight will be important, given that Bobby, a billionaire with a deep-seated grudge against Chuck, “has decided that in order to survive, he’s got to take down Chuck,” Lewis says. “He’s decided this town isn’t big enough for the two of them, so he throws the book at Chuck.”
In responding to Bobby’s take-no-prisoners approach, Chuck gets creative and even a little devious, according to the executive producers.
“He takes a different tack this season,” says Koppelman. “Last season, he kind of went head-on at Axe, and I think this season, he’s trying to go at angles, slightly, and trying to deploy a different strategy.”
When the second season begins, not much time has elapsed since the finale of the first season, in which Chuck and Bobby had a major confrontation, and Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) left Chuck. Part of the goal, the producers say, was to use the fact that most of the major characters remain off-balance in one way or another.
“We wanted to keep the momentum of that, then build on it and flip it,” says Koppelman. “As the season trucks along, that really starts to happen.”
Bobby’s actions become “more Faustian” over the course of the new season, Lewis says.
“And Chuck takes advantage of that,” Giamatti adds.
Now that it’s established the worlds that Chuck and Bobby inhabit, “Billions” is going even more deeply into the complexities of its characters, the actors say. There is an array of problems both men have to confront, personally and professionally, many of which tie into the drama’s examination of enormous wealth, great power, and the potentially corrupting qualities of both. Chuck is reeling from his separation and encounters unexpected setbacks at work, and for Bobby, his ruthless strategies and his single-minded devotion to his battle with his legal nemesis comes at a cost, on the home front and in the offices of Axe Capital.
“It’s a little bit like they were superheroes last season. Things bounced off them,” Lewis says. “You see me bearing the burden of this fight against Chuck more than I did in the first season. The consequences run a little deeper.”
“Who’s manipulating who gets really infinitely complicated in this season,” adds Giamatti.
And yet one of the hallmarks of “Billions” is that it is not, on the whole, a dark or dour show.
“These characters love what they’re doing,” Levien says. “Even when they’re beset by challenges, they’re not gloomy. They’re having a great time.”
You can listen to this week’s episode here:
New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday.