Malin Akerman on Playing Fierce, Not Funny, on Billions

We chatted with the Billions star (who grew up in Toronto) about playing against type on the intense new Showtime drama

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Malin Akerman as Lara Axelrod in Billions (Photo: JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME)

It only takes a few minutes to fall totally in love with Malin Akerman (even, as in our case, if it’s over the phone). For years she’s been cracking us with what she calls “kooky” characters in some of TV’s most offbeat comedies (Children’s Hospital, The Comeback). But now she’s trying something a little different as fierce AF power-wife Lara Axelrod on the sexy new Wall Street drama Billions (Showtime). We caught up with the actress to talk her new role, being TV-married to Damian Lewis, what she gets up to when hanging out in #the6, and naturally, what she would do with billions of dollars.

You play Lara AxelrodNYC hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod’s street-smart wife who sticks by him no matter what. What does her character bring to the show?
I don’t think Bobby or Lara would be who they are without one another. You know she’s not just some little wifey he’s got that he’s hanging on toshe’s his partner. They egg each other on and I think the community knows that she’s just as much a ballbuster as he is and that neither of them are to be messed with. I think also on the home front she really holds down the fort and is very good at trying to keep their kids humble in this crazy life that they’re living.

How is Lara different from any of your past projects?
Well, she’s definitely not as kooky as a lot of the comedic roles that I’ve been playing lately [laughs]. She’s way more of a fully flushed out human being, a character with many layers and as the season goes on we see more and more of her. Being on television as well…you get to play a little more. You have a longer period of time where you get to play with the character’s arc, whereas in film you’re in and you’re out and that’s it.

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Damian Lewis and Akerman play a NYC power couple (Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME)

Lara is a strong female character in a show with two powerful male leads. How does she stand out from other strong ladies on TV right now?
I like that she comes from a blue-collar family, she’s a little rough around the edges when she needs to be. She didn’t grow up in the world that they’re in now, so I think if anything she’s relatable. She’s a woman who gets down with her hands in the dirt, literally, and takes care of her family. She’s very honest and tells you exactly what she’s thinking.

Do you feel a personal connection to her?
I think there’s a bit of a parallel between Lara and I, as far as coming from humble beginnings and having been really driven in life. [We] worked hard to make something more of our lives, I think in our own way we’ve both succeeded in that. It’s the journey of having somewhat of a survival mentality, not taking no for an answer and just really pushing until you get what you want. That’s sort of the similarity there between the two of us.

What made you want to audition for the show?
I love that Lara’s a ballbuster. I love that she takes no shit from anyone. I wish I was a little more like that in life, I’m a bit of a softie in real life. But I love that about her, I just love her strength and her honesty. What attracted me to this project is the project as a whole. The writing is just incredibly smart and witty and based in a lot of truth. We have New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin  as a co-creator…he’s very smart and has a lot of input. It’s all based on the reality of Wall Street. So I think it’s a fascinating area.

What it’s like working alongside Damian Lewis?
Living hell? [Laughs]. No, I’m just kidding, he’s amazing. He’s just such a lovely human being, he’s charismatic and so talented and I adore him. He’s a very well trained theatre actor and I am learning immensely from just watching and working with him. The choices that he makes with the character and the nuances that he brings to it, it’s amazing and inspiring.

You grew up in Toronto, what are some of your favourite places to visit when you come home?
You know, so much has changed since I’ve been living there it’s incredible. I used to work down on King Street at a place called 606 King. It was this crazy bar that we worked at, me and my best friend. And just going back down to King West, it’s so developed, it’s beautiful. Some great restaurants that have popped up. My step dad lives out in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is beautiful, so I usually take a drive out there and stay a couple nights.  Queen Street West was also my old stomping grounds, so I tend to go around where I used to hang: Kensington Market, Spadina Street and China Town.

Are there any past projects you were a part of that you wish had gotten more attention than they did?
Yes. The Final Girls [note: we named it one of our top 10 lady-approved scary movies!] I wish we’d gotten a big release all over in all theatres, because I think it’s so worthy.  That’s one of my favourite movies that I’ve done so far.

Finally, what would you do if you had billions of dollars?
[Laughs] Well I think that it goes without saying that a lot of that money would go to family. And needless to say a lot of that would go to the organizations that I work with. And then if I was going to do something for me, I’d probably do something experiential, I’d probably take my son [Sebastian, 2] and some of my closest family members and friends and do a trip around the world. I think that would be an incredible thing, I love to travel and I think that would be a beautiful way to spend some of the money.

Related:
The Weekly Fierce-O-Meter: Charting the Badass Ladies of TV
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