The Showtime series Billions is back for Season 3, with Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) still determined to destroy each other, but now also battling for their own survival amid powerful enemies. And with a constantly shifting world, money, power, justice and revenge are all on the line for each of the characters, as they fight to figure out just what’s most important to them.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Asia Kate Dillon (who plays Taylor Mason, one of the most fascinating and compelling characters currently on TV) talked about why they wanted to be a part of Billions, how this character came to be, being a fan of the show you’re a part of, how things are different this season, as a series regular, the journey for Season 3, what Taylor is driven by, what it’s like to work with co-star Damian Lewis, and the experience of getting to work with so many different directors.
Collider: When this first came your way, did you wonder how this character ended up on this show, in this completely heterosexual male world?
ASIA KATE DILLON: Yes, I certainly did! Fortunately, I got to know the actual answer to that question, which is that Brian [Koppelman] and David [Levien], who are two of the show’s creators and the current showrunners/executive producers, both have children and their kids are in public school or college, and they have friends who are non-binary, gender-fluid, trans, and all of that. They would say to their dads,” Oh, my friend’s coming over. They’ll be here at 6:00.” And they would say, “Wait, what?! They?” And so it really began, organically, for them at home. So, they wanted a character who was a millennial and who would really shine a light on the hyper-masculine world of hedge funds. I know it was actually organic. It was not like, “We need to put a non-binary character on television.” It just ended up that that’s what it was, which is one of the reasons I felt comfortable playing the role. If it had been just, “We want to do this, just so we can do it and have a token character, so we can say we did,” I would have never wanted to play the part.
It seems like it could have been disastrous.
DILLON: Yeah, certainly! Oh, definitely! At the first table read for Episode 1 of Season 2, one of the producers came to me and said, “Just so you know, we had a big Showtime meeting with everyone, talking about the pronouns and that we have a non-binary character coming on.” They took the extra time and care to not only educate themselves, but to educate everyone, so that I wouldn’t have to be the only one doing it, which I think was really helpful and set the tone for it not being a disaster and it really being, “This is part of a story and we’re gonna integrate it. It’s just part of the bigger picture.” And so, for all of those reasons, it wasn’t a disaster, thankfully.
Once you saw the relatability in a character like this, did you have a moment of, “I’m gonna fight to the death for this character”?
DILLON: That’s an interesting question. I knew I had a shot. I knew I had a real shot. Every audition process is different. It’s important that I say that. But my first audition with the casting director, Allison Estrin, obviously went well because I got the second audition, and then the third audition. I felt, the whole time, like I was really in the running. I sort of knew. I had a feeling. It was one of those things. It’s certainly a coincidence, but significant, that I am non-binary and Taylor is non-binary. The universe just all came together into this beautiful congruency.
Even though the show puts itself out there as this male world, the female characters and the non-binary character are really the unsung heroes of the show. They’re so interesting.
DILLON: It’s awesome to hear that. Yes, I’m on the show, but I also am a fan of the show, and that’s one of the things that I love about the show. Right from Season 1, you’ve got Maggie Siff and Malin Ackerman playing these two totally strong, totally fully fleshed out characters that have very involved emotional lives and arcs. You need that to the balance this hyper-masculine world.
How has this season compared to last season, both for your character and for you playing the character?
DILLON: Because I am now a series regular this season, I’m doing more and Taylor is doing more, so it’s been incredible. I’m working more, and I love working. I’m getting to spend more time than I did last year with my co-workers, and that’s been extraordinary. And then, on top of that, getting to go through the hills and valleys of what Taylor is dealing with, emotionally, in Season 3 has been challenging and really exciting and fun.
What can you say about that journey?
DILLON: At the end of Season 2, Taylor became CIO, so that Axe could go deal with the fires that are burning in his life, along with a few other issues. So, Season 3 begins and Taylor is in charge. Taylor is figuring out how to deal with the challenges that come with being in charge and finding themselves very comfortable in that position, but also dealing with the moments when it’s not so comfortable and when things are really happening very quickly. Taylor is dealing with things, left and right, really quickly. It’s just fun.
Is there a bit of, “Be careful what you wish for” because the reality might be different than you expect?
DILLON: That’s interesting. There is something in Taylor that just wants to see how far they can take it. Whatever “it” is, they go all the way. In that sense, Taylor is on this ride. Taylor is taking this journey. That’s the decision that Taylor has made. So, in that sense, they’re going for it, no matter what.
Just how ambitious will Taylor be, this season?
DILLON: Since Axe was Taylor’s mentor, in Season 2, and certainly continues to be in very aspects, in Season 3, Axe’s ambition rubs off on Taylor, right from the start, and it’s certainly rubbing off, more and more. Taylor enters into the Axe Capital world with a very strong sense of morality and a very strong moral center. That begins to be questioned almost immediately, and I think that it’s just continuing to be questioned, more and more and more. I think people watching Season 3 will be even more fascinated, as to the ways in which Taylor is dealing with their moral confusion, when it happens.
The Season 3 trailer talks about how people are pulled by either fear or money. Which do you think is the stronger pull for Taylor?
DILLON: Fear. I don’t know if Taylor would be able to identify that for themselves, or within themselves, but I think that the fear of not going for it, all the way, the fear of not living up to their potential, and the fear of squandering something within themselves are the stronger pull. I think that’s why Taylor stays at Axe Capital. Axe says, “There’s potential in you. If you made the decision to really go for it, you could really do something.”
I love how Taylor is this curve ball that comes into this company, and instead of making a big deal out of the obvious difference, it’s more about, what can this person do?
DILLON: Yes. Axe recognizes, immediately, “This person can make me money. This person isn’t coming in here with any kind of bravado.” There’s no personality that Axe has to deal with, in order to get them to do the job. It’s very much that Taylor is there to do the work and to do a good job, if not the best job.
Which is actually really smart.
DILLON: Right?! Just do the work and you’ll actually get ahead. And I think it puts all the other people at Axe Capital on notice, to say “Do you have to use your hyper-masculine bravado to get ahead? You have used to and it has worked for you, but do you have to? Maybe there are other ways.” And Taylor introduces that.
What’s it been like to work with Damian Lewis and play that dynamic?
DILLON: Damian is an extraordinary actor, and he’s also a very extraordinary and gracious human being. Working with someone like Damian is like playing tennis with someone who makes you better for having played with them. He’s present, he’s conscious, he’s listening and he’s reacting truthfully, in the moment. And then, on top of that, he’s hilarious and totally relaxed. You have to be able to not take yourself too seriously, so that you can take the work really seriously.
Especially when it’s such intense subject matter.
DILLON: That sort of tension, all the time, which works for some people. Some actors are that way. For us, we are having fun when we are being serious ‘cause it’s all fun. We’re able to joke and have a good time, and then when it’s time to call, “Action!,” we’re right there.
What’s it like to have so many different directors come in and out and do different episodes? Are you at a point now, where you feel like you could fight for the character, if need be?
DILLON: Yeah. I really like working with different directors. It’s really fun. On Orange is the New Black, we also had different directors. You have ones that will come back, and they’ll do the first episode and the third episode, or whatever, so that’s also been really fun. It has always felt very collaborative, since I began working on the show, in the sense that, if a script came my way where Taylor was accidentally mis-gendered, I would just send off an email, and then the script would come back fixed. Because the directors are usually coming in for just one episode, and the ones we work with are so amazing, they are gracious enough to say, “Please, let me know if there’s a problem with something.” The directors have watched the episodes and prepared, but they understand that I’ve been playing the character and they’re there just for the episode. I have always felt very comfortable, if I needed to say, “I don’t think Taylor would say that word. I think they would say this word.” We get asked, “Do you think you would be sitting or standing?” It’s collaborative, in that sense, certainly.
Do you feel like there’s a particular stand-out director or episode that you’ve had, this season?
DILLON: Oh, man, they’re all so different. Comparing them is almost impossible. Colin Bucksey, who directed Episode 1 and some other episodes, also directed last year, and it was nice to come back to Season 3 and have a director that we’d worked with before, get us back up and running into Season 3. That was great. He’s wonderful. I think one of the best parts is not having to compare. When you are not working in TV and primarily doing film, you’re working with one director for a long period of time, so getting to work with 12 different directors, in the span of six months, is incredible.
How many scripts do you typically get ahead of time, and are you told much about the arc for the season or is it episode by episode?
DILLON: It’s pretty much episode by episode. There are certain things that the producers will tell me, ahead of time, if they think that it’s something that I need to know. But most of it, I’m finding out as we go, which I love. I think that’s really exciting.
Billions airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.