Arts & Culture

How Billions Makes Its Characters Look Super Rich

Accurately portraying this kind of money means putting the right art on their walls, the right clothes on their backs, and the right food on their plates.
IMAGE MARC HOM / SHOWTIME
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The Showtime series Billions follows a cat-and-mouse game taking place between a superstar hedge funder, Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, and a U.S. Attorney’s office in which it’s unclear which party is more corrupt. And while the ambiguity around what’s legal (or moral) drives the lion’s share of the show’s delicious drama, one thing that’s never unclear is just what kind of world these characters live in.

For the series's fourth season, which premiered March 17, creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien have gone to great lengths to accurately portray the kind of money their characters are dealing with, which means putting the right art on their walls, the right clothes on their backs, and the right food on their plates. It also means learning to take notes.


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Paul Giamatti, David Costabile, Asia Kate Dillon, Maggie Siff, and Damian Lewis in the new season of Billions.

“One billionaire wrote to us after season two to say that we got it all right, except that he would never be caught dead flying in the sardine can of a plane we put Axe into,” Koppelman says. “If you’re us, a G5 seems like a pretty includible thing to have; only a billionaire would know it’s a starter plane—and then want to email us about it just to let us know he noticed.”


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“If you’re us, a G5 seems like a pretty includible thing to have; only a billionaire would know it’s a starter plane," says a creator of Billions.

When it comes to depicting the secret language of the super-rich, it seems, you have to be very, very specific. “Popular culture regularly portrays rich people as always being in fancy clothes, but when it comes to billionaires, especially self-made ones, it’s often the case that they don’t have to wear a suit,” says Levien.

Popular culture regularly portrays rich people as always being in fancy clothes, but when it comes to billionaires, especially self-made ones, they don’t have to wear a suit.

“They know how rich they are, and anyone who matters to them knows also. They’re playing to their own audience of about 200 people in the world who are on their level, not to the rest of us. Celebrities or run-of-the-mill rich people seem to have lower standards.”


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Lewis and Maria Sharapova in Billions.

This idea is hammered home time and again by the series, like in the scene where Axe practices his forehand with Maria Sharapova or when viewers spot one of Robert Motherwell’s “Elegy” paintings in Axe’s home just a few months before one breaks a world sales record in real life.

The spending habits of the billionaire class are most apparent when it comes to where the characters in Billions are eating. “We think a lot about the way in which restaurants are signifiers of status, power, and taste,” Koppelman says. When Axelrod is looking to dazzle a colleague who’ll be susceptible to a grand gesture, he arranges a meal at the Upper East Side mainstay Daniel, served by chef Daniel Boulud himself; when he’s dealing with a situation that requires a softer touch, it’s ramen served at home by Ivan Orkin. “Our characters would know the difference between Nakazawa and Shuko,” Koppelman says, “so we have to know the difference also.”

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Damian Lewis in Billions.

Luckily, the series has developed a devoted fanbase among the sorts of people it portrays, and its creators say they’re invaluable in deciphering the fast-changing markers of power in their world.

“The main difference between now and the beginning, before the show aired, is if we managed to get access to these people back then, they were all disavowing it and saying, ‘I’ll deny having talked to you.Levein says. “Now people are happy to talk to us, and they all like to say that Axe is based on them.”

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*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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