Actor Damian Lewis’ portrayal of the nefarious Bobby Axelrod in the Showtime series Billions is unlike any other on television. He is a superb hedge fund manager who is just as skilled in the use of pop culture references as he is in the stock market. Although he is known to utilize illicit insider knowledge to improve Axe Capital’s earnings, his expertise is practically unmatched among financial power players.
The story of Billions is based on real-life processes that play a significant role in the city of New York. Indeed, there are people like Bobby Axelrod at hedge funds, and people like Chuck Rhoades at the district attorney’s office who go after those responsible for financial crimes (Paul Giamatti).
There may not be a direct analog to Bobby Axelrod in the real world, but there are a few prominent figures who hold frighteningly comparable positions, right down to the unimaginably luxurious lifestyles and unconventional trading tactics.
The real-life billionaire and hedge fund manager Steven A. Ross likely served as inspiration for the show’s makers when they made Billions.
Cohen when he was developing Bobby Axelrod, notably in the first few seasons of Billions when Axelrod was in the midst of his heated cat-and-mouse game with Southern District U.S. Attorney General Chuck Rhoades.
Both Cohen and Axe followed “coming-of-billionaire” narratives identical to one another, beginning in middle-class New York and ending up with unimaginable money thanks to their abilities to sit in a chair and trade expertly. With a large bonus cheque from his previous firm and his own $10,000,000, Cohen started S.A.C. Capital in 1992 and developed it to over $12 billion in assets under management.
Cohen, like Bobby, was totally ruthless in his chase of money, even after amassing billions. The power button was absent. After that, in 2013, one of Cohen’s top traders, Mathew Martoma, was charged with and convicted of insider trading. Two days after federal prosecutors revealed a five-count criminal indictment against S.A.C. Capital Advisors, Cohen hosted a lavish party at his home in East Hampton, New York.
Cohen, on the other hand, was eliminated from the competition by the SEC (SEC). The SEC made a settlement offer to Cohen in November 2013 that was strikingly similar to the one Chuck makes to Bobby in Season 2 of Billions. After agreeing to pay $1 billion in a settlement, Bobby was told to turn Axe Capital into a “home office,” which means he would only be managing his own money. At the end of Billions, Bobby rips up his settlement money.
Cohen, though, did not follow suit. S.A.C. Capital Advisors pleaded guilty to all charges, paid a $1.2 billion settlement in November 2013, and converted the fund into a home office. Cohen was barred from handling any client funds until 2018 due to a civil complaint filed against him by the SEC in 2016.
Cohen Is Now Establishing a New Investment Vehicle.
More than one billion characters was motivated by this case. U.S. Attorney Prett Bharara, who sought charges against Cohen, served as inspiration for Chuck Rhoades. Bill “Dollar Bill” Stearns (Kelly AuCoin) is also arrested for insider trading in the billions, but in contrast to Martoma, who is currently serving time in prison, Bill is free to go about his life.
Origins of The Television Program
To put it simply, “Billions” is a fictional adventure through the exciting realm of hedge funds. Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial journalist, and Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the authors of “Rounders,” came up with the idea.
If you’ve heard of Andrew Ross Sorkin, it’s because he wrote “Too Big to Fail,” the go-to insider’s account of the 2008 financial catastrophe.
The novel “Rounders,” co-written by Koppelman and Levien and adapted into a film starring Matt Damon, is set in the clandestine world of high-stakes poker in New York City.
HBO presented a cinematic adaptation of Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail” in 2011.
Soon after the success of that film, Sorkin set out to develop a fictional television series set in the financial sector, an area typically neglected by Hollywood.
After watching the HBO adaptation of “Too Big to Fail,” Sorkin told “Modern Trader,” “I felt we might try to investigate the power structure that underlies the financial sector in a sophisticated and elevated way.” As the director, I wanted to make something unique in the television landscape.
Conflict Over Authority and Resources
Two distinct protagonists are locked in a struggle for control of the show’s narrative.
Chuck Rhoades, played by Giamatti, is a morally ambiguous protagonist. A successful Wall Street sheriff, he also serves the needs of his domineering wife. With 81 convictions in a row, he picks and chooses which financial giants to take on, but shows no mercy to anyone, not even longtime friends.
At one point, Rhoades’s father approaches him and asks him to intervene on behalf of a friend of the family who has been convicted of insider trading. The judgment has catastrophic repercussions for the accused, forcing Rhoades to face the full force of his influence on Wall Street.
Sorkin said to “Modern Trader” that he drew inspiration for Chuck Rhoades from several attorneys he met while working as a writer researching white-collar crime.
Does Anybody Jump to Mind?
Elements of both former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and former New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who pursued many white-collar cases after the dot-com crisis, are present.
However, hedge fund boss Bobby Axelrod isn’t based on any real-life Wall Street hedge fund managers.
To get into character, actor Damien Lewis says he read “Fooling Some of the People All of the Time” by hedge fund manager David Einhorn. And the fact that Bill Ackman, founder of activist investment firm Pershing Square Capital, and Bobby Axelrod share the same initials is purely coincidental.
Sorkin remarked of Bobby Axelrod in the same interview, “Bobby Axelrod is his own persona.” “He’s not based on anyone in particular, but he has many of the same characteristics as real-life hedge fund managers.”
CEO All by Himself
As a character, Axelrod is quite intricate. The fact that Axelrod seems so lonely is maybe the most startling thing about him, despite his wealth, marriage, and two sons. Only Chuck Rhoades’ trading psychologist wife (who also happens to be Chuck Rhoades’ wife) has to access to his private troubles and motivations.
He has always made an effort to tread lightly in his professional and personal endeavors, so the acquisition of a $63 million mansion is a striking departure from his usual mode of operation. After Rhoades discourages him from buying the estate, Axelrod becomes even more set on making the acquisition.
Axelrod’s pet whimpers on the floor after being neutered and forced to wear a protective cone, and this is the final straw for him. A clear analogy may be drawn here. As a result, he lets his pride get the best of him. He makes a high-profile buy, but it soon becomes clear that this move may doom him to disappointment later in the season.
With that purchase, the first episode comes to a close and an inquiry into his company’s operations begins.
The Bottom Line
The Showtime series “Billions” offers an intriguing look at the lives of its characters set against the backdrop of the world of hedge fund financing and government regulation. Late in the year 2020, the show will return for a sixth season.