Don’t Mess with Malin Akerman

In Showtime’s Billions, the actress shows her cutthroat side.

BILLIONS (Season 1)

Malin Akerman has gotten raunchy with Tom Cruise in the movie Rock of Ages, flexed her fighting skills in the comics-inspired film Watchmen and showed off her comedic chops on TV’s The Comeback and Trophy Wife. On Sunday, the Swedish-born Canadian will reveal her more cutthroat side on Showtime’s new financial thriller series Billions.

The show pits Connecticut-based hedge fund honcho Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) against hot-tempered U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), who is intent on dismantling the former’s moneyed kingdom on charges of insider trading. Akerman plays Axelrod’s wife Lara, who like her husband, comes from humble beginnings but has no problem throwing the first punch when threatened.

How would you describe Lara? She’s a girl who grew up in a blue-collar family. She was a nurse at first and she’s come into this world of high society. Really, she’s quite a survivor and able to shape shift into any situation gracefully. But I think her blue-collar upbringing is based on family. And that’s what she brings to this character. You wouldn’t really know that she’s anything but a rich woman who’s been in that society for a long time. [But] you cross her family and she will cut you. She is not to be messed with. She has so many layers. She’s very independent within their relationship—[she] and Bobby are a great match because they egg each other on, they support one another, they stand beside one another. It’s not the woman standing behind her man; it is very much a team effort and they’re in on everything together. I like that about her, that she has a softness to her and is also very cutthroat.

What do you think, specifically, is the source of their mutual attraction? It’s their drive. They’re both very, very driven people. It’s not about the money; I think it’s about the power that gets them going. I don’t know what episode it is, but she really kind of eggs him on and pushes him to certain limits and vice versa and I think that turns them on a bit. It’s almost like they’re racecar drivers, the need for speed. It’s not just two people who are lovey-dovey. They have a soft side, but it’s also very animalistic, it’s very alpha their relationship.

At first, the show seems to be about the battle between Bobby and Chuck Rhoades. But it’s as much about the dynamics of power couples. It seems inevitable people will compare Bobby and Lara to Frank and Claire Underwood from House of Cards. How do you think they stack up? It’s funny because I do say sometimes that this show is a mix of House of Cards and The Wolf of Wall Street. But the difference with Bobby and Lara is they have a warmth to them that Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright don’t have. It’s almost like they have a business partnership in that sense whereas Bobby and Lara, they really have a deep love. And they have a real warmth and a family life and there’s something really nice about that. People can relate to that, family and bringing up kids. That was an interesting part, too, is raising kids in this environment where they have everything they want. We have a chef at home, and we have a helicopter and a private jet and how do you raise humble children in that environment? And that’s a big concern for Lara at one point. I like that we get to explore all those questions about these people and their lives and do they care and if they do, how do they keep that balance? What do you do? Especially if you’re brought up in a family that doesn’t have that, as Lara and Bobby were. And in my own life I have the same questions with my son, it’s a different lifestyle than what I grew up with. And I want to make sure he’s never handed anything for free, that he understands how life really works. They are a power couple with heart.

That said, when your claws come out they are razors. Oh my god, I love that. That’s kind of my favorite part about the character. I always tell them, ‘Give me more of that!’ because it’s so much fun to play.

I think a lot of people recognize you for more comedic, light-hearted performances. And Lara isn’t a villain, but she certainly has an edge to her. Was that something you were specifically drawn to? Yeah, absolutely. In the pilot, there’s this one scene where she’s threatening this woman—I fell in love with her right there in that moment. I don’t live in that world, but I feel like so often you hear in high society, in any society, women in general, really, we beat around the bush and there’s a lot of back talk. And that’s a generalization, but what I love about Lara is it’s right out in the open, ‘Here it is, you’re done.’ She doesn’t beat around the bush. And I really find that refreshing and fun and I enjoy playing that character and bringing that out. Because I’m not that person in real life. Listen, you mess with my family, I will get even. But I normally don’t threaten people. So it’s fun to explore that side of humanity and that place of a bit colder, more cutthroat women.

That world that she’s in, that Greenwich country club society, did you research it at all? No, I didn’t. I’ve been privy to different worlds growing up. And I’ve definitely witnessed the country club housewives and I’ve been to amazing events and dinners with the Queen [Silvia] of Sweden, shifting from a soup kitchen to dinner with the queen. So I’ve definitely seen it. But I don’t think there was too much research to be done because she’s the person who comes in and says, ‘Okay, this is this situation. I can handle this this way.’ It’s not so much about the exterior environment and how it affects her. It’s about what she’s going to bring to the table. And I think she’s one of those people who at a really fancy event, she’ll push limits and push people’s buttons and see how far she can get with it. She’s probably different from most people you would meet at those events.

Being on the set of a financial thriller, have you picked up any tips? Non-insider, of course. It’s a crazy world. But it made me want to get more involved and understand it better because it would be interesting to have some shares. It’s kind of a strange world that I don’t understand and I don’t have any tips to give anyone. But it’s definitely piqued my interest a little bit more, so maybe next season I’ll start watching the NASDAQ.

You’re in another thriller, the movie Misconduct, which comes out in February. From the trailer, it seems you’re a bit of a villain in that film. Can you tell me more about your character and her role in the schema of the movie? Her name is Emily and she is messed up, man. She’s a girl with problems and she’s quite manipulative and she is basically dating this guy who owns a pharmaceutical company. His name is Anthony Hopkins, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him? He’s an actor. ____

They’re boyfriend and girlfriend. And it’s interesting, she’s one of those people, if you step on her toes, she’ll hit you back tenfold. She kind of stages her own kidnapping. And things take a turn for the worst.

As they generally do with kidnappings. Exactly. If it’s your own kidnapping you staged or if it’s for real, they don’t end up in the best way possible.

We have two very alpha women you’re playing between Billions and Misconduct. Lara versus Emily in a fight: who are you placing your bet on and why? Oooh, I don’t know. That would be a good fight to watch. I would probably say Lara, but Emily is psycho enough that who knows. She might have a knife in her back pocket and play unfair and play real dirty. I think the crazy ones almost always win, because they just go nuts.

Photos: Don’t Mess with Malin Akerman

Malin Akerman. Photo by James Minchins, courtesy Showtime.

Damian Lewis. Photo by Jeff Neumann, courtesy Showtime.

“Billions” cast. Photo by James Minchins, courtesy Showtime.

Malin Akerman. Photo by JoJo Whilden, courtesy Showtime.

Damian Lewis. Photo by Jeff Neumann, courtesy Showtime.