TV’s kinkiest married couple, Billions’ Maggie Siff and Paul Giamatti, gives us the reel-/real-life down and dirty on sex, $$, power, and staying on top in Tinseltown.
As scenes from a marriage go, it’s hard to top the opening moments of Billions for sheer eye-popping intensity. We don’t know it at first, but the man bound and gagged on the floor in the Showtime series premiere is actually wedded to the leather-bound dominatrix snuffing out a cigarette on his chest. The relationship only heats up from there.
Paul Giamatti, 49, plays the guy with the burn hole, who also happens to be United States Attorney Chuck Rhoades. His wife, Wendy, portrayed in thigh-high footwear by Maggie Siff, 42, is more than just his partner in blowing off steam. She’s the in-house shrink and performance coach at Axe Capital, a massive hedge fund that pays her eight times more than her husband makes. Needless to say, Chuck cannot wait to expose Axe and its rakish billionaire CEO, played by Damian Lewis, as corrupt.
What a relief that both Giamatti (Sideways, Downton Abbey) and Bryn Mawr graduate Siff (Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men) are vastly more likeable in person than their deliciously despicable characters. The actors recently sat down with Philadelphia Style to talk about the show and the juicy themes it evokes: money, power, sex, greed, and, these days, how to dominate the not-so-small screen in Hollywood.
Billions is being acclaimed as one of the best new shows on television, but Chuck and Wendy aren’t exactly easy to take. How do you explain their attraction?
Siff: They’re tough on each other but they’re also very honest. They can be their full selves in a way that’s completely uncensored and unguarded. People like to comment on the sexual element of their relationship as something very dark. But I see it as a testament to their connection. Somewhere along the line, it came up in conversation and they allowed it into the marriage. Behind the scenes, we talk about it being something that Chuck needs in his life, and that Wendy is like, Okay, I can do that. Don’t knock open, honest communication, right?
In last season’s finale, Chuck breaks into Wendy’s computer, visits another dominatrix behind her back, and accuses Wendy of being an immoral criminal. Where are things when Billions returns in January?
Siff: Season two picks up soon after we left off and you see them regrouping. Wendy’s not at Axe Capital anymore, which makes things complicated for her and Chuck personally and professionally. They’re trying to figure out what to do with themselves. It’s interesting playing a character this conflicted. Something I struggle with occasionally is wanting my characters to be maybe more heroic than they are. I don’t know if every actor struggles with that. I love Wendy and love that she’s so interested in helping people thrive and succeed. My question is always, why not help different kinds of people beyond the hedge fund guys? Can she examine her conscience and ask, “Why only help the super-rich?”
Money is practically its own character on Billions—the $60 million beach house, the live-in chefs, the private helicopters. How has inhabiting this world altered your view of the 0.0001 percent?
Siff: My feelings haven’t changed at all. I still think it’s bizarre and maybe even a little unhealthy to be rich enough to be a nation-state of your own.
At least tell us you enjoyed driving Wendy’s Christmas bonus—the Maserati GranTurismo Sport Coupe, which retails for around $132,000.
Siff: To be honest, it’s like getting on a thoroughbred for the first time. You’re like, Whoa! What is this? I only got to drive in a parking lot, unfortunately. And here’s the scary thing: Not only are you driving an extraordinarily expensive car, but they also strap on the most expensive camera equipment to the windshield and you’re barely able to see the road. What I’m saying is, it wasn’t the most romantic driving experience.
We’ve talked about success, but what are the worst jobs you’ve ever had?
Siff: For about a month in my 20s, I worked at a hedge fund for real. A friend of mine was dating a guy who was a banker, and he gave me a temp job. I had no clue what I was doing. I would sit in front of these Bloomberg computer terminals and bullshit my way through the day so hard it was scary. And while there’s a high degree of glamour in the world of hedge funds we depict on the show, this was pretty basic: a lot less swag and a lot more khakis and plaid.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Siff: I take it easy. My husband and I live in New York, where I grew up, and we have a 2-year-old. I was pretty tired after the season and wanted to catch the last of my daughter’s babyhood. It’s going really, really fast. As far as guilty pleasures, I’m pretty nerdy. A night alone, I like to eat ice cream and watch BBC’s Call the Midwife.
Okay, finally, what really happens during a sex scene?
Siff: In general on the show, we do everything we can to lighten things up. Paul and I call each other Buck and Cindy, and our version of Cindy is spelled X-I-N-D-E-E. Damian loves singing show tunes around the set. When the cameras roll on the sex stuff, it’s all a total illusion. I’m standing there in six-inch stilettos attempting to look hot but desperately trying not to fall on my ass.
The full interview can be read here.