Malin Akerman breezes into a coffee shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and every bowed, bearded head snaps up. In fairness, it’s a little hard not to notice the leggy blonde with the Siberian Husky-colored eyes. But Akerman’s been drawing plenty of attention in general these days, thanks to her role on Showtime’s Billions.
As Lara Axelrod, the steely wife to Damian Lewis’ genius money-maker, she can match her husband step for flinty step. The show has provided the actress, previously known for her comedic roles in films such as 27 Dresses and The Proposal, a new opportunity to delve into a meaty dramatic role.
And the location—the show shoots all over New York City and the Hamptons—has given Akerman, 38, and her young son, Sebastian, 3, a taste of life on the East Coast.
Funny and friendly, the effervescent actress talks partying like a billionaire, motherhood and playing a woman she calls a stone-cold bitch.
Lara—and I swear I’m not just saying this because I’m talking to you—is really one of my favorite characters on the show.
MALIN AKERMAN: I love her, too. The guys are great, but it’s so nice to have these strong female characters. It’s really the thing that attracted me to the show. That speech she gives in the pilot when she’s sort of threatening that woman while smiling? Sooo good.
Was it that kind of writing that drew you to the part?
I’d been doing so much comedy and I reached this point after I had my son. It’s interesting because that experience just shifts everything for you. Emotionally you’re just different. There are all these feelings, and a child becomes like a mirror—you have to see yourself for what you are.
When he turned a year old, I thought, I can’t wear this comedy mask anymore. I have too many real things going on in my life. I was hiding behind comedy a bit, and I thought, now is the time to be more vulnerable and dig my teeth into something juicier. Character-driven. Something that I can tap into my real feelings of being a mother and a woman.
All the scripts I was attracted to were ones with these strong women—real women who are fallible and sometimes broken down. Billions hit home. And, I mean, this was Showtime! And it had all these incredible actors already attached.
Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti—that’s pretty heady company.
I actually already knew Paul from a movie we did together a while back, Rock Of Ages. We became fast friends. Of course our characters don’t get to cross paths much. But we see each other at table reads and we all have dinner.
What’s your favorite part about Lara?
I think the fact that she’s an equal with her husband. There’s this mutual respect there—and she’s a little bit of a Lady Macbeth, working the strings. But also? It’s fun to get to play someone who is a stone-cold bitch sometimes. [Laughs]
What’s so interesting, considering you were raised outside the U.S. in Sweden and Canada, is that the show has this really specific class aspect that you and Damian Lewis are able to nail perfectly.
We’re just two Europeans playing blue-collar people! That’s a testament to the nuance in the writing and the script. But for me, I understand it. There are parallels between Lara and me.
When I was growing up, we had nothing. We didn’t get a car till I was maybe nine years old. My dad would pick me up on a bicycle in the dead of winter. Biking is great, but when you are talking about Toronto in the winter, it is f*cking freezing!
Another similar thing—she came into this other world, the world of billionaires. I came into this other world, Hollywood, which is also totally different. You have to be smart about it and learn the business and become a chameleon and shape-shift.
It was nice to delve into Lara and find those layers that are like my own life and marry them together.
Something else Lara does that I love is that she’s responsible for trying to keep her sons grounded. And that means sometimes disciplining them when they’re rude to the family chef by making them dig for clams in the cold.
I think about it in real life with my son, too. Like, he’s growing up in a house!
You are not picking him up on a bicycle in the dead of winter.
Nope, we have a car. Now we’re living in New York and he says, "Momma, I want to go in the car." And I say, "Yeah, buddy, so do I. But we’re doing the subway and the bus. This is real life. Get used to it."
And it’s great, you know? I’m so happy for this opportunity.
He’s three-and-a-half years old, which seems like an entertaining time.
Oh, he’s so much fun right now. He's awesome right now! He’s also doing that nonstop boundary-setting pushback. Everything starts with "no."
Luckily, you know how it is with boys and their moms. I still get the hugs and cuddles.
And you are a single parent, which is a lot of work I’m guessing.
It sure is. It’s been an interesting chapter in life. Having a kid and then splitting from your husband and becoming a single mom wasn’t in the plan. But you can’t ever really plan your life—you just think you can. And then life throws you a curveball. It’s ended up being the most amazing gift in my whole life. That I get this time with my son and we have this beautiful bond, all my time off is spent with him.
You spoke Swedish growing up. Are you teaching it to Sebastian?
I am. We take time every day to go through things and say them in Swedish. Both my parents live in Sweden, and so we try to go over once a year at least.
Where do you consider home now?
It’s all so confused at this point. When I go to Sweden, I know I’m not fully Swedish ’cause my childhood was spent in Canada. And in Canada, I don’t feel Canadian because of my Swedish family, and so everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been a bit of an outsider. But I think, having spent the last 14 years there, L.A. is home now. I feel like I’ve created a place for myself.
You have zero accent, and Damian’s American accent is incredible.
He stays in his American accent and then every now and then his wife will call, and he’ll be all ha-looo and it is so weird!
You guys have great chemistry together. Did that happen right away?
I was so excited and nervous to meet him; it’s always nerve-wracking. But he’s so lovely and we hit it off right away, and the chemistry was great. He’s an easy guy, there’s no bullsh*t. He’s a charming Brit, you know?
It must be fun to even pretend to be a billionaire.
You know what? It really is fun! Though it is like dangling the carrot stick in front of you but you can’t quite catch it. So, we get to pretend we own these jets, and then we’ll go on the jet, but we never take off. [Laughs.] Or we pretend we live in this insane house, but we don’t hang out in the house between takes. We’re in our trailers.
If you mean that Hamptons house we see Lara and Axe in, it really is nuts. It’s so big.
It’s really insane. I haven’t even seen most of it! Two weeks ago we were in the Hamptons shooting for two days, mostly night shoots. We finished around 8 o’clock and they did this whole clambake for us!
We were in the backyard and the pool and jacuzzi were heated, so we got to party at this mansion! I mean, we didn’t go inside but we were there.
I find it incredibly hard to wrap my head around what a billionaire really is. Do you?
I know. That much money? Someone once told me that if you put it in terms of time, a million dollars is a couple of months; a billion is 33 years.
I love it when people are like, "Can you tell me about the stock market?" It’s like, honey, I’m not in that part of the show. [Laughs.]
What can you tell us about Season 2?
There are some interesting turns with everyone, really. There’s a little bit more vulnerability in characters this season that we get to see.
We’re letting the audience in a little more, and I really like that. Hmmm, it’s so hard to tell you without telling you. I’ll say this: It’s messy and nerve-wracking. And it’s real.
That’s quite a tease.
I can’t say anything more. I’m sorry; they’ll kill me! We can’t even Instagram pictures that would give plotlines away. But, really, we don’t want to ruin it for you guys. There are great twists, and we’re going to keep you on the edge of your seat.
By Evelyn Reed | Originally published in Watch! Magazine, February 2017
Photo Credit: Christopher Ross.
Watch the Season 2 premiere of Billions on Sunday, Feb. 19 on Showtime.