The GQ&A: Corey Stoll on Billions, The Sopranos and Spielberg

19 May 2020
LR Damian Lewis as Bobby Axe Axelrod and Corey Stoll as Michael Prince in BILLIONS
Images: Jeff Neumann / Starz Play

LR Damian Lewis as Bobby Axe Axelrod and Corey Stoll as Michael Prince in BILLIONS

The Star Of Billions on the common traits of billionaires, The Sopranos prequel and Steven Spielberg’s work ethic

Season 5 of Billions, the hit show about the mad world of deca-billionaire CEO Bobby Axelrod and the Attorney general trying to bring him down, returned to StarzPlay this month.

In episode one of the new season we meet Mike Prince, an idealistic, private equity billionaire, wrestling with his desire to do what’s best for mankind, and win at all costs. Played by Corey Stoll (House of Cards, Antman) Prince appears to be the ice to Axelrod’s fire.

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We spoke to Stoll, who is currently in lockdown in New York, about his role as Mike Prince, what it’s like to work with a real billionaire and what we can expect from the upcoming Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark.

How do you prepare to play a billionaire?

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare actually. I was in the middle of playing Macbeth, but I definitely started with the suit. It was very much an outside in preparation.

You know, I think in the world we live in, or the world we lived in several months ago, inequality is only exacerbated by the fact that we have these people who have the outsized, lopsided amount of power. It's easy to sort of see them not as people.

My job as an actor is to is to be the advocate for my characters. I don't mean to just paint them in the best light, but to paint them in the most human. And so he had these outward trappings of power as well. He embraces that, he embraces these fancy suits and fancy cars. But in the end he is a person just like anybody else.

So, you know, that's, that's where I started thinking, you know, I tend to start with a person's insecurities and go from there.

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Mike seems intent on friendship and the profitability of mankind, which seems at odds with Axelrod’s agenda. Is he a smiling assassin?

I don't want to give too much away but Mike sincerely wants to do good in the world. But he also wants to do well. One thing that's cool about the very opening of the season is that we see Axe really embrace this warrior energy.

Mike Prince is not in that place at all. He very much struggles against this and his self image as a good person is really the most important thing. And yet he has this incredible desire for excellence and dominance.

Your character seems to be a mix of old money style and tech billionaire ethics. Was that a deliberate decision, do you think?

I can’t really speak to the political motives there but I don’t think that’s the way it is. I think the contrast we’re seeing is a dramatic one. The strength of introducing Mike Prince is not necessarily as an apology for billionaires, but as a dramatic foil to our characters.

We’ve had people who have had a strong moral sense in the show but they’ve tended to be suckers.

Have you have you ever met any billionaires? Did you take anything from them that you could use for Mike Prince?

I just worked with Steven Spielberg and I don't know if it can be applied to billionaires as a crowd, but here’s why it was amazing working with him. Because here's a guy who has nothing to prove, never has to work another day in his life and yet he works harder than anybody on the set. He has this drive that is relentless and it doesn’t appear to me to be about winning points or getting more praise or fame or money. It really is the work itself is so rewarding and he remains such a curious person and I like to think that trait is not uncommon amongst billionaires.

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What can you tell us about the upcoming Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark?

Yeah. I mean, I was an enormous fan of the show. And it was, It was a real sort of pinch me moment to be cast and then to work with an incredible cast. I really think for the audience the less they know about spoilers, the better. It’s out there that it’s a prequel that takes place in the late 60s and early 70s.

It’s the same world around as The Sopranos but it expands in this great way and I think for fans, there’s going to be so many great moments where we see the origins of certain people and traits of theirs.

Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.