For all its commentary on the power of money, Showtime’s financial thriller Billions promises to explore another realm of power: that of the sexual power struggle between husband and wife. But the question is far more vast than “Who’s on top?”
In the series pilot, viewers learn that Paul Giamatti’s straight-edged attorney Chuck Rhoades has a bondage fetish, but the more intriguing reveal — in the final moments of the episode — is that his partner in sexual specificity isn’t an adulterous outsource but his psychiatrist wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff). She unquestionably wields the literal power and claims her territory, and suddenly, Billions doesn’t paint a portrait of sexual deviance but rather of normalcy and routine. Relatively speaking, at least.
“See if you can actually make that a part of somebody’s actual relationship, a part of this person’s actual life, both of them,” Giamatti tells EW of the acting challenge in the Rhoades’ sexual routine. “It’s usually treated as a joke or as something bizarre, and the way [Billions is] treating it was interesting to me. I’ve never done anything like that before.”
He admits he was initially surprised by the pilot’s pay-off. “At first I was like, right, he’s going to be the guy with the kinky sex, and then it got a lot more interesting than just that,” he continues. “It’s a very adult character. He’s not a grown-up boy. Not that I have to do that a whole lot, but I have in my career had to play somebody a little childish. This guy can be, but he’s not a child. He’s actually a man, and that was nice.”
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From Siff’s perspective, the leather may be more Chuck’s thing than Wendy’s. “In terms of their [sexual] relationship, I think she’s doing that because he needs that and she’s providing that for him as his wife and as somebody who has enough broadness of mind and the ability to distance herself and — because she’s a therapist — she can step back from the situation and say, ‘I can do that,’ ” says Siff. “And she’s good at it, and it feels good, too. It’s not just one thing.”
Regardless of which spouse is getting more out of the routine, the Rhoades’ preferred mode of intimacy adds rich layers to the already complicated Wendy, who sits in a precarious position between her husband and her boss (Damian Lewis’s Bobby Axelrod). As Wendy is poised to be a great potential conflict of interest, she’s also poised to influence both men, with or without a whip.
“It’s too Machiavellian to say she has a lot of control over these men, but she does wield a lot of power and influence,” says Siff. “And yet I guess what I really like about her is that she’s not just dominating, domineering, and a dominatrix.”
Billions airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.