For three seasons, we’ve watched Bobby Axelrod (the investment Golden God) and Chuck Rhoades (the power-thirsty lawman) posture, snarl, and scheme while locked in a gloriously intense battle of financial sector cops and robbers with ample nuance and viciousness. In a sense, it (in addition to the butter-smooth line readings and distinct phraseology coming out of the mouth of impish Axelrod consigliere Mike “Wags” Wagner) has allowed the show to create rooting interests amidst the backdrop of ridonculous wealth and seedy political machinations. Themes that we’re all getting a triple helping of in the real world. But in season four, everything is changing… for now.
Introduced in season two, Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) is the embodiment of the term “does not fuck around.” Direct and hyper-analytical, Taylor climbed the ladder at Axelrod’s company (Axe Capital) and became a force of nature and someone for Axelrod (Axe) to groom… and use. An arrangement that worked for all sides until Axe traded on Mason’s personal relationship with a client (Oscar, as played by Mike Birbiglia), causing Mason to find a door and take a whole lot with them at the end of season three. A move that creates a new rival for Axelrod (Rhoades has own betrayals to contend with, allowing for a detente with Axe) as he and Mason fight for clients and supremacy.
We spoke with Dillon about the fight between Mason and Axe, whether Mason can reclaim their soul while building a rival company, and how the non-binary actor navigates moments where their (also non-binary) character is misgendered for story reasons on the show.
How has Taylor changed coming into this season?
Taylor Mason Capital is up and running and Taylor is facing the challenges of being totally in charge for the first time and as much as they would like to be out of Axe’s line of fire, they certainly are not over the course of season four. I think, from when we met Taylor in season two and we are introduced to them as this seemingly moral and ethical center in this very, you know, unethical world…Taylor is forced to reckon with the ways in which they will or won’t compromise their morals and ethics in order to continue to one-up Axe and to ultimately, you know in their mind, win the game.
Are they going to be able to reset and find a way to get back to the principles that they had to let go of?
Well, I think that’s the ultimate question for season four, actually. Whether or not they’ll reach a point where they’re able to step out of Axe’s line of fire and continue on their own without the sort of cat and mouse game that started to unfold at the end of season three between Taylor and Axe.
What is Taylor looking for in a team as they build the company?
Taylor is looking for the smartest and best people in the industry. You know, whether it is people who are going to be working on the floor, you know the traders and sales, or whether it’s bringing on someone like Sarah Hammond, who is played by Samantha Mathis… who is Taylor’s COO.
The Samantha Mathis character in the first episode of season four seems like she has a very similar relationship with Taylor to the one Taylor had with Wendy at Axe Capital. Is that fair to say? It feels like Taylor needs that kind of figure in their life to be able to ground them.
I think it’s very important for Taylor to have someone who is willing to voice their opinion whether or not they think Taylor is going to like it, but because they know it’s important for Taylor to hear; they need someone who is going to play Devil’s Advocate for them, someone they can bounce ideas off of, and someone who is able to come up with a solution on their own. You know, Sarah has an extensive military background. She’s familiar with the ins and outs of the government and certainly that is something that Taylor is very keen on having. You know someone who has connections and insights on their side.
Is Taylor scared of Axe or intimidated by him?
I think Taylor is certainly intimidated by Axe and I would say Axe is intimidated by Taylor. The intimidation is for the same reason, I think, which is that they are each other’s most worthy adversary and they know it, and so the intimidation is also like fascination and curiosity which is what I think keeps them so drawn to each other even as opponents. And I think, as an audience member and a fan of the show, what we see, during season three at the end, is that when Axe tells Taylor “you better understand that I’m prepared to go as far as I need to go,” that what Axe is talking about is the possibility of killing Taylor, because of these conversations that Axe has had with the John Malkovich character. And Taylor doesn’t know that. And I don’t think, at the end of season three, that Taylor has a concept that Axe will do whatever it takes, including possibly killing Taylor. So, spoilers, but over the course of season four, Taylor’s understanding of just how far Axe is willing to go… that understanding for Taylor grows deeper over the course of the season, certainly. And then we get to see how Taylor deals with the increasing level of intimidation coming from Axe.
Some of the best moments in the show have come when Damian and Paul have had face-to-face confrontations or Paul and Toby Leonard Moore.
Are you going to get to have your fair share of face-to-face interactions with Damian this season or is that going to mostly be done in separate corners because of the nature of the storyline?
Hmm, without giving any spoilers, there’s definitely… I can say there’s definitely at least one. I won’t say if there are more or not, but there’s definitely at least one confrontation between Taylor and Axe early on in the season that is a tipping point, certainly.
Can Taylor and Axe ever find peace with each other? Is that something you’d want to play as a performer?
Oh gosh. I mean, I will play whatever it is that they write for me to play. I love playing Taylor, we have such incredible writers. I think, I’ll just say that I hope that for all of the characters on the show, that they are able to get back in touch with their own humanity, their own morals, their own ethics, and I think season four certainly deals the most with, whether or not there is a point of no return.
Would you want to spend much time with people that actually do this for a living and actually live in that world of largess and this cold financial cut-throat industry?
Like, what do you mean? Like, would I want go hang out [with them]?
It would seem like you’re playing against your own personal political leanings with this kind of character. Is that fair to say?
Well, I certainly think there’s truth in the statement you made. I think it’s probably pretty general as well…
Like, that’s a generalization of the people that work in the industry, although, I don’t think it’s entirely wrong. [Laughs] The only answer I can come up with is, I am an artist, I’m a creative person and so I think in terms of just the literal difference between working from a mathematical model versus a creative model. In the end, that world is foreign to me because I don’t spend time in any of it. I’m trying to figure out a way to answer your question. It’s not a world I spend time in and I don’t necessarily desire to, although, I think anthropologically, it would be fascinating. It’s fascinating to be around anyone who is at the top of their game, you know?
How much input do you have personally? Do the writers come to you, do producers come to you at the beginning of the season?
Well as I said, we’re really lucky to have such incredible writers and Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the co-creators who are also the showrunners. They’re also writers. They have a really clear concept for Taylor, and so for me it’s more about taking what I get from the script and putting on the costume and showing up to fill in the picture that has sort of have already been outlined for me and I’m just sort of coloring it, if you will. And it has always felt like a very collaborative process in the sense, and I’ve said this before, during season two, there were maybe one or two scripts that came my way, where Taylor was misgendered and I would just shoot off an e-mail saying, “Oops, you know, caught an error in the script” and it would be corrected immediately and come back to me. Brian and David are either always both onset or one of them is on set, so they’re always available for me to go and ask a question, like “why is Taylor saying this?” or “why did you choose, you know, for it to go this way?” It’s always a conversation, a very comfortable and open conversation. And for that, I’m really grateful.
At the end of season three and in this first episode of season four, there are times when Taylor is misgendered in a spiteful way.
Is that something they talked with you about beforehand — [the question of] what kind of dialogue there is and if you’re comfortable with the things that you’re being asked to do?
I think that a character like Wags, who, the minute that Taylor has betrayed Axe Capital, and therefore Wags, Wags loses all respect for Taylor and with that respect goes the respect for who they are as a person, including their identity, including their pronouns. And so you hear Wags misgender Taylor on purpose, which I think is right in line with his character. So I agree with the writers that it wouldn’t have made sense for Wags to continue to respect Taylor’s pronouns having lost all respect for them as a person and also it’s not in line with Wags’ character. I don’t think.
It’s interesting, though, because Wags, in that first episode of season four, misgenders Taylor and then corrects himself, so it’s interesting and you wonder if that gives away anything.
Right…and I’m trying to remember if it happens at the end of season three, when Wags calls Taylor a bitch.
Yes, it is the season finale.
Yeah, after Taylor has left. So then we have season four and I think it’s a great little moment actually for Wags to have. Like, you’re actually watching the character like Wags have that thought process which I think is an incredible thing for television to show.
‘Billions’ returns for its fourth season Sunday at 10pm EST on Showtime.