Being on the set of “Billions” always keep you on your toes.
“There’s a responsibility that you have to the rest of the company to help them focus. If somebody starts fucking around, then everybody wants to start fucking around. There’s a time and a place for it, and there’s plenty of fucking around that we do. It’s just not when the cameras are rolling,” Costabile said.
That company now includes Daniel Breaker, who joined the “Billions” cast last season as ideal Wags foil Roger “Scooter” Dunbar, the second-in-command for Corey Stoll’s squeaky clean-seeming billionaire Michael Prince. Breaker came to the show with a strong stage pedigree, including three-year runs on both “The Book of Mormon” and “Hamilton.” Following the departure of series star Damian Lewis at the close of Season 5, Breaker now finds himself in the middle of another extended run, upped to a regular, integral part of the goings-on inside what is now Michael Prince Capital.
In a year of on-screen change for “Billions,” the emerging Wags-Scooter partnership has been a clear highlight. Watching Costabile and Breaker in their respective Zoom windows in a recent interview, as they alternate between sincere compliments and good-natured needling of each other, it’s clear how that eventual on-screen partnership emerged from an easy off-screen alliance. As exacting as this material can be sometimes, this pair has managed to have plenty of fun along the way. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
INDIEWIRE: The two of you have a lot more time together on screen than you did last season. Was that something that you found out when you got pages for Season 6 or was that something that Brian Koppelman and David Levien gave you the heads up on?
David Costabile: We sort of knew that was what the combo was going to become. Certainly in the very beginning, I found it very fun, their growing pains and their inability to communicate and them looking at each other like, ‘The fuck’s wrong with you?’ I actually think that as the season has gone on, you really get to see how much they value the other, because the other is going to do things that that other person doesn’t want to do. And they’re both very pleased with that. Scooter remains untouched from the dirt and Wags doesn’t have to do any of the work. So it’s the best of both worlds for both of them, really.
Both of you have plenty of theater experience. What parts of making “Billions” have that same energy?
DC: Most of the days, I would start by singing different songs from “Passing Strange,” and then asking Daniel pointed questions about that piece because I was such a fanboy. It was about the 15th day we had done it and he would just be like, “Can you please just stop?”
Daniel Breaker: It’s like Hour 12 that we’re filming and all of a sudden, he’s singing songs from “Passing Strange.”
DC: [singing] Listening is waiting….Now you are knee-deep…
DB: Still going strong! Season 7, he’s gonna have the choreography down.
DC: It’s not gonna stop. We haven’t even gotten to the end of the play yet.
DB: This is sort of a new experience for me on a show like this. I’ve done some TV and film here, but I’ve not had the opportunity, the lovely opportunity, to be able to live in a character and build a character. And I gotta say, David, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass because this is an interview. But I do find that David was very helpful in giving me the sort of freedom and the input and the guidance to live in the space freely. He had a certain level of understanding of things that helped me through this new process.
DC: There are so many of us on the show who have had lots of theater experience and been in long-running shows. Every day you’re coming in, you’re in this situation with the character and the clothes, and you keep coming back to it. And you’ve got to find more. That’s all there is. And if you have that facility, that interest, the relationships are only going to get deeper. You’re going to be able, as Breaker did, to walk right in and fit right in.
Daniel, when you got the part, did you go back and watch some Wags scenes to figure out where Scooter could find common ground and still be his own character?
DB: I try to avoid watching David’s work. [laughs]
DC: It’s a very smart idea. Very wise. It’s only gonna take you off track.
DB: The creators of the show clearly have an idea of where they want to go with these characters. But they also really embrace the natural traits or personalities or things that we like to contribute to the roles. The story was already telling itself naturally, just the way that David and I interact. I feel like they played off of that. They know that we have a good old time together.
Was there a scene when you felt like the two of you really locked in and found that dynamic that you were able to take forward?
DB: Yeah, when I ordered some really bad food, and we did the scene afterwards.
DC: That’s right! Every other day, we would decide what we’re going to get. And then he chose one day and I was like, ‘Well, that sounds good.’
DB: The cheapest, worst middle eastern food.
DC: Ate like pigs. And then we get to the quietest scene when we’re both having this moment listening to a Cat Stevens song. Literally, you could hear [Costabile makes a stomach-gurgling noise that sounds like a feral cat]. I was like ‘Wow. Ruined.’
DB: ‘Thanks, Breaker.’ We had to do reshoots, because some lines changed in that scene so it was all forgiven.
DC: You learned your lesson. No bad food.
DB: Yeah. More juice, less hummus.
David, you mentioned earlier the idea of keeping things fresh. How do you do that when you’re when you’re on Season 6 of playing the same character?
DC: It really does come from material and the writers really kill themselves to make it as fun as it can be for us. So I take great pleasure in saying the awful shit that I say and do. It’s spectacularly fun. Showtime did a ‘Best of Wags‘ cut of all of my atrocities. They even left some out and I was like, ‘How did you leave that atrocity? That’s disgusting, and you didn’t put it in?’ It’s a great wealth of riches for me and it’s always going to be fun to spark off. Almost everybody on our show — Daniel excluded — is a great person. And kind. We all get along really well. Nobody gets to have [what] we have, to work at home and be doing a television show that’s super good. We get to go home and we get to take our kids to school in the morning. And sometimes we can even have dinner with them.
DB: For me, coming from the recent theater marathon schedule, it’s so nice to have weekends. Even though the days are long, it’s just so nice that on the weekends my kids are like, ‘Thank God I remember I have a father.’
DC: And that changes who you are. When you’re on eight shows a week, that day off you get, you’re just crushed.
DB: And even the days when you have a show, you’re pacing yourself all morning, all afternoon, before you do a performance at night. So it’s so nice to just live in very nice suits.
It seems like at least once an episode the two of you walk into or across a room side by side. Have the two of you gotten better at syncing up your movements?
DB: Well, for a while there, I had to get used to the Battle of Arms Crossed or Arms in the Pocket. I feel like I was always doing what you were doing at any given moment and you were like, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Pick a different position. We look like twins.’ [laughs]
DC: The episode where we come in to Prince’s house and we’re walking in tandem down the hall, all of a sudden the director was like, ‘Can you come in faster?’ I turned to Breaker and I was like, ‘Get ready.’ I just went into top Wags speed and he was hopping, going ‘Come on? What are you doing?’ So I did pull back from the most rapid version.
When you’re working with someone who has as great comic timing as Daniel does, it’s easy. If both of you are listening, you just know immediately. For old vaudevillians, that’s what we look for. I was used to Damian [Lewis] but it’s also just like, ‘Well, he’s gone. So now I need a new partner.’ By now, it’s very fun and very easy to just fall into it.
The dialogue in the show feels like it can be a bit of a mouthful sometimes. Are there any passages that stick out in your mind as ones that you really had to work on?
DB: The first scene that I ever had with Paul Giamatti. I forgive him for going to Yale and not Juilliard, but I have a lot of adoration for Paul. It wasn’t until this season that I actually got to do a one-on-one scene with him. And again, being new in this part of the TV world, I didn’t realize that some of the script I had was like three weeks behind. It was a whole new rewrite. When we sat down to do this scene, I realized that I had these new double white pages or the double blue pages or whatever. And I was fucked. I’m sitting there in a full blown intense scene with Paul Giamatti. The whole time, I’m like ‘Whataremylines. Whataremylines. Whataremylines. Be cool, be confident. That’s Paul Giamatti. Know your lines in front of Paul Giamatti.’ So that was a more-than-stressful event.
DC: It is one of the things that I warned Daniel about when he first came. I was just like, ‘Our show is word perfect. There’s no improv. There’s no changing.’ I think I gave up at the end of Season 4 trying to add a word. I would try to add one word a season. And I got it down to one adverb at the end of Season 4, and I couldn’t get the adverb in. So I was like, ‘I give up. No more writing for me on the show.’ There are days when you wake up, and your mouth isn’t working as fast as it needs to work. And when we came back from Covid, I was like, ‘Do people talk this fast? I’m pretty sure I’ve never talked this fast. This is insane.’ It took weeks to thaw out your mouth and your tongue and your jaw.
It seems like one of the fun things about being in the cast of “Billions” is getting to do some of the on-location shoots. Are there ones that stand out to either of you?
DB: As a real foodie, in joining the show, I was really hoping that I’d be at a bunch of restaurants and then…Covid. So I’m hoping that maybe in Season 7, we’ll have a different world.
DC: I think Season 7, we’ll be able to bust back into the restaurants. Those are the good ones.
DB: We did have the Rodney Scott night with the good old pig.
DC: That was super fun. We shot at this place in Red Hook and then we got to eat with Rodney Scott and the food that he made. It was…sublime. That was really, really strong.
Assuming there aren’t any unexpected injuries or heart attacks for either of these characters, how long could you see yourself doing this?
DB: How long did “ER” run?
DC: Yeah, I think “Grey’s Anatomy” is on Season 55 now? Daniel is much more experienced in long runs than I am. I did 675 performances of ‘Titanic’ years and years and years ago. I don’t know if I can do 675, but what’s not to love about what I get to do? I love doing it and I like the people that I work with. There’s nothing else to hope for, really.
DB: There’s also just a lot of meat on that bone. With the writers on this show, there is a strong desire to always be present and slightly ahead of the game in terms of current events and news. In that respect, the show could really go on indefinitely because there’s always some new bullshit that’s happening in the world.
DC: Last time I looked, wealth disparity has not changed. I’m pretty sure the story is still alive.
DB: Yeah, we’re ready for a spinoff. If you want to just type that into this interview, just tell them that we’re ready.
“Billions” Season 6 airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Showtime.