Starting life as an intern at Axe Corp and now running their own cashed-up hedge fund, the character of Taylor Mason, as played by Asia Kate Dillon, is a fascinating and important one.
In a mainstream show brimming with brash machismo and tough-talking dialogue, a non-binary actor playing the first gender non-binary character on American television is a breakthrough.
Not only that, as the fourth season of Billions wraps, Mason has proven to be the toughest character of them all.
TV WEEK spoke to Asia about playing such a groundbreaking role…
So how are you enjoying the Billions ride?
It's the ride of a lifetime and a dream come true.
How important was it being cast in Billions, especially as Taylor is the first non-binary character to be on a US show. For you it must be incredibly important.
I feel really proud. And really lucky to be playing a character that I know would have really meant a lot to me had the character existed when I was a young person. So to be playing that character is not only incredibly gratifying for me but the feedback I get from other people has helped them realise their identity or has helped realise how to relate to their child who has come out as non-binary or those who don't know a trans-person or a non-binary person and Taylor was their first encounter with a trans or non-binary person it has been an incredible silver lining that Billions has been able to be a teaching tool in terms of gender identity as well as the way the show teaches us about money and power operating in this country.
As the show has progressed, have you had much input into the way that Taylor has been portrayed in the show?
Not, perhaps, in the way that you are asking. The creators created Taylor and Taylor was on the page primarily and I supported what was on the page and made it my own. I think it became collaborative in the sense that I was allowed to fill in everything that was given to me on the page. Colour it in, if you will. And certainly in season two for instance a script would come my way and maybe Taylor would have been mis-gendered by accident and I would just shoot off an email to the show runner saying – oops, we need to change this and they would do so immediately. There was no discussion. I think at one point Taylor was going to say "Policeman" and I just said that Taylor wouldn't gender that profession.
Can you talk about working opposite Mr. Damian Lewis?
Working with Damian is wonderful. He is such a consummate performer. He's so funny and generous. I like to say that acting with him is like playing tennis with someone who makes you better just for having played with them. I love working with him for that reason.
Since they first appeared, Taylor has risen from Axe Corp intern to managing their own hedge fun, it's extraordinary character arc!
Yes, you've said it. It is an extraordinary character arc. One that I certainly did not foresee. I know that I am on the show, but I am also a fan of the show and one of the things that I love about the show is the way that it gets you thinking that it is going in one direction and then it totally changes and goes to the other direction. As a fan that is exciting. And as an actor on the show, come on that's exciting!
Looking back do you have a favourite moment of your Billions experience?
Oh gosh, that would be hard. I will say that the poker stuff in season two was particularly synchronistic for me because one of my favourite movies when I was a young person was Rounders. Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien who are the co-creators and show runners on Billions, so for me… when I watched that movie as a young person I thought these are the kinds of people that I want to work with. My godfather taught me how to play poker when I was 8 or 9 years old – I mean I am not really good at it in real life but I certainly enjoy it so getting to then be in a poker scene in an episode written by Brian and David who had written this movie Rounders which really was one of my favourites, it was like a full-circle synchronistic moment, it really was. It was so much fun! And getting to play – we had all of these real poker players in the room. One of them was a 14 time world champion so just getting to watch them play, for me, was anthropologically fascinating.
Did you try to play against them?
They very graciously let me sit in and yeah I wasn't playing with them for any money [Laughs]. But yeah, they let me sit and we played a few hands. Yeah! It was really fun.
In season three, you shared a scene or two with John Malkovich. That must have been a thrill…
Yeah, totally thrilling. He is John Malkovich! [Laughs]. And behind that he is a real person who shows up to work and knows his lines, totally professional. We talked and shared stories about our lives. It was wonderful and he is so good in the show. And another full-circle moment as he was in Rounders! I remember thinking when I was watching Matt Damon sitting across from John Malkovich, that I am good enough to sit across from John Malkovich. And then there we were, doing just that. It was really incredible.
Rounders has a lot to answer for [Laughs]
It totally does! [Laughs]
Billions is streaming on Stan.