TORONTO — Playing a street-smart billionaire has its challenges.
Malin Akerman admits she battled qualms in tackling a rare dramatic role for the Showtime drama "Billions," debuting on The Movie Network and the streaming service CraveTV on Sunday.
The financial saga follows the ego-driven battle between crusading U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, and the brilliant but ruthless hedge fund king Bobby (Axe) Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis.
Akerman plays Axe's fiercely loyal and tough-as-nails wife, Lara, while Maggie Siff is Chuck's shrewd wife Wendy, an ambitious psychiatrist who also happens to be Axe's confidante.
It's a bit of a left turn for Akerman, better known for mining laughs from offbeat comedies including "Burning Love" and "Childrens Hospital" as well as network sitcoms "Trophy Wife" and "Suburgatory."
The Toronto-bred actress embraces the challenge but notes that serious drama is relatively new for her.
"Unfortunately my growth will be on camera and people will watch it — my fails and successes," says Akerman.
"But it's so much fun. It's so great to feel nervous every day to go to set."
Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Akerman discussed her career choices, the limitations of comedy roles, and coping with working mom guilt.
The Canadian Press: What drew you to this project?
Akerman: It was the strong female characters. Lara Axelrod, who I play, is a woman who is not to be messed with. And the reason she's not to be messed with is not because she's a malicious person, she's just uber-protective and growing up in a blue-collar family and not growing up privileged, she does everything to protect what they've created and built. Her main value is family and I like that aspect of her as well.
Right away, reading the script, you read something that's really well-written. And then it did help that you had Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti who were already attached.
CP: You're known for comedic work but how much of a leap was this intense drama?
Akerman: I was really actively looking for something that just would allow me to exercise different muscles. I love doing comedy, I don't ever want to stop, but ... the shows that I watch are these kinds of shows — "House of Cards" and "Breaking Bad" and I don't really watch the big broad comedies and I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to do something that I actually watch?"... With comedy, a lot of time the characters don't have as many layers. Of course you give them layers, but this (offers) just a little bit more. You can get in depth, you can get a bit more into the psychology of these characters, work a little bit more on their arcs.
CP: Had you been chasing serious roles for a while?
Akerman: I've been wanting to do everything. People will ask me, "Can you do it?" and I'd say, "I don't know because I've never tried it!" But I've done a few roles that are serious along the way and most of them, other than "Watchmen," have been independent films because they can take the chance on you. (But) other than "Watchmen," this is the first big job I've gotten that (wasn't) comedy.
CP: You have a young son now. Has becoming a mom changed your career goals?
Akerman: Definitely there's a consciousness about wanting to have time with my son. That was one of the reasons I was looking to television and not being a lead in television. Being one of an ensemble cast is so great because it means you are not on set every single day. I look at maybe a three-day work week.
(It's about) finding a project that you love where the workload isn't too heavy and you're not travelling too much but feel like it's OK to be in New York for six months because he has six months in a pre-school there and six months in a pre-school here.
And hopefully he won't hate me and it'll just build character!
—This interview has been condensed and edited.
By Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press