Is 'Billions' Based On A True Story? The Show Fictionalizes The Scandalous Side Of Finance
The new Showtime drama Billions feels like a classic show — and that's not just because it invokes 9/11 in its pilot, but because it fits very much in the Breaking Bad or Mad Men troubled-white-male-antihero mold. And, like those shows, at the center of the story is Damien Lewis' Bobby "Axe" Axelrod, a man who, according to the show synopsis, is the kind of guy who will chew up and spit out anyone who gets in his way. And, whether or not Billions is based on a true story (it's not), it's definitely based on the real atmosphere in the financial industry, which has been plagued by scandal after scandal in the 21st century so far.
Other films and television have directly adapted different scandals from the Wall Street world — The Big Short, which did exactly that, just got nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars — but Billions is an original story with original characters. But, the same way Breaking Bad created a face for the world of the drug trade, it seems that Billions wants Bobby to stand in as the ultimate alpha male of the consulting industry. And, while the show isn't basing Axelrod, Paul Giamatti's Chuck Rhodes, or any of the other characters on specific people, there are certainly a lot of famous stories coming out of Wall Street in the past 15 years that can give you an idea of the type of shenanigans that he'll be getting up to.
Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Before he was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorcese's film, Belfort wrote a book detailing the X-rated things he and his cohorts got up to in the cocaine and alcohol-fueled 1990s while in the stock market business.
Nick Leeson's Barings Bank Disaster
It's not quite Wall Street, but when the UK's Barings Bank collapsed in 1995, it was due to an Axe-type individual. Young broker Nick Leeson's unauthorized trading singlehandedly took down the entire bank. When Leeson's trading went from successful to a failure, he, in the words of The Telegraph, "racked up hundreds of millions of pounds in losses, disguised them as profits, and fled authorities." According to the Telegraph, Leeson has taken responsibility for his actions but also said he didn't realize the gravity of the situation at the time. “Not once did I consider the bank would collapse. I don’t think I knew what the bank was worth,” he said.
Martha Stewart's Insider Trading
America's homemaker queen got busted in 2004 for taking illegal stock tips, and she was sent away for a short prison sentence because of it, leading to a whole second wave of her career based on her new OG image.
Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheming
Probably the single name that most suggests the phrase "fraud" is Bernie Madoff, or even just Madoff. Over the course of his entire career, Madoff is estimated to have stolen $65 billion, according to Business Insider, in his fraudulent investment scams which he plead guilty to in 2009.
Lehman Brothers Falls Apart
When the housing market crashed in 2008, Lehman Brothers found itself in $613 billion in debt. The investment bank then closed and was forced to lay off tens of thousands of people.
Enron Falls Apart
In the mid-2000s, Enron may have seemed like a successful technology company, when in reality they were asmassing considerable debt. The company's sky-high stock dropped to practically worthless after Enron's deception came to light.
Between those six stories, there's more than enough ground for Billions to find some inspiration for its original characters and original storylines... and in the last 20-25 years, any prosecutor as tough as Chuck Rhodes would be champing at the bit to go after a crook like Bobby Axelrod.
Image: JoJo Whilden/Showtime; Giphy (2)