Is 'Billions' U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades A Real Person? He Seems To Be The Hero Of The Show
Right now, we're going through a period where the biggest villains in TV and movies are finance guys. First we had the now Oscar-nominated The Big Short, which delved into what caused the financial collapse, and, now Showtime is debuting its new series, Billions , about the evils of being rich and powerful. The show, which premieres Jan. 17, follows a U.S. Attorney named Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, who's zeroing in on a hedge fund guy, Bobby "Axe" Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis. Think of it as Heat, only about high finance instead of armed robbery. But, is Billions' Chuck Rhoades based on a real person?
The show's co-creators, David Levien and Brian Koppelman, strove for accuracy when putting together the show. “It was really important to us that we got the language right, the clothes right," Levien told Forbes. But does that mean they went as far as to base their series on actual people? Not exactly: There's not a single, real US Attorney that was the basis for Chuck Rhoades (which might be a good thing, because he has a dark side).
Of course, that doesn't mean he isn't an amalgam of real people. Levien and Koppelman brought on Too Big to Fail author Andrew Ross Sorkin as an executive producer to make sure that they were doing justice to the corrupt world of high finance. Surely, he introduced them to his contacts and told them some stories of real-world U.S. Attorneys and hedge fund guys.
In fact, that same Forbes article notes that the show makes reference to a case that appears to share some similarities to the one between Rhoades and Axelrod. "[Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney Preet] Bharara for years has targeted Steve Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire, calling Cohen’s fund 'a veritable magnet for market cheaters,'" claimed the article's author.
Although his hedge fund released a memo that originally called the allegations "baseless," The New York Times reported that in November 2013, SAC Capital "plead guilty to insider trading violations and [paid] a record $1.2 billion penalty, becoming the first large Wall Street firm in a generation to confess to criminal conduct." Its founder, Cohen, was not charged and SAC Capital released the following statement in 2013:
We take responsibility for the handful of men who pleaded guilty and whose conduct gave rise to SAC’s liability. The tiny fraction of wrongdoers does not represent the 3,000 honest men and women who have worked at the firm during the past 21 years. SAC has never encouraged, promoted or tolerated insider trading.
A settlement deal with some similar circumstances is discussed in the show Billions, reported the Forbes article.
But, it's good that Rhoades isn't based on a specific person, because then Levien and Koppelman are free to paint him in a not-so-flattering light without angering anyone in the US Government. Rhoades may be trying to take down a crooked billionaire, but that doesn't mean he's an angel or not working in his own self-interest. When asked if Rhoades is a hero or not, Giamatti told Stephen Colbert that it isn't so cut-and-dry. "I think the show is unsparing of both sides," he said. "I like to the think I'm the hero, but I don't know if I'm actually that heroic in it."
Still, there's something cathartic about seeing someone go after a potentially billionaire. Heroic or not, I'm on Chuck Rhoades' side.
Image: Jeff Neumann/Showtime; JoJo Whilden/Showtime