'Billions' star Malin Akerman on why mothers are the 'strongest women on earth'

By Jennifer Berry

While she may not be as confrontational as her TV alter ego, Malin Akerman believes playing the no-nonsense Lara Axelrod on Billions (Sundays, CraveTV) for two seasons has given her “permission to grow a little more of a backbone.”

Warm, energetic and open, the Swedish-Canadian actress sat down with Hello! Canada on a recent Toronto visit to chat about the show – in which her onscreen husband, hedge-fund king Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), goes up against U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti).

If news that her luggage hasn’t made it across the border is causing stress, her sunny voice doesn’t betray any frustration. Malin, 38, who now lives in L.A., simply seems thrilled to be in the city where she grew up, if only briefly.

Photo: © Getty Images

“It’s so nostalgic for me,” she tells us. “I love Toronto so much. I spent half my life here, so it’s special to me.” She adds that the Queen West and Kensington Market neighbourhoods, as well as Rodney’s Oyster Bar, are her must-visit stops when in town.

Here, the TV and movie star (27 Dresses, The Proposal, Wanderlust) explains why all mothers are “superheroes,” which guest stars she’d love to see on the show, and how being a parent to four-year-old Sebastian (his dad is her ex-husband, musician Roberto Zincone), has given her confidence in her career.

Malin, what excites you most about this new season of Billions?

What I like most is that we get to dive into Billy and Lara’s relationship. In season one, they are this impenetrable couple that can make it through anything. In season two, we watch them navigate through obstacles that are a bit more difficult. We’re peeling off the layers of the onion, and I just love that. Of course, there’s all the juiciness of Chuck Rhoades and Bobby trying to take each other down, and the finale is quite shocking and amazing.

What’s one of the biggest challenges of playing Lara?

The challenge of playing any character is making them interesting to watch. I feel like this character can so easily be pegged as a cold, hard, tough woman who’s not to be messed with. But she also has so many dimensions. I do also struggle with scenes where she’s a bit harsher. Does it come from a painful place? Does it come from a place of insecurity or of fear? So it’s always more challenging to make these characters interesting and have lots of dimensions and layers.

‘After becoming a mother, I truly see mothers as superheroes. I just think they are the strongest women on the face of the Earth’

What’s something you’ve learned about yourself from playing such a tough character?

One thing I’ve learned is sometimes we don’t realize how strong we actually are. To be able to summon my inner strength for this character has actually impacted certain areas of my own personal life, and inspired me to stand up for myself in situations a little more than what I’m used to.

Is it ever fun sometimes to go “full Lara” on set?

It’s amazing. It’s so much fun to be able to live vicariously through her. I’m sure we all have that one person we really want to tell to go somewhere, but we can’t because it’s just not kosher. But it feels fun. It’s like going and hitting a punching bag, getting some stress out. I love it.

Are there any strong women who inspire you in your own life?

After becoming a mother, I truly see mothers as superheroes. Especially single moms who are trying to navigate their way. I just think they are the strongest women on the face of this Earth. So that is one place where I am always inspired – whenever I meet mothers who are just making it happen, working and raising kids, there’s a lot of inspiration there. For myself as a mother, on days when it’s tough, [I think], “Wow, if they can do it, I can do it.”

Photo: © Showtime

On the subject of motherhood, your son Sebastian is almost four. How are you enjoying this stage of his life?

It’s so much fun. He’s a person now! He really is his own person, and the things that come out of his mouth are just so genius and funny. He cracks me up so much. And he’s my little buddy. He’s coming out of the really tough stage, which people say is the terrible twos but it’s at around three – you put your foot down and they push back and kind of tempt the boundaries, so he’s coming out of that now. This is a really lovely time that we’re having and we’re really buddies and that’s a nice thing to have. I would love to just bottle up this stage.

How has becoming a parent affected your approach to choosing roles?

I decided I wanted to try a little bit of drama. I’ve been doing comedy for so long, and I still love comedy and I’ll always do it, but I guess I wanted to challenge myself a little more. It was like having a kid – all of a sudden you’re a grown-up. I have responsibilities, and Billions felt like it was the right direction for me. I remember sitting at the first table read. It was such a cool feeling to sit there with a bunch of fantastic actors. So yes, becoming a parent definitely informed which direction I wanted to go with my career.

Who would you love to see guest star on Billions?

I would love to have Tilda Swinton on our show. Talk about a strong, amazing, cool, unique woman! She’s inspiration for me as a person and as an actress. I think she can fit right in [on our show]. She’d be great to throw right in there with all those boys. She’d eat them up!

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