Corey Stoll: Is The New Leading Man Of “Billions” A Prince Or A Villain? The Jury’s Still Out.

Corey Stoll
SHIRT: Kiton
COAT: Frame
JEANS: Polo Ralph Lauren
BOOTS: Louboutin
WATCH: Vacheron Constantin



Corey Stoll
PANTS: Hugo Boss
WATCH: Vacheron Constantin

Photo Credit: Scott McDermott

BUSINESS ON THE TOP, PARTY ON THE BOTTOM — the catchphrase of the pandemic era — isn’t one that applies to Billions star Corey Stoll. Like the rest of us, his shameful little secret is definitely down below, but unlike the rest of us, who get by in our underwear or with fur-covered, coffee-stained yoga pants, the scandal behind Stoll’s accoutrement is that it’s… wait for it…

Luxurious. Come again?

“This is kind of embarrassing, but I’m actually wearing cashmere pants right now,” the 45-year-old actor reveals early on a Saturday morning over Zoom. I’ll admit, I’m confused. Though I can only see his top half — which is clad in a comfy gray hoodie emblazoned with the name of actress wife Nadia Bowers’ hometown — his appearance is what one might expect of an overworked, overtired father of a 6-year-old who’s forced to conduct an interview on a Saturday morning. Casual, cozy, chill.

He explains, “[These pants were] one of the real luxury things that I got during the pandemic, and it was a great thing, a great luxury, but I wouldn’t wear them out. In my everyday life, I like to wear stuff that’s a bit more low-key.”

Stoll’s current claim to fame is playing billionaire and business titan Michael Prince, the newly minted lead of Showtime’s Billions in the wake of star Damian Lewis’s departure. And his hesitancy to align himself with his character does make sense: Prince might be a good guy, but he might not be, too; the jury’s still out. What we do know is that he’s very, very good at power plays — and that everyone in his orbit is a pawn.

That’s definitely not Stoll, a hardworking, unpretentious native New Yorker. Still, being able to see — and appreciate — what a Daddy Warbucks lifestyle can offer has been eye-opening and, yes, even educational. His pants are material proof. “I’ve loved having the opportunity to wear the kind of clothes where I would normally look at the price tag and just walk away,” he says. “When you wear clothes that are beautifully crafted, you realize why they’re so expensive and so coveted. There’s something about well-made clothes that fast fashion really can’t replicate.”

After two seasons being dressed by Tom Ford, Stoll now understands how a power suit has the ability to transform. “It’s important to have these very structured outfits, which are hyper-masculine, peacocky and sort of presentational, especially for a character who’s all about using image as power,” he explains. “Those suits are like suits of armor. You put them on and you stand up straighter. It’s funny, but they really do give you this sense of position and authority and confidence. But, also like suits of armor, wearing them all day long every day is kind of exhausting.”

At least he had time to prepare for battle, sartorial and otherwise. “I knew [I was taking over the lead role from Lewis]. I didn’t know the details of Damian’s circumstances or exactly how it would happen, but I knew that I would be taking over that billionaire slot, yeah,” he says. This leading man is going to need every weapon at his disposal — and some very necessary armor (suits, but perhaps some bulletproof vests too) after the shit he pulled — and the coup he pulled off — in the series’ season five finale.

To recap — spoiler alert for those who were too busy living their best lives post-vaccine to catch up on their favorite show — Prince was introduced as a self-made business titan from a small town in Indiana, a former farm boy and high school basketball star turned environmental advocate whose ambition and drive led to success as an impact investor in the world of equity and venture capital. He embodies the concept of the “good billionaire,” someone who seemingly wants to use his wealth to create a better world.

Initially, there isn’t anything to dislike. He’s a smooth, butter-wouldn’t-melt kind of guy. But Bobby Axelrod (Lewis) doesn’t buy it and decides to take him down, spilling some of Prince’s less-than-knightly secrets on national television. This tactic doesn’t really work, but never mind. The important takeaway is that it turns Prince into a formidable enemy, one who joins forces with existing enemy number one, Attorney General Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), to put Axe behind bars. But Prince is playing both sides, and in the ultimate power move, 36 hours before Axe is slated to be sent to jail, Prince initiates one hell of a deal. It buys Axe his freedom in Switzerland if he cedes control of his multibillion-dollar hedge fund, Axe Capital, to Prince.

After learning of Prince’s betrayal, Rhoades confronts him at the former Axe Capital (now Prince Capital) headquarters, coldly declaring, “Now you’re my problem. And you know what I do to problems? I do what I did to the last guy who sat in that chair. I get rid of them.” Prince, cool as a cucumber, responds, “No, I got rid of the guy in the chair. Know how we know this to be true? Because I’m the one sitting in it.”

The ultimate burn. I would have peed my pants, quaking in terror in the face of Rhoades’s fury. And so, as it happens, would Stoll.
“Well, yeah, I would have been terrified if someone in power said that to me. And certainly if it was the attorney general,” he admits.
But Stoll is not Prince, and it felt damn good playing a character who could rise to the occasion with such preternatural self-assurance, such chutzpah. It gave him a chance to put on his metaphorical power suit. “Sometimes you get to play characters who are supernaturally confident, and it can be daunting, because I’m not; most people aren’t. But also, in some ways, it’s a great opportunity to sort of will yourself to be that person for a little bit,” he confesses.

Corey Stoll

Photo Credit: Scott McDermott

He continues, “Mike Prince is a rare type of person. He’s far from me in the incredible self-control and power that he has. There are very few people in the world who have that. The only experience I’ve had with characters like that is in classical theater, playing kings. And this is not Shakespeare, but there is something Shakespearian in that Prince is the type of person who walks into a room and brings with him all this power. So for me, it does take a big act of imagination to play this character, because in a lot of ways he is very far from who I am. But that’s the job — to find those kernels of myself in him, and to use my imagination to fill in the gaps.”

But what’s in a name? The use of Prince was, indeed, intentional. “That name is a license, permission to have a sense of self that is Shakespearian, that is bigger than our modern conception of people’s roles in society. I think there’s an internalized sense that is not uncommon among people who become incredibly wealthy or powerful that there’s something inherent about them that’s just better, that whatever they do is inherently good. Like Nixon famously said, ‘If I do it, it’s not illegal.’ I think Prince has a sense that whatever ethical corners he cuts, it’s all for the greater good, because with whatever power he has, he’s going to make the world a better place. It’s a sort of circular logic, but I think it makes sense to him. Also, he’s following somebody who was unapologetically amoral. Anything he does that even gestures toward ethics or generosity in comparison will appear good.”

So beyond this logical fallacy, who is Michael Prince? Is he good, bad or a combination of both?

Stoll muses, “I’m trying to think of anybody who’s really inherently good on the show. But I was really surprised to hear that people thought of Prince as bad. People would tell me, ‘You play a really bad guy,’ and I’d be like, ‘Compared to what?’ I think that with Axe being the protagonist, anyone in opposition to him was inherently a bad guy. And for me, I think the fun, and the challenge of season six, is about turning this antagonist into a protagonist. None of us know how the audience is going to react. But like all the major players on the show, Prince has good things that are attractive and compelling — he’s somebody you’d want on your side — and bad things; he’s also corrupted by money and power.”

But does he become more or less likable? “I’d be the last person to be able to answer that question, because I’m too close to it. I’m embodying this person,” he says, noting, “People don’t really see themselves as villainous. They see themselves as the protagonist of their own story, so my job is to see Prince as the protagonist of this story. I’m aware of the unethical and immoral things he does — and he does do them — but my job is really to be an advocate for the character. And personally, I think that’s the fun of the show: even characters who you feel the most empathy or sympathy for end up doing questionable things. The show plays with the audience’s emotions that way. I think almost every character, at some point on the show, is attractive because they’re so smart and capable, and yet also loathsome because of what all this money and power does to people.”

As to what Prince’s kingly new role means for the other cast members — including Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), Mike Wagner (David Costabile) and Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) — well, only time will tell what season six, which premieres on January 23, will bring. Stoll, however, has already shot 11 of 12 episodes, and can confidently say this: “We just got our final scripts for the season finale, and I think it’s going to be very exciting and satisfying for the audience to see where the character goes… It’s a big shakeup at Prince Cap. Especially in those first few episodes, it’s about everybody sort of figuring out the new regime. I think even Chuck is sort of figuring out what his relationship with this guy is going to be, because we can’t just transpose Prince’s relationship with Chuck onto Axe’s relationship with Chuck. There’s at least an opportunity at the beginning of the season for détente.

We’ll see how long that lasts.”

Corey Stoll
PANTS: Hugo Boss
SMOKING SLIPPERS : Christian Louboutin
WATCH: Vacheron Constantin

Photo Credit: Scott McDermott

IT’S BEEN SAID THAT A LIFE LIVED IN FEAR is a life half lived. Corey Stoll would disagree. But then again, he’s a klutz. And when you’re a klutz with a bald head (his words, not mine), there isn’t much room for error.

Needless to say, he’s not much of a risk-taker. “I mean, I won’t ski because I’m afraid of breaking my leg and not being able to work,” he confides, sharing that he hit the slopes as a kid, but as an adult, he wouldn’t dare. “Since I started acting professionally, I’ve been terrified. I’m such a klutz! I’m like, ‘It would be so much fun, but if I fell and broke my leg, I’d be just screwed for months.’”
He seems like a capable, sturdy dude at six foot two, so I admit to being a little surprised and ask for a recent example of said klutziness.

Stoll accommodates. “I was in a hotel room that had a spiral staircase in it that was right in front of a window, and I just started walking toward it and almost knocked myself unconscious, just hitting the bottom of a stone staircase,” he shares, adding, “And yeah, when you have a bald head, it’s hard to hide a big bump. I hit my head a lot, but the combination of being tall and bald leaves little room for error.”

Ouch. Though constant (yet unintentional) personal harm mandates that perhaps adventure-seeking isn’t in the cards, let the record show that, professionally at least, Stoll is one hell of a risk-taker — even when that risk is something as arbitrary as pretending to be in love with someone you’re just not that into. “I remember doing a scene in acting school where I was supposed to fall in love, and I remember struggling because I was just not personally attracted to this person. And then at a certain point, I realized that I was just creating an obstacle for myself. I was passing up this incredible opportunity to fall in love — for the brief moment that I’m playing this scene, experience what it feels like to actually fall in love — and why would I deny myself that?” he recalls. “That’s something I’ve reminded myself about a lot: commitment when you’re acting. We live our lives in a very sort of narrow band; we try not to feel the highs and lows too much, because we have to get through the day. But when you’re acting, you get to go there in a safe way and feel the power of faking it ’til you make it.”

It’s true that he clothes himself in new characters the way many people buy pants; he’s acted in more than 70 projects, spanning film, television and theater, in less than 20 years. Most recently, he appeared as Police Lieutenant Schrank in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake alongside Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler and Rita Moreno in December, which followed his turn as Junior Soprano in the Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark.

I wonder if he had any apprehension about the enormity of tackling roles in such iconic projects, to which he responds with a laugh, “Probably less than there should have been! I think in general, for an actor, when you get an offer, it’s like Christmas morning. It’s all I can really see when I’m invited to be a part of something that’s well written, dynamic, fun and funny. All I can think is, That looks like fun. It looks like a fun group of people to play with, it looks like a fun character to play, a fun world to inhabit. And it’s really only really afterwards, when I’m done filming it and promoting it, that I start to realize the expectations behind it. So I think that’s probably a good thing, that I don’t tend to get too nervous about it while I’m doing it. Luckily these jobs are so time consuming — there’s just too much work to do while you’re actually doing it to really get nervous, I find.”

Corey Stoll
Stoll with Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor Mason on Billions


Corey Stoll
Stoll as Michael Prince with Daniel Breaker as Scooter Dunbar


Another thing I learn about Stoll is that he gets bored very easily — which is why his résumé is so diverse. His most memorable roles to date include congressman Peter Russo on Netflix’s House of Cards, Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in Marvel’s Ant-Man, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather on the FX horror series The Strain, prosecutor Fred Wyshak in Black Mass, astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the biopic First Man and Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris, which earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination. His theater work includes a variety of Shakespeare — the title role in Macbeth, Marcus Brutus in Julius Caesar and Iago in Othello — as well as his award-winning turn as Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida and a Drama Desk-nominated part in Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.

Regarding variety being his particular spice of life, he says, “I think I’m excited by challenge. If I’m offered a role and I perceive that it’s something I’ve done before, it’s hard for me to say yes, because it’s just a little boring. In general, probably one of the most common questions actors are asked is, ‘What is your favorite medium?’ It’s an impossible question for me to answer, because I’m excited by variety, so often it’s whatever I didn’t just do. If I just did a movie, I’m super excited to do a play. If I just did a play, I’ll want to do film or TV.”

This includes his three most recent projects, too, of course. They’re totally different. He explains, “In Billions, it’s this incredible sense of continuity and being able to tell a story over a long period of time, to be able to inhabit this character. When we got the script for the final episode of season six, I found all this stuff about my character that I didn’t even really know, and it adds this new layer. That’s really exciting, on one level. Showing up on the set for West Side Story and getting to work with a master [Steven Spielberg] — somebody whose films I’ve been watching since I started watching movies, someone who’s defined storytelling for generations — was joyful. And then, to be a part of the Sopranos world, which is so smart and funny and such a rich mythology, that was engaging, too.”

When I comment on his banner year — which also includes the HBO limited series Scenes from a Marriage with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac — he laughs, admitting, “It’s nice! Whatever will allow me to keep working and to keep doing interesting things is good. 2020 was really rough for everybody. For the film and television and theater industry it was particularly hard, because for a good chunk of it, nobody was working. It was awful to not be able to do the thing that brings us so much joy. So if people like the work I’m doing and want to, you know, keeping hiring me, that will be good.”

He probably shouldn’t lose any sleep over this. If anything, he has too little free time on his hands these days (not that he’s complaining). “The greatest luxury for me at this point is being able to sit for hours reading a novel. My life right now exists of being on set, memorizing lines or watching my son. If I can find a couple of hours to sit and read, that’s just heaven.”

And the pants, Corey. Never forget the luxury of cashmere pants.

Corey Stoll
SUIT: Kiton
SHIRT: Armani
WATCH: Vacheron Constantin

Photo Credit: Scott McDermott