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New York City Was the Real Star of ‘Billions’

New York City has been the backdrop for many TV series over the years, from “Law & Order” to “Sex and the City” to “Succession.” But the Showtime series “Billions,” which ends on Sunday after seven seasons, may have been the New Yorkiest of them all.

It’s clear from the opening credits, which feature an eagle-eye’s view of Lower Manhattan — but no actors — that New York City is not merely a location but the star.

The showrunners, Brian Koppelman and David Levien, planned it that way.

“The city plays a central role on the show,” said Mr. Levien. “We always felt like being here and knowing the city was like our secret weapon.”

Mr. Koppelman and Mr. Levien were both born on Long Island but eventually moved to New York City. (“Nothing makes you more desperate to be in Manhattan than growing up on Long Island,” Mr. Koppelman said.)

The two first worked together on the screenplay for the 1997 film “Rounders,” set in the underground poker scene in New York, and they went on to collaborate on “Knockaround Guys,” “Runaway Jury,” “Solitary Man” and “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

But “Billions” was their love letter to New York City.

New York has been integral to the plot, which follows the endless battle between hedge fund billionaires (Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis, and in later seasons, Mike Prince, played by Corey Stoll) and the U.S. attorney, Chuck Rhoades Jr. (played by Paul Giamatti).

Damian Lewis played Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, a character who created a multibillion-dollar hedge fund headquartered in Manhattan. Credit…Jeff Neumann/Showtime

The characters have visited hundreds of locations in the city, from the Thurgood Marshall United States Court House on Centre Street in Lower Manhattan to Morningside Castle in Morningside Heights and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Scenes have been filmed at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and Yonkers Raceway.

“There was almost nowhere that we couldn’t shoot, that we wanted to,” Mr. Levien said.

The neighborhoods where the “Billions” characters live also serve as shorthand for their personalities.

Chuck’s father, Chuck Rhoades Sr., is an old school, blue-blood businessman, so naturally he lives on the wealthiest stretch of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Chuck Jr., whose positions as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (and New York attorney general) involve prosecuting financial crimes, lives in a Brooklyn brownstone (the exterior shots are of 49 Eighth Avenue, in Park Slope).

“Chuck Sr. would not experiment with another neighborhood just because he could, financially,” said Mr. Koppelman. “He’s not going to go try a loft in TriBeCa.”

And it makes sense that Chuck Jr. lives on an understated (but gorgeous) block outside Manhattan: “Chuck would have been a little bit rebellious to his dad’s ways,” Mr. Koppelman said. Brooklyn? “Senior thinks it’s like the frontier, basically.”

Axe, the character played by Damian Lewis, is the CEO of Axe Capital, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund. His Manhattan home is an airy, light-filled penthouse, high above the city. “It’s this incredible glass box built on top of this building downtown in TriBeCa,” said Mr. Levien. “Because, you know, he is somebody that would go try some neighborhood, live where he wants, open himself up to new experiences.”

The location was an actual apartment where the show filmed for a couple of years — and it impressed even the showrunners. “If you’re a New Yorker, it’s fascinating to walk through what a $60 million apartment is,” Mr. Koppelman said.

Characters met at Joe’s Pizza.Credit…Showtime
Scenes were filmed inside Gray’s Papaya.Credit…Jeff Neumann/Showtime

As die-hard denizens of New York City, the characters on “Billions” eat at all the best and most famous restaurants. There are scenes set inside upscale white-tablecloth rooms at expensive eateries like Keens Steakhouse, Babbo, Craft, Ai Fiori, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Michael’s, The Pool and Marea.

But the characters also visit more humble spots: Wo Hop, Gray’s Papaya, Joe’s Pizza, Old Town Bar,

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