Your character in new show Billions profits from the death of his former co-workers after 9/11. Agent Brody would be turning in his grave, Damian.
[Laughs] I think he might understand!
Which [Billions] episodes have you seen?
The first two.
OK, well yes, he does do outrageous things in order to get what he wants. But I suppose his redeeming qualities are his generosity towards his friends and family. I think he mostly believes that, within the rules of the game – and those rules are fairly loosely interpreted – if you’re in the world of making money, then anything goes. He certainly thinks that the money-makers, and the financial sector, should be left to get on with what they do best, which is making lots of money without too much intervention. Regulation is a bad thing, you see.
You sat down with hedge-fund billionaires to prepare for the role. What was the most surprising thing you learnt?
Some of them take a very intellectual stance on the importance of hedge funds. They think they’re necessary in order to keep the economy fluid and healthy. They’re pretty persuasive. And just how separate hedge funders are from conventional Wall Street, from the banks of Wall Street. They are a separate entity.
Did you pick up any genuinely good financial advice?
[Laughs] Yeah. Stick it under your mattress.
Well, to be fair, all hedge funders say they’re risk averse. That’s their mantra. They’ll only invest when they feel absolutely certain that they can get a return. They consider their research to be that much more in-depth than anyone else’s. So, by the time they’re making an investment, they’re fairly certain they’ve picked a winner. There’s an analytical, scientific approach to it – it’s a much less fast and loose world than you might think of from the Eighties, for example. It’s not Gordon Gekko-style, but that’s what they’d have you believe.
The first episode sees you diving into a pool naked. How was that?
Cold. It had stopped snowing literally half an hour before we filmed. Standing naked in front of your crew and 40 people is a very strange experience.
What’s the first thing you’d buy if you became a billionaire?
A private jet.
Idris Elba in Bastille Day. Tom Hiddleston in The Night Manager. You’re doing Our Kind Of Traitor next. Are these all auditions for a certain job at MI6?
[Laughs] Not on my part, no.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited would you be if you did happen to get that role?
Well, it would be very exciting. But, you know, actors never lose the excitement of being offered any job. It’s always exciting when you get the phone call. I think there’s a slight hysteria attached to that particular job, though…
Homeland’s Nicholas Brody was arguably the most problematic leading man in all of television. Do you miss him?
No. In the end he was a miserable sod.
I miss him.
Do you? He was everybody’s bitch by the end. That was Brody’s tragedy – he became a pawn in this much larger game. I always thought that about Brody, the moment he went to war he was a victim. He went into what some people would call an unjust war, he was captured, suffered terribly, imprisoned for seven/eight years, and at the end of that came out a very damaged, vulnerable man. He was used by everyone: Abu Nazir, the CIA, and then he ended up swinging from a rope. His trajectory was tragic, really. But it was great fun playing all the ambiguities of the character, and the relationship with Claire [Danes, who played CIA agent Carrie Mathison]. You were never quite sure whether they were going to kill or sleep with each other.
Did you watch the later series? What did you think?
I’m always a season behind on everything. I’ve watched bits of Season 4. But I hear Season 5 is fantastic.
It was the Queen’s 90th birthday last week. Seeing as you’ve met her, what would you put on her birthday card?
I would say: ‘Thank you for your impeccable service, you’re an example to us all. Happy birthday.’
Where is the best coffee in Kentish Town? Several ShortList staff members have spotted you in Bear & Wolf. Any thoughts?
Good question. Bear & Wolf does very good coffee. Tufnell Park Tavern also does excellent coffee.
Did you know you’re the cover star of Ginger Colour Me Good (a colouring book that collects all of the world’s favourite red-headed superstars)?
I did know that, yes.
How does that make you feel?
Do you own a copy?
Of course I do! My children colour it in. If you’re on the cover of a colouring book, you’ve made it. That is a huge claim.
Sky Atlantic’s Billions hits Sky Boxsets on 12 May
(Image: Sky Atlantic/AllStar)