Interview: Asia Kate Dillon
After a stellar first season, Showtime’s Billions returns for its second season on February 19th at 10pm ET/PT. The series stars Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti and follows their lives as they navigate the world of power politics in New York high finance.
In Season 2, the series introduces Taylor, played by actor Asia Kate Dillon. Dillon is one of the first gender non-binary identifying actors to be cast on mainstream television.
Born and raised in Ithaca, New York, Dillon is already carving out their own path in Hollywood. They have appeared in series such as Younger, Master of None and Opus for All. Most recently, they appeared in the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black. They are also the President of Mirror/Fire Productions, Inc. This group is focused on creating socially relevant, reflective theater.
We talk with Asia Kate Dillon about their character, what they did to prepare for this role and do they feel a responsibility to their community on how they portray this character on screen.
Pop Culture Principle - Can you tell us a little bit about the audition process for the role of Taylor?
Asia Kate Dillon - It’s important for me to say first that every audition process is different. For Billions, there was an initial audition and then two callbacks over the course of about a month. The first audition was with Allison Estrin, the casting director. At the call back I met the co-creators, writers and executive producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien. The second and final callback was with Allison, Brian, David and Reed Morano the director of the first episode of season two. The next day at the end of the day my agents let me know I got it!
Pop Culture Principle - What, if any discussions did you have about the character with the producers and creators of Billions?
Asia Kate Dillon - Allison, Brian and David gave me helpful insight into the character during the audition process which I brought in to each consecutive callback, such as Taylor’s intelligence level, which aided in the creation of Taylor’s cadence of speech and physicality. Once I was cast I spoke with the producers about how I also identified as non-binary and that was one of the many reasons I was so excited to play Taylor.
Pop Culture Principle - Did you do any research on hedge funds or the financial world to prepare for this role?
Asia Kate Dillon - Yes! When I was initially memorizing my lines for my audition, which I do in a very monotone way, there was this one speech that was a lot of jargon and I could not memorize the sequence right because I didn’t understand what I was saying. Once I did the research the words stuck like glue. I continued to do research throughout the season whenever anything came up that I didn’t know about. We also have a wonderful fellow on set, Turney Duff, our Wall Street consultant. We became fast friends and he’s very good at explaining complicated things in layman's terms.
Pop Culture Principle - Can you tell us about the character Taylor and how they fit into the world of Billions?
Asia Kate Dillon - Taylor is a left brained person with strong math and logic skills. They are analytical and objective as well as highly intelligent and efficient. These qualities make Taylor ideal for the hedge fund world because it’s a world that requires analytical objectivity when it comes to cause and effect. But, Taylor also has a strong moral center which may or may not ultimately serve them at Axe Capital.
Pop Culture Principle - Many of Taylor’s scenes are opposite Bobby Axelrod played by Damian Lewis. What was it like working with him?
Asia Kate Dillon - Working with Damian is invigorating because he’s right there with you the whole time, looking into your eyes, and reacting truthfully in the moment. Acting with Damian is like playing tennis with someone who improves your game simply by playing with them. He’s a pro and a gentleman.
Pop Culture Principle - Obviously, Taylor must have known about Bobby Axelrod and Axe Capital before joining the company as an intern. How do you think they see Bobby Axelrod? A bad guy?
Asia Kate Dillon - Taylor does not see Bobby as a bad guy or a good guy. Taylor sees Bobby Axelrod as a possible future version of themself and is constantly coming up against what that means. I think Taylor identifies with Bobby’s intelligence and the ways in which it isolates him as it does Taylor. They have this in common and it creates a unique bond between them.
Pop Culture Principle - In order to be successful in this world, it seems you have to live in this “gray” area. Do you think Taylor will be one hundred percent comfortable with this?
Asia Kate Dillon - I think what makes Taylor’s storyline interesting is this precise internal conflict. I think the vacillation of Taylor’s comfort level within this “gray” area is an important story to tell because we think of people as being all good or all bad when really we are all so multifaceted and capable of light and dark and everything in between.
Pop Culture Principle - Watching this character, it seems that they have a certain rhythm or cadence to their speech. Is that something they were conscious of when developing the character?
Asia Kate Dillon - Taylor’s mind moves so fast and, for me, their cadence needed to reflect that. Warming up my voice before work is essential. The lines that are written for Taylor are often so full of alliteration and plosives that I’m able to simply run my lines as my vocal warmup and the muscles are good to go.
Pop Culture Principle - Both you and the character Taylor identify as nonbinary gender. Do you feel a responsibility to your community on how you portray this character on screen?
Asia Kate Dillon - I do. I feel a particular responsibility to portray members of my community on stage and on screen, not only as fully fleshed-out characters who are integral to the plot, but as characters whose gender identity is just one of many parts that make up the whole person. I also feel I have a responsibility to portray members of my community as accepted, loved and valued. Many non-binary and gender nonconforming people have terrible experiences coming out and are rejected by family and friends and left with little to no support and many of the stories out there about my community tend toward that narrative, so I feel it's important to share another experience.
Pop Culture Principle - Taylor being non-binary gender is just one aspect of that character. As an actor, how important was it that this was a fully fleshed out character and not one that featured only that one aspect of the character?
Asia Kate Dillon - Imperative. I would not have been interested in the role otherwise.
Pop Culture Principle - Do they consider the role of Taylor on Billions to be groundbreaking?
Asia Kate Dillon - I am very proud to say yes, I do. Although the casting of a non-binary actor to play a non-binary character on a major television show was coincidence, it is certainly significant. Taylor is a first in that respect and so am I. Representation and visibility in the media is so important; I should know having had zero non-binary identifying icons to relate to growing up.
Pop Culture Principle - The cast of Billions has already been together for one season. Was it easy for you to fit right into the flow and rhythm of the series?
Asia Kate Dillon - It was, thanks to the incredibly open heart of every single person who works on the show. Everyone was so welcoming and excited to have me on board; their excitement matched mine. Also, there is a real theater vibe on set, from the table reads to the way we rehearse, which is a very familiar and comfortable place for me.
We are all there building the same piece of art and showing up every day ready to work from a place of gratitude. Additionally, Taylor shows up at Axe Capital ready to show Axe what they’ve got and that’s how I showed up from my first audition to every additional day on set because I knew everyone else was going to bring it, too.
Pop Culture Principle - What can fans look forward to with Taylor’s storyline and the second season of Billions?
Asia Kate Dillon - Seeing how, when and why Taylor steps out of their comfort zone and the consequences of those actions.
We would like to thank the incredibly talented Asia Kate Dillon for taking time from their schedule to talk with us. The Season 2 premiere of Billions airs on February 19th at 10pm ET/PT exclusively on Showtime. If you would like to keep up with Asia's latest news and projects, you can follow their official Twitter account @AsiaKateDillon or their official Instagram account @heeeysia. If you would like to learn more about Mirror/Fire Productions, Inc, you can visit their website here.
**Photos courtesy of JoJo Whilden/Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME**