Whether playing hero or villain,commands the screen. Last year, Toby co-starred in the Netflix drama series DAREDEVIL as James Wesley, Fisk’s fixer and right-hand man. Fans who have watched Season 1 will recall how momentous a part Toby played and how his villainous character gave the series one of its most cheer-worthy moments.
Currently, Toby co-stars in the Showtime drama BILLIONS, and this time, his character is the white-hat hero. Portraying Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Connerty, Toby faces off against both his boss Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and common enemy, Wallstreet billionaire Bobby Alexrod (Damien Lewis). In BILLIONS, it is a race to see if Alexrod can outsmart and evade the clutches of the U.S. Attorney investigation into his company and his unethical business practices. Due to the fact that his boss Rhoades had a potential conflict in that his wife works for Alexrod’s company, the responsibility of pursuing the elusive, scheming billionaire has fallen to Connerty. However, with Rhoades breathing down his neck to still be included in perhaps the biggest take down on Wallstreet and Alexrod using every dollar he is worth to fight off the investigation, Connerty is caught between two warring factions willing to do anything to win.
In an exclusive interview, startalks about the appeal of portraying such diametrically opposed roles from DAREDEVIL to BILLIONS and teases a bit about the legal quicksand that his character U.S. Attorney Bryan Connerty finds himself entangled in.
What initially sparked your interest BILLIONS?
TOBY: For years they were trying to get a show together about Wall Street and this was the first one that I read that was really so well fleshed out and not exclusive to viewers either. It is very accessible to everybody. We really have the ability to show in a real and visceral way the lives of these people. There are far fewer restrictions on cable than network television, which is wonderful, as well.
Who is your character Bryan Connerty? Why should viewers care about him at this point?
TOBY: Bryan is fascinating to me because he is a U.S. Attorney. U.S. Attorneys are fascinating. I had the opportunity to sit down with a couple of them. Andrew Ross Sorkin set up the meeting for me and it was amazing to talk to him and hear what his outlook of the job was. They are amongst the best attorneys and yet they get paid about 10% what they could potentially make if they were to work in the private sector and the reason they do that is this inherent belief in what is ethical. I haven’t had too often an opportunity to play someone who is this moral. [Laughs] I don’t know what that is about. I have been playing bad guys in the past, so it is lovely to play someone who is absolutely focused on doing the right thing and motivated by good.
Bryan strikes me as a crusader at times, but then he might want to jump ship at some point and go to the other side in the private sector. Is that a possibility for him?
TOBY: I think it is a possibility for anybody who works in that office because there are a whole lot of different reasons to do it, like we have seen on the show that Kate Sacher (Condola Rashad) has ambitions to become the President one day, which is kind of huge, and taking a position like that is obviously helpful if you have got that sort of ambition. But I get the sense that Bryan is in it for the right reasons. I think he may be a lifer. But we will have to wait and see what happens.
What do you admire about him, that tenacity of spirit or is there something more that we are looking forward to seeing?
TOBY: I think it is that tenacity. It is rare to find somebody that is absolutely invested in good and that has that moral fortitude and that is all that matters to them. When I did sit down with an actual U.S. Attorney, he kept using the term the “mission” that he was on. He and his wife are both U.S. Assistant Attorneys and they decided to not have kids because it would have gotten in the way of prosecuting people, and that was fascinating to me. I based Bryan on that a little bit. You don’t come across characters like that very often.
What is Bryan’s relationship with Chuck? I can’t tell if they are rivals or if they support each other. Is he out for his boss’ job?
TOBY: I think he is definitely supportive of Chuck. We are seeing in the show that Bryan had the opportunity to go and work in the private sector and said no. This is where he has found his cause. We are seeing to that Bryan will do anything to help Chuck out on this crusade. I think they are on a crusade. But, again, the interesting thing about Bryan is he probably has the most to lose out of everyone because of this moral fortitude. These guys don’t try petty criminals. They are going after terrorist. They are going after drug lords and potentially corrupt hedge fund managers. And because the guys they are going after bend the rules and break the rules, it might give them an upper hand. It’s like a boxer coming up against a street fighter. You may be the best boxer in the world, but the other guy might have the upper hand because he is going to fight dirty. I think the interesting thing to watch is: will Bryan’s ethics stand up in the face of this fight?
Is Bryan ready to take on Alexrod? Is he ready for that battle?
TOBY: I think he is absolutely begging for it. He is really looking forward to the fight.
Does Bryan have like an adrenaline-junkie spirit to him? I have the sense that he is just thrilled to be in the big leagues up against someone like Bobby Alexrod and taking him down.
TOBY: Absolutely. I think everybody in the show is driven by ambition in some sense, whether it be power or money. I think for Bryan it is about the good guy and the little guy winning. These guys are essentially, at the end of the day, government employees. It’s funny because the costume department got frustrated because these guys are not allowed to wear French cuts. They cannot tie their tie into a Windsor. It has to be a single knot. Like anything that comes across as ostentatious is disavowed. I think that is kind of telling as well.
What’s up with Kate and Bryan? Are they trying to one-up each other or does she have an interest in him? Will we see them just as rivals or possibly as romantic interests?
TOBY: That’s a great question. [Laughs] I think there is friendly competition there for sure. Thus far, we have seen that Bryan is in a relationship with Terri. When I talked with the U.S. Attorney guys, because they are so married to their job, often times they will be in a relationship with other prosecutors, whether in the D.A.’s office, the FTC, or the FBI, because they have no chance to meet anybody else. They are only getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night and then it is straight back to the office. So they have relationships with people within that world.
Kate not only has ambitions, she strikes me as someone who might take down a co-worker to reach for whatever she wants. That could perhaps be a problem if Bryan is going after Axe and he may even have to watch is back with Chuck as well.
TOBY: I think that is pretty true on both sides of the hedge fund world and the U.S. Attorney’s office world. Everyone has to be vigilant at all times because it is such a business of power. So that is absolutely right.
How did working on DAREDEVIL prepare you for working in this ruthless world of BILLIONS?
TOBY: [Laughs] It’s funny because I actually studied law before I became an actor and to play to roles back-to-back based in law is fortuitous, I guess. But they are such different characters. That is also what drew me to Bryan. To go from a character that is hugely and wholly Machiavellian and amoral to somebody is inherently ethical was a breath of fresh air and a challenge because I think there is more things to play when you are plotting. It is perhaps more of a challenge as an actor to play somebody who is so ethical. You have to dig deeper to find ways to make the character interesting and that has been really fun.
You not only played an attorney on both shows, but you also had a glasses/no-glasses thing going on as far as the look for the characters. Do you get to decide that or is that strictly a wardrobe decision?
TOBY: I know the glasses were hugely important on DAREDEVIL because they kind of served as a type of mask for the character. Certainly viewers may have noticed that Wesley only took the glasses off when he was in the presence of Fisk (Vincent D’onofrio). He never took them off in front of anybody else and that was really interesting to play with. But I have to be honest, I’m kind of glad to be done with glasses. It is a lot more freeing. It was written into both shows. The decision wasn’t up to me. I don’t think glasses would really suit Bryan. He does come from a bit of a tough background. So I think glasses might get in the way in a bar fight.
We know your character in DAREDEVIL had an untimely demise in Season 1. So should we worry about Bryan in BILLIONS, or is it just too different a world and there is no physical threat involved?
TOBY: When you are doing a drama, there is always a threat there for every character. Nobody’s safe. But I feel alright.
For you, what is part of the fun of working on BILLIONS? What has been a thrill for you?
TOBY: We have had just so much fun. When Paul and Condola and Susie Misner and Frank Harts and I get together on set, we are laughing so much. We have such a great time. It almost verges on unprofessional. [Laughs] We’re having such a blast. I think it sort of gives the scenes a bit more buoyancy because it is hugely turgid material. But I’m glad we all have that relationship because I think it makes it more fun to watch and it does come through in the performances. And, you know, working with Paul Giamatti every day, I have just learned so much. He is incredible to watch. It has been a joy.
What kinds of things have you learned? Is it just technical stuff or has there been something else?
TOBY: It is mostly about how free he is. He is very free in terms of keeping things loose. Nothing is really locked in. He is sort of discovering things in the moment. He discovers moments on camera. I get the impression that he surprises himself sometimes. I am certainly surprised. There have been moments where I just forget to act and I think, “god, that was an interesting choice” and then it’s, “oh I speak now, don’t I? That’s right. We’re doing a television show here, aren’t we?” So it has been incredible.
How did you make the transition from being in the legal field into being an actor?
TOBY: I had always wanted to be an actor. I was studying law as kind of a backup degree. The acting school I wanted to go to, I had always known I wanted to go there and I auditioned while I was still in school and I got in. So I left the legal world behind. [Laughs] For me, it is certainly preferable to be playing a lawyer on television than it is in real life. Looking back on it, the only thing I enjoyed about law was the performance aspect of it. It is much more fun playing a lawyer.
You have had a remarkable year with the back-to-back roles on DAREDEVIL and BILLIONS. How does that feel for you as an actor to kind of have reached that level where there is a demand for you on these types of shows?
TOBY: It’s great and it’s fantastic. I mean, I have searched for such a long time and I have given a thousand performances to crowds of about two people in audition rooms. So now people are getting to see what I do, which is wonderful. I certainly don’t take it for granted.
What can you tease about what is coming up on BILLIONS?
TOBY: We’ve hit the middle of the season and episode 6 had a mini-climax halfway through the season, and now that Chuck is recused, we will see Bryan taking more of a front-row seat in terms of prosecuting these guys and things may get a little messy.
To see more of Toby as U.S. Attorney Bryan Connetry and to see if he can indeed take down the slippery Alexrod, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of BILLIONS on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Showtime.