Actor David Costabile has become well-known for his work in television and film, particularly for his role as the licentious, foul-mouthed, yet loyal-to-a-fault Mike “Wags” Wagner on the Showtime series Billions.
The show, which focuses on the power struggle between a hedge fund manager and a U.S. attorney, was an instant hit and quickly became one of the most popular dramas on television. Costabile’s portrayal of the brash and unpredictable Wags was praised by audiences and critics alike, and his performance was key to the show’s success.
Costabile’s acting career began on the stage, where he appeared in numerous productions in regional theaters across the country. He made his television debut in 1999 with a small role in the series Law & Order. Over the next few years, he appeared in several other television shows, including The Sopranos, The Wire, and Damages.
After Damages, Costabile went on to appear in a number of high-profile television shows, including Breaking Bad, Elementary, and Flight of the Conchords. In 2013, he was cast in the role of Gale Boetticher in the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad, which added to his growing reputation as a talented character actor.
In addition to his work in television, Costabile has also appeared in several films, including 13 Hours, Lincoln, and The Accountant. He has also lent his voice to several animated projects, including the popular video game Grand Theft Auto IV.
Throughout his career, David Costabile has established himself as one of the most versatile and in-demand actors in the industry. His role as Mike “Wags” Wagner on Billions has solidified his place in television history and will undoubtedly continue to be one of his defining moments.
Innovation & Tech Today’s editor-in-chief Charles Warner sat down with Costabile to discuss the new season of Billions, his love of high- and low-tech, and how sustainable practices can build a better future for the next generation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Innovation &Tech Today: How excited are you for the new season of Billions?
David Costabile: We’re right in the middle. You’ve caught me right smack dab in the middle of shooting, and it is both… It’s the moment where your legs are starting to get tired, but this is also the launching point to the end, which has been historically the moment when you’re like, “oh wow, this is going to be very exciting to get to this ending.”
One of the things that Brian and David who created the show don’t like to do is tell anybody what’s going to happen. And so you’re starting to piece it together and you’re doing your own sleuth thing.
I&T Today: You have been a part of some really iconic shows. I mean we’re talking LeBron James iconic. The Wire, Breaking Bad, obviously Billions, Damages, Flight of the Concords. I had several people say, “Tell David I absolutely loved him on Flight of the Concords.”
DC: Yeah, the Flight fans are very deep. They’re always the deepest cut, that’s for sure. I’m certainly lucky to be able to do what I love to do. And secondly, it was just one of those things like… I kind of feel like each one of us as a performer, especially as a performer, where do you fit? How does your puzzle piece fit?
I was trained as an actor to work in theater and part of that is to do with transformation. How can you transform yourself? But also how do you really listen to what the writer is giving you and to make certain that you are both inhabiting authentically what they’ve written, but also trying to elevate their language rather than diminish their language or take away their language in order to bring your own sense of yourself to it?
I&T Today: The character that you play on Billions, Wags — he might not be Prince, he might not be Axe, but I feel like a lot of people, he’s their favorite. He’s one of the most fun character on a show full of fun characters. What do you think that is? Is that your take in the character? Is it the writing?
DC: Yeah, it is, absolutely. First of all, I have the most fun of anybody. Nobody gets to have more fun than me. I get to say the best shit all the time.
The response that you have, you look at it and you’re like, “that’s appalling. I can’t wait to do that.” So there is some joy in it. There is also the fact that I think the writers take a real joy, and this has been true for years, they take a real joy in really leaning into that for themselves, too.
When you get a plate of steak and fries, is the first thing that you eat a bite of steak, or is it the french fry? I’m going to go to the french fry.
Because you know the french fry is going to deliver. So you’re just like, “yeah, he’s a delicious plate of french fries. Who doesn’t want to eat that guy?” But I take an incredible amount of joy in playing it and the costumes and the jewelry and the places we go. And it’s just, it’s fucking awesome.
I&T Today: One of the things that I noticed in a way is, you know the show that was on HBO Entourage? A lot of cameos, a lot of big fancy living, fast lifestyle. Billions feels like a grownup version almost of Entourage where you see these people living a lifestyle.
DC: They threw down the gauntlet when they named the show and you’re just like, “Ooh, I’m on the right show. That is perfect.” Because you’re not going to be rolling around in the dirt and there’s not going to be any guns. There’s not going to be blood. I’ve been on those shows.
I&T Today: Do you ever get lines where they write for Wags that you just like are like, “Oh my God, this is pretty outlandish?”
DC: The horse cock line and the Virgin Mary. You’re just like, oh, whoa. My God.
I&T Today: Why does every CEO need a Wags?
DC: That kind of person brings the fun into a situation where you may be having to make a lot of decisions about a lot of different people all at once. And you forget that part of it’s a game. It can be a fun game even when you’re winning, when you’re losing, when you’re in the middle and you’re just like, let’s play, let’s play. Plus you got to have somebody who’s got good taste to go out to dinner with. If you’re the CEO, you finish the end of the day and you haven’t looked up to figure out where you’re going to go, Wags has already figured it out. Well, at least I can go and have a drink with this guy and it’ll be fun. Something fun’s going to happen.
I&T Today: Are you a tech guy? Do you have any kind of tech that you have to have?
DC: I do. I like tech and I just bought myself a brand new MacBook Air, which is very exciting. I had my last one for 10 years, which I was very proud of. Right now, the biggest tech I’m buying right now is that I’m about to buy a tractor. I mean, talk about low tech, high tech. I just ended up buying a 10 and a half acre farm in western Connecticut and we’re going to build a second home and then an orchard and a vineyard. And so I’ve got to get out there and clear some brush.
I&T Today: What about smart home tech?
DC: Looking at building a home and then including the possibility of tech is absolutely fascinating. We’re first starting with the energy tech, so the solar systems and the batteries and the heat pumps. All of that tech is totally fascinating to me. And it’s all something that they’re now making so consumer friendly and accessible and understandable. The Ford Lightning, the F-150, the tech around that is incredible. You can reverse the current and charge your house with the battery of the car.
I spent all of my time thinking about which solar panels and where the solar panels would be and the amount of battery source that you’ll need. And it isn’t just about saving money. It really is about the sustainability of not just your life, but your kid’s life and saying there is a way that you can create a sustainable circle around all of the experiences of creating a home or living off the land.
And then you’re trying to figure out how to save the water and regenerate the water that you’re using in the ag stuff. You’re really trying to make it go round and round rather than just taking and taking. And I think that is not only as a great lesson for an old guy like me, but be able to give it to my kid and just be like, “look, you’ve got to understand this.” This is the beginning of your future. You’re going to have to sustain this and it’s only going to get better, because the stuff that we’ll be putting on our house now, in 25 years, people will laugh at.
And I think too that because the government has gotten behind it and said to people, “look, we want to incentivize you to be interested in it and learn about it and then put it on in a flexible way that isn’t going to cost you a mint.” I just think it’s going to explode.
I&T Today: I also like the fact that on Billions there’s a lot of life imitating art and vice versa, a big focus on sustainable investing.
To me, if I think about investing right now, that seems like a pretty smart place to go because like you said, the government’s encouraging it and there’s getting more and more of that technology. So that was kind of cool that the show took a little kind of turn towards that.
Billions season seven is out now and can be watched on various television networks such as Hulu, Paramount+, and Amazon Prime Video.