- Showtime’s hit show “Billions,” which explores finance, power, and morality, returns for season 4 Sunday at 9 p.m.
- Business Insider spoke to Asia Kate Dillon, who plays fan-favourite Taylor Mason, about gender identity, fan reactions, and the star’s artistic ambitions including a music EP.
You can’t help but smile at them even when they are being wicked. It’s one reason why, though the show’s critique of Wall Street lives at its very core, co-creator David Levien said that by the second season, everyone on the Street was saying, “You know that was based on me, right?”
But perhaps the biggest fan favourite of them all is Taylor Mason, the gender non-binary whiz kid played by Asia Kate Dillon – and the Brutus to Axe’s Caesar.
Season 4 sees Mason taking an even bigger role in driving the plot, as they go head-to-head with Axe with the newly formed Taylor Mason Capital. Ahead of the season premiere, Business Insider caught up with Dillon, who spoke about how the initial casting of “Billions” helped the actor crystallize their own non-binary gender identity, what fans stop them on the street to say, and their artistic ambitions (including a music EP that’s still in the early stages).
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nathan McAlone: The character of Taylor was specifically written as gender non-binary. Is that an unusual thing to come across in the industry? I’m guessing it’s pretty rare to have the role written that way.
Asia Kate Dillon: I can tell you it’s the first time I’d ever seen it come my way: A non-binary identity with the they/them pronouns. My team knew I wanted to be sent out for roles they thought I’d be the best actor for, whether that person identified as a man, or a woman, or non-binary, or whatever. It wasn’t strange that they sent that to me.
But I will say that prior to encountering the breakdown for Taylor, which had this word “non-binary,” I knew that word, I knew the words “gender fluid,” “gender nonconforming” – I considered myself gender fluid and gender nonconforming certainly, non-binary certainly. But I had not yet understood.
Let me back up and clarify.
All the people that I knew prior to encountering the character of Taylor who were non-binary, trans, gender nonconforming, had taken some sort of steps to medically transition their body, whether it was taking hormones or having some kind of elective surgery. So I just didn’t have any representation – of either a real person or a fictional character – who was non-binary, but hadn’t changed their body in some way. So I didn’t fully have an understanding of how I could have my identity, my journey, which doesn’t include any kind of physical or medical transition, and still have a non-binary trans identity.
So when I got the character breakdown for Taylor and looked up “female” and “non-binary,” [I thought], “Oh, female is an assigned sex, non-binary is a gender identity. I don’t have to transition my body in order to be valid as a non-binary transperson.” That was how I came to fully understand how I could be me. Does that make sense?
McAlone: Yeah, that totally makes sense. It’s really interesting that the actual phrasing of the casting helped crystallize that for you. And then how did you prep for the role? Did you dig into the world of hedge funds?
Dillon: I don’t have a financial background so I definitely had to do a lot of research. The first scene I auditioned with, Taylor has one, if not two, paragraphs of heavy financial jargon. “Sell this,” “calls” and “puts” and all that. I initially attempted to memorise it without looking anything up and I couldn’t. Then I looked up whatever the words were, and learned what I needed to do the scene. And that’s what I’ve done for every episode subsequently. Then the minute it’s over it leaves my brain. People are like, “Can you give me financial advice?” I’m like, “No.”
McAlone: Is there anything that you’ll particularly miss about Taylor, the character, any piece of the character you’ll miss being able to inhabit?
Dillon: I’ll miss knowing how Taylor would respond in a certain situation. I think one of the things I really admire about Taylor is their decisiveness. Like a chess player, they have already thought 14, 28 moves ahead. Their ability to make lightning-quick decisions and/or say exactly what’s on their mind the moment they want to say it, the way they want to say it, is something I admire and will certainly miss – among everything else about them.
McAlone: You’re a big fan-favourite character, at least among people I know who watch the show. Do you get stopped on the street now, and if so, what types of things do people say?
Dillon: I do get recognised on the street, which I love. I come from the theatre and unless you scurry out the back, generally you are walking through the lobby meeting people. For me, that’s as much a part of being an artist as the art itself: Connecting with other people. Film and television, you don’t have that same experience. So getting approached on the street, it is the way in which that manifests. And it’s great. The show covers every demographic, every age, every skin colour, every shape of person is watching this show, which I find incredible and really gratifying.
And the feedback is everything from a group of people in business attire walking by and yelling, “We love Taylor at the office,” to someone coming up to me and immediately taking my hands and peering up and saying, “My kid is non-binary and I can’t tell you how much your representation has meant to them and to our family.” I’m actually tearing up right now telling you that story because that happened to me on the street, and we’re standing together crying and hugging. People are very gracious to tell me that I have helped them and/or their child, or parent, feel less alone, and I always remind them that they have made me feel less alone in that moment also. They’re not just getting something from me, I’m also getting something from them, too. In that sense, I’m really grateful.
And then occasionally there are people who will say, “I love you on ‘Orange Is the New Black,'” and I’m wary of taking those conversations further because I don’t know if they are complimenting my acting, or identifying with my character, who is a Nazi white supremacist.
McAlone: Do you think there are people who are saying they love your character because of that?
Dillon: I have no idea, but I don’t want to inquire. You know what I mean? I’ve definitely gotten messages on social media that are like, “I love your character on Orange…”
McAlone: And you’re like, “Oh…”
Dillon: I don’t know what they mean!
McAlone: This “Billions” role is a step forward in terms of representation on TV, but I’d be curious to get your thoughts on which areas you think are moving in the right direction in the entertainment industry, and which areas are lagging behind in terms of various types of representation?
Dillon: Asia Kate Dillon and Taylor Mason, this character on “Billions,” we are both one example – and we are two different examples, actually – of a non-binary identity. We need more representation of all types of gender nonconforming, trans, non-binary identities, particularly people of colour who have been leading the movement since long before I was born. They are the leaders of the movement and the last to be represented, always. So that’s an area we need to continue to improve upon.
And I would say a show like “Billions” is doing as much as it can and is doing it right – having a non-binary character where their identity is not the focus of their storyline. They are a multidimensional person who is fully integrated into the plot, if not helping drive the plot of this show. That’s extremely important.
McAlone: In terms of your own career, what types of projects are you interested in moving forward? How do you see the path of your career in your ideal world?
Dillon: I consider myself a performer. If you need me to act, I can act. If you need me to sing, I can sing. If you need me to dance, I can dance. I want to learn new skills. I want to do a project where I need to learn to ride horses. I want to learn jiu-jitsu. I always want a project to be challenging and fun, and teach me something new, and stretch my own expectations of what I’m capable of.
And then on top of that, I want to play the parts for which I’m the best actor for the role, and so to me it just feels like the world is my oyster. I’m excited for the things that come my way or the things that I manifest in my life because I don’t feel like it can be defined and I love that.
As I said, I sing, I’m working on an EP right now. And maybe some time I’d love to be in a movie musical.
McAlone: What type of music is the EP?
Dillon: It may be too early to define. I’m definitely heavily influenced by pop and rock and roll, but also blues and r&b. I think it’s probably an amalgamation of all the things that have influenced me throughout my life.
McAlone: Do you have a performing name? Is it a band or solo project or what?
Dillon: Oh, I can’t reveal that.
McAlone: I didn’t know how far along it was.
Dillon: No, I appreciate you asking. Some of that stuff I’ll keep close to the chest for now.
“Billions” airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Showtime.
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