08/11/2015 16:25 EDT | Updated 08/11/2016 01:12 EDT

Damian Lewis: Keep an open mind about hedge-fund manager in Showtime drama series 'Billions'

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Don't expect to boo the scheming hedge-fund king in Showtime's new drama series "Billions."

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial journalist and author ("Too Big to Fail"), told a TV critics' meeting Tuesday that he's aware of the negative perceptions surrounding high-flying moneymakers.

"I cover this world," and getting to know its inhabitants shows them to be layered and complex, said Sorkin, a producer of the series that debuts Jan. 17.

They are competing as much for power and pride as the billions of dollars at stake, he said, adding, "the money piece of it is really just the scorecard."

Damian Lewis plays fund manager Bobby Axelrod opposite Paul Giamatti's federal prosecutor Chuck Rhodes. The cast also includes Malin Akerman, David Costabile, Condola Rashad, Maggie Siff and Toby Leonard Moore.

Might viewers end up rooting for Axelrod, as they did for meth-maker Walter White in "Breaking Bad," a reporter asked the cast and producers and creators Sorkin, Brian Koppelman and David Levien.

"We're not moralizing," said Koppelman.

"Stay more open-minded, dude," Lewis advised the questioner.

The British-born actor played another powerful figure, King Henry VIII, in "Wolf Hall," and acknowledged parallels between the two. But Axelrod was not born to wealth and influence in New York.

"Bobby is a blue-collar guy, nouveau riche, new money," living by street rules that mean those who fail to demonstrate loyalty are "ruthlessly dispatched," Lewis said.

Because he's slipped easily into American accents in projects including "Homeland," Lewis said he thought he'd have a "fantastic time pretending to be some gangster from the Bronx."

That was until the producers said the effort was "awful" and asked that he stop, he said.

He reverted to a more neutral accent with a few tweaks to distinguish it from others he's done. It was a "generic, Midwest nothing," he said, then hastily added, "Anyone from the Midwest, I apologize."

Lynn Elber, The Associated Press