Playing a successful stock trader on TV has its perks. For one, David Costabile, who plays Mike ‘Wags’ Wagner on Showtime’s Billions, is able to unfurl expletive-laden turns of phrase at knee-buckling speed. For another, he has access to an enviable array of whiskey.
Billions (which returns for its fourth season on March 17) follows Wall Street stock traders and the U.S. attorneys investigating them, and over the course its run, both sides have reached for seriously badass bottles of whiskey. They toast over Johnnie Walker Blue Label, unwind with Kavalan, and celebrate with Michter’s 20 year old, as billionaires do.
In fall 2017, the cast celebrated wrapping season three at Del Posto in New York by (how else?) drinking rare and expensive whiskey; a Michter’s tasting led by distiller Dan McKee, with company president Joe Magliocco.
Although Costabile was unfamiliar with Michter’s prior to joining the show in 2016, he says he’s since become a fan. “It’s a great happenstance that they were involved,” he says.
Accompanied by Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, and others from the Billions cast, Costabile tasted through a range that included Michter’s US*1 rye, US*1 bourbon, 25 year old straight bourbon, 25 year old straight rye, and the coveted Celebration Sour Mash (94 points from Whisky Advocate, with a retail price of roughly $5,000 per bottle), as well as other US*1 offerings. As he continues to advance his appreciation, Costabile notes the importance of comparative tasting. “When you present [the whiskeys] within sequence you really can start to decipher the details that may be more distant or harder to grasp. Especially when you’re having somebody lead you.”
On Billions, Wags, with a cutthroat edge and pointed mustache, is a brash and brilliant COO for fictitious hedge fund Axe Capital. It’s a role that has earned Costabile instant recognition with real Wall Street workers. He was reportedly saluted by such folk at Del Posto, and last year, when he rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, he says, he received a bigger reception than the swimsuit models who had been there the week before. When it comes to whiskey, however, Costabile notes that he and Wags are in completely different brackets.
“He’d be able to go a shelf and a half, maybe two shelves above where I can start. And he wouldn’t pick anything other than whiskey,” says Costabile, who notes he’s more of a seasonal whiskey drinker, gravitating to gin and tonic in the summertime. “I also think that Wags’s tolerance for consumption is vast. He, unlike me, would not have to regulate his intake.”
Whereas Wags may instinctively reach for the fancy bottle from the highest of shelves, Costabile finds that many middle-tier bourbons suit his taste just fine, including Jefferson’s Reserve. His most recent whiskey came in the form of a Perfect Woodford Reserve Manhattan on the rocks, sipped in the Theater District before a show.
As Billions continues on, so does Costabile’s whiskey journey. The actor said that while educational, the cast tasting at Del Posto was more about conviviality. He still has much to learn about whiskey and hopes to visit Kentucky distilleries to fully round out the story. “I look forward to going down there and having that experience,” he says.
The experience of enjoying great whiskeys on the set of Billions, however, isn’t quite what viewers may imagine. “Unfortunately, they don’t just roll them out every night at the end of day,” Costabile says. “Which would be very fun. But there have been many whiskey nights for the company to be together. Sometimes we’ll be traveling and doing press for the show, have a night out; we all like to go out. We do like our whiskey, that is for sure. Mr. Damian Lewis and I have put back a few whiskeys ourselves together. It’s quite nice.”
Who: David Costabile, actor
Favorite Style: Bourbon
Go-To Whiskeys: Jefferson’s Reserve, WhistlePig, Woodford Reserve
How He Drinks: Perfect Manhattan on the rocks (equal parts dry and sweet vermouth)
Seen In: Billions, Breaking Bad, The Post, Lincoln, The Wire
Watch For: Costabile as music manager Doc McGhee in the forthcoming Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt