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‘Billions’ Actress Malin Akerman Talks about Her Humble Beginnings

May 12, 2016

Swedish Canadian actress Malin Akerman portrays Lara Axelrod, a lower-middle class, tough street kid turned poised, devoted, beautiful-but-tough as nails billionaire’s wife in Showtime’s financial thriller and drama series Billions. Akerman immediately felt drawn to the strong female character as well as the opportunity to play a dramatic role after portraying comedic roles in films such as The Proposal with Sandra Bullock, and The Heartbreak Kid with Ben Stiller. Malin drew similarities between her and Lara Axelrod’s background, saying, “She had humble beginnings, and I absolutely had humble beginnings…I think there’s a parallel there for Lara’s life and my life just coming from humble beginnings and what that creates in you. And also an element of a survivor who’s used to making things go her way, and surviving. And that has sort of been a big element in my personal life in fighting for things that I really want.” She however emphasizes she does not have billions of dollars unlike the well-heeled Lara Axelrod.

As Malin recently shared at The Wrap’s Power Women Breakfast, her childhood was likewise “tough;” as a toddler Malin and her mom and dad moved from Sweden to Toronto, but not long afterwards her parents divorced. Her dad returned to Sweden, leaving Akerman to be raised by her single mother. Malin described how she was a latchkey kid in a rough neighborhood, and would arm herself with a steak knife out of fear of the neighborhood Peeping Tom and a persistent problem with burglaries. “The place got broken into on a regular basis while we were sleeping,” she recalled. Kicked out of home at 16, and with a mom suffering with mental illness, Malin got by with jobs like tending bar. “Oh yeah, I bartended. I was behind the bar and on top of the bar. It was good times. Nineteen years old pouring shots down people’s throats.” At that time, she had hopes of getting a degree to become a child psychologist; but, feeling burned out on school coupled with job opportunities to model, do commercials, and take on small roles in Canada, Malin was enticed into the acting world. “Let’s just do it. Let’s just go to L.A.,” she persuaded her best friend. “And we hopped on a plane, and put literally every last penny–we had forty dollars in our pocket to live off of until we got our next job.”

Together they found creative ways to financially scrape by including eating plenty of ramen noodles, stopping by a local bank for free coffee and mini muffins, and as she describes, “We would ask every guy who had ever asked us out if we could bring a best friend to dinner, and we’d order everything on the menu and bring big bags and put the bread in our bags.” At the age of 24, Malin discovered the actor reel highlighting her Canadian roles were of no value in Hollywood, and that first year in Los Angeles amounted to a total of zero acting jobs. “It was really bad,” Malin admitted.

Her next step? Malin decided to front an alternative rock band, The Petalstones, even though in her own words she “can’t sing.” Unfortunately, after about 18 months she realized this musical path was going nowhere fast, saying, “I’ve been [in Los Angeles] for two-and-a-half years, I’m sleeping on a futon in the studio and I’m working for twenty bucks a day at a restaurant.” She therefore resolved to refocus on her acting aspirations with the understanding that if things didn’t work out this time around, she’d return to college.

Good thing she didn’t give up because in a mere three weeks Akerman landed the supporting role on HBO’s comedy series The Comeback. “It opened so many doors all of a sudden for more auditions.” 

As an actor, it’s easy to be fooled that things won’t work out because of a few weeks or months, or even years, of rejection. But everyone in the entertainment business is potentially just one job away from mega success. Just ask Malin Akerman!