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« Year in Review: Red Carpet 2016| Main| Equal Opportunity Ogling »
Friday
Dec 30 2016

Billy Crudup won't tell you this but he's terrific in "20th Century Women"

20th Century Women,now playing in limited release,is named after its complicated women.There are three of them to be exact played by Annette Bening,Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning.To the movie's great credit,the two male characters are no less fascinating.Take note,men: while the men have their own distinct characters,half of the reason they're so interesting is their empathy and curiousity about the women they share their lives with.One of the guys is a teenager just getting started in life (Lucas Jade Zumann) and eager to soak it all in.The film's quietest character is William (Billy Crudup).He's moving into middle age but headed nowhere in particular;the women have always come to him but he still doesn't know wherehe'sgoing.

On a very busy day just before the holidays I was able to catch Billy Crudup for a few minutes at the tail end of his press duties for20th Century Women.While far more articulate than his character,he was similarly self-effacing,deflecting praise more often than not to pass the achievement on to co-stars,directors,and writers.Suddenly his theorized resistance to being A Movie Star (a long-since forgotten topic of discussion from the early days of his career when he turned down high profile gigs) made a great deal of sense.And since he won't say it himself,let it be known that this modest actor isverygood in a tricky part in this wonderful film.

lost William in 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016)

Here's our conversation...

NATHANIEL: Annette Bening recently said that she had known a lot of guys that reminded her of William.She's the right age to have lived through the film's time period and dealt with those guys firsthand.ut you were only a little kid.How did you access that time frame and culture?

BILLY CRUDUP: I was ten or eleven in 1979.Actually I remember it quite well.It was a pretty vivid time in American politics.There was no shortage of different ideas of what an American man was meant to be now after the 60s revolution,after Nixon,Carter's Presidency,the emergency of Ronald Reagan -- there was a struggle,I think,to undersatnd what your role was.Who would model the type of man you were meant to be?

William himself is so specific a character - how did you find him?

Idoremember actually quite a few men from that era that seemed more than a little lost.That wasn't such a stretch for me to understand and picture.I also think William was really really well written by Mike.Even though he's not terribly articulate and he didn't always have a lot to say,there's a gentle kind of appreciation for him in the writing.

Definitely.

That was something that I really identified with.

With Natalie Portman in JACKIE (2017)

You've been paired with many complicated women onscreen,particularly this year since you're sharing scenes with Annette Bening here and Natalie Portman inJackie.I find that you have a stellar rapport with your female co-stars.One great example:Jesus's Sonand Samantha Morton.

[Excited] Oh yeah!

Why do you think you're so attuned to your female co-stars?

Part of it is just the kinds of parts I've been able to do.The relationships as they've been written are meant to be relationships that have depth and nuance and curiousity and self-awareness.I think all of these things build an audience's appreciation for that kind of intimacy.

That must be wonderful to play as an actor.

You know you're kind of blessed if you haveanyrole that has dimensions.

That's true.

Billy with his famous female co-stars

I'm happy I've had those opportunities whatever the context was.When you're acting with people like Annette and Natalie and Greta Gerwig and right now I'm doing a show with Naomi Watts...[Thinking of former co-stars] Penelope Cruz,Marion Cotillard,Cate Blanchett -- I've worked with so many phenomenal actresses.I suspect that any dude that would have been lucky enough to get those parts would have built the same rapport.

I would argue that you're being way too humble.

[Laughs] Well,I appreciate that.

You also do quite a lot of stage work:The Elephant Man,Arcadia,Coast of Utopia.I was blown away byThe Pillow Manthat you did like ten years back.

What a play that was,right?Any actor would have chewed their arm off to get "Katurian"[his character inThe Pillow Man].That role was just out of this world.

Billy Crudup in The Pillowman.He has 4 Tony nominations and a win.

The last thing I did on stage wasWaiting for GodotandNo Man's Landin repertory with Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.Even though Shuler Hensley and I had the sort of tiny parts we were both exhausted by the end of it.I think I needed a little break after that.

Are you going to go back?

For sure.I start getting pretty antsy after a year or two of not doing a play.That experience is unlike anything else.

Just last year you had such a lynchpin role inSpotlightbut I can't imagine it was an easy part.The character is so withholding -- you're really giving us no information.

I've been a fan of Tom McCarthy's for a very long time.His movies are so ambitious about the minutae of relationships and behaviors.But this was kind of a departure.The first conversations I had with Tom about this.-- When I saw that part originally,it seemed to me,on the page,to be without the kind of depth that I need in order to make it interesting for myself.Tom said 'Well,that's on purpose.We want you to do a little leg work onEric Macleishand his story and you'll see what we're talking about.'  There was a profile on him in 2010 --- he was a pretty prominent lawyer  -- a couple of years after the story came out,he ended up going to see a therapist.Over the course of several weeks he revealed that he had been abused as a child.Underneath his manipulations of the press what he's most interested in doing is getting the victims the only thinghethinks they'll be able to get under this Draconian system.[Tom said] 'You have to play him like he's the only one in the system who is making it work!The problem is I'm not going to give you any dialogue for that!'

Uh-oh.

That was averyinteresting exercize.As an audience member you think he's manipulating the case against the victims.Any compliment about Eric Macleish is about the writers [Tom and Josh Singer].You could edit the film in such a way that the nuance doesn't play as interesting,much less have a critical role.You knowsomethingis happening with this lawyer.You just can't figure out what it is. It was a great opportunity to play with that kind of nuance.

more on 20th Century Women|more on Jackie|more interviews

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Reader Comments (11)

Great interview with an actor I've always admired.Always makes the character seem real,regardless of the size of the role.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

These are exactly the types of questions I wish more actors were asked in interviews.And what a thoughtful actor - I couldn't admire him more.Thanks for this!

December 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterEvelyn

That's what I thought and I don't even saw the movie.His presence in the trailer hints greatness.Can't wait to see the movie in four months -_- #europesucks

Have a great and safe new years eve Nathaniel!

December 31,2016 | Unregistered Commentersteolicious

One of those actors (Along with the likes of Ewan MacGregor and Colin Farrell) that have been doing quality work for years and it amazes you when you realize they have never been nominated for an Academy Award.

December 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterReady

I admire Billy Crudup's body of work and film choices.I first saw him inAlmost Famouswhere he makes statements like "I'm on drugs!"lovable and also quite real.Then there'sJesus' Son,Inventing the Abbots,Big Fish,Without LimitsandStage Beauty.I like his brief role inJackie.In fact I like him much more than the actress who played the titular role in that movie.He grounded the film with gravitas that I thought prevented the film from turning mawkish.

In this good interview,his humility stands out even more.Gotta love an actor for that.

December 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

Did you get a definitive pronunciation of his last name?

December 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Plus he is so handsome LOL

December 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Way too humble.

January 1,2017 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

Great interview.You made him happy with your questions,I could read it ;) My fave american actor!

January 2,2017 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Billy Crudup is proof that acting is an art.

January 10,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDebbe

He was so good in 20th Century Women.So willing to be plain and boring and lost and vulnerable,all without mawkishness or condescension.

Great interview!

January 23,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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