There’s a reason I often ask those who I interview about what got them into the business. I am genuinely interested where the road began, but it can also be the beginning of a revealing thread that runs through their entire career story. For Actor Billy Crudup, the thread of his impressive 30-year acting career which covers film, television and stage took a more academic route. The idea of an ‘academic’ approach sounds like something that could strip the humanity out of his performances, instead it actually opened him to experiences and and understanding of people which allowed him to better tap into the empathy he injects to every role.
This ability may have never been more evident than in his role of Jack Billings, in Apple TV+’s Hello Tomorrow! (read my review here). Set in a retro-futuristic setting, Jack is traveling salesman selling timeshares on the moon which may or may not exist. Jack is a character you cannot describe in a few words. Crudup brings layers to the character, many which he keeps hidden and others he is most likely in denial even exist. The series is much more than the story of Jack as the salesmen, it is about the his role as a troubled son, failed husband, and most importantly absentee father to Joey, a son who is unaware Jack’s his father. (You can watch my interview with the Nicholas Podany who plays his son Joey, here.)
Crudup who won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2020 for his work on The Morning Show, has a passion for his craft and how it reaches beyond entertaining. I was taken back by Crudup’s ability and willingness to dissect both his character and also his own beginnings, including some deep insights into his father’s influence on his life, career, and specifically his portrayal of Jack.
I highly recommend you watch the entire conversation in our video interview. Like his Hello Tomorrow! character Jack, Billy has a silver tongue – but in the best of ways, answering every question in the most thoughtful and fascinating fashion. I was truly captivated and finished wanting to revisit Hello Tomorrow! all over again, but this time with a much richer perspective. Below are some excerpts of the interviews. It is really only a small sampling of what was covered. Find the full video at the end of the article.
On what drives Jack Billings:
“I think his father and his mother set the stage for a gross misunderstanding. And that misunderstanding is that Jack isn’t good enough just simply by being Jack. Jack was born in deb and his life is an expression of him getting out of debt. Why he was born in debt? That was his parents that were pointed that he misunderstood that. You know, my dad was told by his granddad, that he was a piece of crap. My granddad’s idea behind it was I want to toughen you up, because life is tough – and I want you to be successful; I don’t want you to sweat the small stuff. So, I’m going to be hard on you. But what my dad inherited was, ‘I’m a piece of shit.’ It’s that misunderstanding, to me, is at the heart of Jack’s complexity. I can’t I can’t help but project that into the broader picture of America. As a paternal figure, as a maternal figure, whatever the homeland or the motherland or whatever is telling you about what you were born into. It’s hard to make sense of it if you feel like you were born in debt.”
On starting his acting journey in a more academic fashion:
“I can’t help up believe – there’s just no chance that I would be where I am in my career without the training that I had; the teachers that you’re exposed to, the other students in their ambitions that you’re exposed to, the material, the depth of the material that you’re forced to reckon with on a daily basis,
encourages a kind of attention, that is rigorous – and it is in a way academic. And the biggest journey I feel like I’ve taken in my own study of acting is moving from the academic to the organic.
I can look back at earlier performances and feel like, well, I can see me thinking through that one, I can see how I was trying to consider every potential, I can see where I’m trying to place my voice. But I don’t think I had found yet the full potential of creating something that felt organic, but was apart from yourself with complex material until much later in my life.
I am indebted to the experiences that I had early on, you know, when you’re in acting school, you’re insulated from the pressures of delivering financially as a performing artists, which is an awful thing to deliver financially, as a performing artist, there’s just so few avenues to success. When you’re in graduate school, you do subject yourself to the occasional teacher tells you you’re a piece of shit and terrible, and etc. and you’ll never solve that problem in your career path. But that’s small potatoes compared to making your rent. And so I don’t think that there would be nearly the likelihood that I would be in the position that I am now, without the full bore three year acting, acting school intensive.”
On how encountering others is its own training:
“This is one advantage to training in New York. The kinds of people you encounter first in school, are from all over the country or all over the world. And then the kind of people you encounter on the subway going to school, are from all over the world and you are forced to reckon with that humanity on a daily basis. That is the great thing about New York. And I think the greatest expression of America’s potential as a melting pot. And as an actor, when you have the opportunity to, as you say, encounter the disparate experiences of life. It not only exposes you to different lives, but it forces a kind of empathy. That I think is not just a tool that you can utilize in your work, but it is a life lesson and a way to, I think be in the adult world in as full and present away as possible. because you can have empathy for a lot of different kinds of people.”
You can see Billy Crudup’s work on Hello Tomorrow! streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.