Billy Crudup discusses his new role opposite Julia Roberts in the film based on the popular book by author Elizabeth Gilbert
Actor Billy Crudup made a name for himself in the late '90s in a series of gritty and dramatic roles in such films as Sleepers, Inventing the Abbotts, Without Limits, Hi-Lo Country and Jesus' Son but it was his breakout role in Cameron Crowe's semi-biographical film Almost Famous that made him a household name. Since then the actor has wisely transitioned his career from leading man to that of an accomplished character actor taking on supporting roles in high profile films with exceptional directors such as Tim Burton's Big Fish, J.J. Abrams's Mission: Impossible III, Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd, Zack Snyder's Watchmen and Michael Mann's Public Enemies. Now the veteran actor is teaming up with director Ryan Murphy (Glee) and super-star actress Julia Roberts for the new film, Eat, Pray, Love, which opens in theaters on August 13th. We recently had a chance to sit down with Billy Crudup to talk about the new film, his role, the famous book that it is based on, working with Julia Roberts, the legacy of Watchmen and his overall distinguished career. Here is what the talented actor had to say:
To begin with, when you are offered a film like this and they tell you that it is based on the internationally popular novel, that Julia Roberts is going to star in it and that Ryan Murphy is going to direct it, do you even bother to read the script or do you just jump at the chance to be part of a project like this?
Billy Crudup: Not really I mean, it was a pretty easy no brainer. When they told me about the character and what they were interested in doing with it, I felt very grateful, so I was easy to convince then.
Had you read the book previously to being cast in the movie?
Billy Crudup: I had not read the book. I had dinner with Ryan and we talked about it. He had given me some of his ideas for it. Apparently the character's not fleshed out too much in the book. Even though he's kind of there to send her on her way. It's not a character study of him in any way. He was interested in making sure we didn't vilify him and to kind of have a broad vision of what he's like as a person without judgment. I thought that was cool because I didn't really want to play a douche-bag.
Well it's interesting that you say that because your performance felt very filled out and in some ways the audience really begins to feel for him and his side of things, don't they?
Billy Crudup: Yes, well I think that's a real testament to Ryan and Julia. Just thinking about that experience, just with a broader vision than she had. She left a marriage that didn't work, not because he's a dick but because he may have not known the in & outs of the relationship but more that she had grown in ways that had outgrown their relationship; which happens to everybody. Whether its friendships or marriage, sometimes you go back home and your High School friends can't be your High School friends anymore. They've just grown in different directions and not through anybodies fault. So I liked that idea and their pursuit of it. There's an enormous amount of growth from twenty to twenty-nine. We really change. I think that if it weren't for the fact that our parents and grandparents weren't taught that divorce was okay, how many of those relationships would've survived. They were getting married at eighteen, nineteen, and twenty. It's really hard to sustain those relationships. I thought that was cool that they were exploring that.
It'll probably be easy for some men to look at this film and say, "Oh it's Julia Roberts ... it's based on the book and it's directed by the creator of 'Glee,' so it's got to be a chick-flick." But the film really isn't just a chick-flick and it does deal with universal themes and issues that anyone can relate to, doesn't it?
Billy Crudup: It's interesting in some ways because it's often the men that are depicted departing their relationships for their journey cross-country and the journey of discovery. That's exactly what she does. She happens to go to Europe and she happens to look for prayer and a number of other things. It's abandoning your life to find yourself. I'm sure it says something culturally that there is a strong powerful woman doing that in this movie. It's a story for sure that guys can relate to because it's been about them since this story's been told and now you get to look at a hot chick for a couple of weeks. It's Julia Roberts! C'mon what do you want guys!
The film has a clever way of keeping your character involved in the story through fantasy scenes even after Julia's character leaves you and I understand that that is very different from how your character is treated in the book. Was that something that you and Ryan discussed and did you feel that it was important for your character to stay involved throughout the film?
Billy Crudup: It was really Ryan. It was the reference of her old life in the midst of her building a new one. He wanted to remind her, remind the audience what it was what she needed to do. You know, divorce her self from him. It kind of gives you a context of what she's going to find. We needed constant references of what was simple to Steven, lovely and grounding to him, to her was simplistic and redundant, which made her feel claustrophobic. She needed to find more spiritual expressions of life. Steven just didn't need that. Not that either is right or wrong. So I think that's why there's these little tidbits. Even though she's the engine behind the separation, it's still a separation for her. She still has all of the memories, all of the feelings. She has to get over it too even though she's doing the breaking up. It's not easy on her. I think that's why he wanted to keep on reminding the audience.
There is a scene in the lawyer's office when you are getting your divorce from Julia's character and your character sort of just looses it, was that all in the script or was that something that you fleshed out in rehearsals?
Billy Crudup: It was a little bit of both. I've never had the opportunity to be so goofy and ... I don't know, free. I've never been encouraged to offer any ideas before. I've always gravitated towards material that has been fully formed. Ryan kept encouraging me through the process of rehearsal to keep thinking about this. It was great but it was terrifying! I'm not interested in my ideas. My ideas suck! That's why I count on other people to write material for me. But he let me come up with that song.
So you came up with the song that your character starts singing in that scene?
Billy Crudup: Yeah, in the script before it mentioned that James Franco's character was also a songwriter. We had a little scene in the elevator before where I was talking about him being a songwriter so then in the lawyer's office I'm like I got a song for you. That was the reference to it before but that's where it came from.
There was an almost subliminal moment at the end of the film where Julia's character is thinking back on her life and we see a quick flash of your character, happily married with a new wife and baby. That is also much different than it is depicted in the book, can you talk about the importance of that scene and how it helped give your character a fully developed arc?
Billy Crudup: Yeah, well it had him moving on. For Ryan that was a real important part of the story. Despite the heartbreak, Julia leaving him and taking ownership of her life gave him the opportunity to take ownership of his life. I think he likes the idea that he moved on with some peace. He never would have had the life that he wanted with Liz. I think he was probably content with the romance of what they had and hopeful that with time she would have overcome what was going on with her. That the distance they created would just go away and that probably wouldn't have happened. So he got a chance to find a new relationship.
Almost every scene you have in the film is with Julia Roberts and I think this is the first time you two have worked together on screen so what was that experience like for you?
Billy Crudup: No I never worked with her before. She's such a terrific actress and so easy to be around. She engages you quickly. She has tremendous charm and charisma. I was really grateful at the chance to work with her. That was pretty cool.
We're big fans of Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" and it seemed like that film didn't get the initial success or attention that a cinematic masterpiece like that deserves at the time that it was released. Do you think it is similar to films like "Apocalypse Now," "Blade Runner" and "Brazil" that were so dense and huge in scale that it took a few years for audiences to catch on to them and consider them classics? Do you think that "Watchmen" will finally find its audience now as time goes on?
Billy Crudup: I don't know. I'm always confused about why some things work and some things don't. I know that the material itself was interesting to me because it was subversive. Anything that's subversive by nature of the word isn't supposed to work for everyone. It's supposed to make you uncomfortable and be disconcerting. It's not thrilling for everyone in the way it is for some. For other people it's just going to take some time. I was really happy to be in that movie. Zack gave me such an incredible opportunity to play that part. God knows that source material is phenomenal. I loved being a part of it. I was over the moon.
Frankly, I though it got a really good reception and was provocative for a lot of people. It would have been astounding to me if that movie with its level of sophistication, violence and social satire had as broad an audience as something else. But you know The Dark Knight was sort of dark in that way too so I guess there is the potential out there. When you do movies, you kind of have to let them go. You played the part, particularly if you're not the filmmaker. There's nothing I can control in the marketing, the editing or the score, you know? You hope that it works for enough people to get what you were trying to do and enough people to get you a job the next time! I've been incredibly lucky with all the stuff I've done.
Finally, it seems like a few years ago you began to transition yourself from playing the leading role in smaller films to taking strong supporting roles in bigger, high profile movies. Do you think that there is something to be said for taking supporting roles in great projects with great filmmakers as apposed to just taking lead roles in lesser known films?
Billy Crudup: Yeah, for me I always wanted to be in ambitious movies or plays and playing parts that were going to stretch me in some way. I've been lucky enough to get the opportunities I get to do the kind of parts I'm interested in and they are typically in supporting parts. If you want to give me lead parts that are interesting I would do it.
In just the last few years alone you've played Dr. Manhattan in "Watchmen," J. Edgar Hoover in "Public Enemies" and now this role, which are all so different from each other but are all great parts in great projects with great directors. Are you pleased with the direction that your career is going in?
Billy Crudup: Absolutely. Just those three films alone exceeded any expectations I ever had of myself as an actor to be in such different styles of movies. One is like a historical drama, one is a cartoon fable, and one is about feminine discovery. They couldn't be more different. It's thrilling to me.