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Waiting For Godot - Broadway

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen star in Samuel Beckett's classic.

Godot and No Man’s Land Star Billy Crudup on Arcadia, Almost Famous & His Most Challenging Roles

Godot and No Man’s Land Star Billy Crudup on Arcadia, Almost Famous & His Most Challenging Roles
Billy Crudup
Billy Crudup analyzes his most meaningful stage and screen roles.

Few young stage actors can resist the lure of Hollywood once they’ve gotten a breakout film role. Billy Crudup, on the other hand, has made theater a priority for almost two decades, seeking out complex character roles that require much more than movie star handsomeness. Between screen credits in Almost Famous, Big Fish, Watchmen, Too Big to Fail and many more, Crudup has earned three Tony nominations and a Best Featured Actor Tony Award for playing Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinsky in The Coast of Utopia. He’s currently juggling the roles of Lucky in Waiting for Godot and Foster in No Man’s Land, yet another big challenge he says he feels “extremely fortunate” to tackle. For his Role Call, Crudup chose his Tony roles, his first film hit and a smaller scale movie that was especially meaningful.

Role That Was My Big Break
“Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia [1995, as Septimus Hodge] is a beautiful piece of writing, and my character was nothing short of perfect in terms of how you’d want to start your career: a romantic genius who dies preserving the love of a young girl! It helped launch my film career, too: Barry Levinson saw it and cast me in Sleepers, and Pat O’Connor saw it and cast me in Inventing the Abbotts. I wish I could say that coming back to the play [in the 2011 Broadway revival, as Bernard Nightingale; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination] was romantic, but it wasn’t. When you’re 27, you have an idea of what you’re going to be like when you’re 43. Then you’re actually confronted with what your life has become, and parts of it are blessed, parts are slightly disappointing, and parts are unnerving.”

Role With the Biggest Transformation
“I was thrilled with my experience in The Elephant Man [2002, as John Merrick; Best Actor Tony nomination]. [Director] Sean Mathias had tremendous faith in the choices I made and encouraged a kind of awkward daring that I really appreciated. For me, the play centers around the [title] character’s compassion and humanity and love for the world, even when being tormented, both physically and psychologically, by the people around him. The audience needs to feel daunted by his experience of life, so you have to make some exotic physical choices. I’m a strange actor in that I don’t always know why I approach a character the way I do. Sometimes I use my intellect, and sometimes I try not to use my consciousness at all. Sean encouraged a perfect balance of both, and I ended up with something I couldn’t have planned, which was exciting and rewarding.”

Role With the Most Challenging Text
The Pillowman [2005, as Katurian; Best Actor Tony nomination] was another formative experience because of the amount of text I needed to internalize. The stakes of that part [as a writer of gruesome short stories in a totalitarian country, jailed on suspicion of murder] were so extraordinary; playing life or death when you have that much dialogue was a major challenge. Pillowman is an extremely well constructed play, a novel and exhilarating play, so we had tremendous incentive to preserve that quality through our work. I read the first page and a half and said, ‘I don’t know where the hell this is going, but I want to be a part of it.’ When the work itself is so challenging, it can be a daunting experience, but it was also one of my great thrills.”

Role That Felt Like a Gift
“You don’t get a lot of experiences like The Coast of Utopia [2006, as literary critic Vissarion Belinsky; Tony Award for Best Featured Actor]. That character and that monologue [on the meaning of art in Voyage, the first play in Tom Stoppard’s epic trilogy] were just a gift from the heavens. And working with Jack O’Brien and that company—friends like Ethan [Hawke] and Josh [Hamilton] and Martha [Plimpton]—at Lincoln Center was one the brightest, most satisfying experiences ever. I always believed I had it in me to do a good job in that part; it was just a question of whether or not I could do it every night. I felt in sync with Belinsky’s plight, as written by Tom, in a way that I don’t always experience. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting to work on the best material, with some of the best theater artists in America.”

Role Fans Ask Me About Most
“Cameron Crowe gave me a real prize in Almost Famous [2000, as rock star Russell Hammond]. The character was sort of in process—he wasn’t fully written when we started, so the challenge was to create someone who is magnetic and alluring but is also unknowable. I had never played a guitar, which was also a challenge. It’s one thing to pretend to play the guitar; it’s another thing to portray a character who is supposed to be great at the guitar, so I was working all the time to try to look good enough. It was just a kick-ass character, and I was thrilled to be a part of that movie.”

Role That Was the Most Challenging Emotionally
“I did a film with [director] Keith Gordon called Waking the Dead [2000, as Fielding Pierce] that unlocked emotional parts of myself I hadn’t made use of before in films; it was a big step forward in terms of my work. The character was an aspiring politician who had a relationship earlier in his life with a young woman who was killed. As he is forced to compromise in order to maintain his ascension in the political sphere, he is reminded of her and their youthful ideals; he begins to ‘see’ her and lose his grasp on reality. It was nervous breakdown time, and it left me in a very difficult place—but as an actor, it was a great gift to be given access to those kinds of feelings.”

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