Inside Billy Crudup's Welcome (and Award-Winning) Return to TV (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
When The Morning Show first debuted with the launch of Apple TV+ in November, there was no doubting that the star-studded ensemble about a daytime talk show was really the Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston show. And while the latter earned rave reviews for her dramatic turn as lead anchor Alex Levy and later won a Screen Actors Guild Award, Billy Crudup quickly became a critical and fan favorite thanks to his scene-stealing performance as the network’s new president of the news division, Cory Ellison.
Not only that, but there was a sense across the internet and among fans, especially after he won a Critics' Choice Television Award for his performance (his first major acting award since 2015’s SAG ensemble win for Spotlight), that Crudup was back. Which is funny, because he was never really gone.
“I’ve had a strange career from the beginning, from the perspective of nearly everybody in the industry. I didn’t think it was strange; it felt totally normal to me to pursue an acting career the way that I had, sort of juggling theater and film and strange offbeat material, small parts, big parts,” Crudup tells ET during a phone conversation amid quarantine in June, saying that he’s constantly having to remind producers he’s still working.
In fact, since appearing in the Oscar-winning Spotlight, the actor had a string of roles in notable films like Jackie, 20th Century Women, Alien: Covenant, Justice League and Where'd You Go, Bernadette, as well as his first series regular role on TV in 2017’s Gypsy opposite Naomi Watts. It was just all followed with a brief respite from the screen to perform in the 2018 Off-Broadway play Harry Clarke, which took him out of the, ahem, spotlight.
But if it weren’t for that production, Crudup may not have ended up in the Apple TV+ original. Because he shares an agent and manager with Aniston, who also serves as executive producer on The Morning Show, they encouraged her to go see him onstage, which he says was a huge opportunity for him to showcase his skills. “The work that I was allowed to do and capable of doing in that gave me confidence in where I was at, at this point in my career,” he adds.
“So the fact that I was given the opportunity to exploit the competence that I was feeling in my own acting and that it was received well at all is -- I'm old enough to know that it’s -- f**king great,” he says of then getting to transition from Harry Clarke to The Morning Show, and for his performance to be recognized as much as it has.
What drew the actor in was “the cerebral nature of [Cory’s] interpersonal interactions,” he says, adding that he likes that Cory is “smarter than I am and he talks faster than I do.” Preparing for the role also get the actor fired up. “I would get some of these monologues and I would think, ‘Oh f**k, what is this about? How does any person feel entitled to speak like this to another person? What kind of character can I create that this might actually make some awkward sense over a period of time?’ And the way that I approached it was somebody who is interested in the expression of their own ambition. He doesn’t really have anything at stake in television, per se.”
And that confidence and desire to be in the moment comes through onscreen. The energy Crudup exudes as Cory is so palpable, you can’t help but be drawn to it -- even when his decisions seem at odds with the network or sparring with Alex.
But despite the joy he had playing Cory, it was a technical challenge, especially when it came to speaking as fast as his character does. “It’s so f**king hard,” the actor says, revealing that he would be sweating profusely underneath his costumes. “I would often tell my wardrobe supervisor, ‘Can you please have another shirt standing by?’ Because it was likely I was going to sweat through that one on any given take.”
Under pressure -- and working with the high-caliber directors and actors on this particular set -- he says his response is to sweat. “I just gotta fight through it,” he adds.
Overall, the experience working on the series was “fantastic,” Crudup says, noting that he was in awe of Witherspoon and Aniston’s ownership of the material as stars and producers of the show. “They want to focus and collaborate in such an ambitious way that it’s kick-a** to be a part of it,” he continues.
When it comes to season 2, which began production in February before being shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Crudup is looking forward to seeing how things pick up after the shocking finale that saw Alex and her new TMS co-host Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon) going rogue on air and exposing the toxic culture at the network.
“Cory thrives in situations that he has to learn from and operate on his feet. And needless to say, the end of the season gave him a strong indication that things were going to change in pretty unpredictable ways,” Crudup says, teasing that some of Cory’s own motivations may become clear after how he let, and encouraged, some of the things play out in the final few episodes of season 1.