The actor opens up to ET about James Bond, playing alpha males and his latest role on the HBO Max original.
Billy Magnussen is a true ensemble player, having made notable appearances in everything from films like Aladdin, The Big Short, Ingrid Goes West, Into the Woods and Game Night to TV series, including American Crime Story, Black Mirror, Maniac and Tell Me a Story over the past decade. And 2021 is no different, with the actor back onscreen in the HBO Max original Made for Love, opposite Cristin Milioti, Ray Romano, Noma Dumezweni and a sex doll, as well as the highly anticipated theatrical releases of the latest James Bond film No Time to Die, and The Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark.
The thing that connects many of Magnussen’s roles is that most are a variation of the alpha male type (or handsome jerks) with a penchant to take his shirt off. Whether baring his abs is the actor’s or a production’s knowing intent matters less than Magnussen’s understanding of what makes each one different from the next.
Jed on the Netflix series Maniac was a guy that “was born and bred” to be that way, Magnussen suggests, while Nicky in Ingrid was “a creature of his circumstances.” And Russ on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was just “me playing David Cross.” Whereas his character on Made for Love has created a facade for himself as this successful, aloof coder.
“Byron is a personification of toxic masculinity,” he continues, explaining that underneath all that bravado, “he’s truly insecure and scared.”
In the twisted series adapted from Alissa Nutting’s 2017 novel -- something of a Black Mirror-type romantic comedy -- Byron is a controlling tech billionaire whose relationship with Hazel (Milioti) is more of a form of imprisonment than it is a marriage.
When audiences meet the couple, they have been living together in a technically advanced home that is nothing short of The Truman Show, sequestered from the rest of the world for the past decade. With Hazel already questioning life inside their bubble, things snap when Byron wants them to be the first couple to get matching chip implants, allowing them to share their every thought and emotion.
Black Mirror comparisons aside, Magnussen says Made for Love has a totally different, almost indescribable tone to it. “The beauty of the show more than anything else is that you can’t pinpoint it,” he explains, adding that ultimately it is a “great backdoor entrance into real emotion and real comprehensive dialogue about relationships and what love is and where it stands and what it means to actually be a good partner.”
And being able to work alongside another stellar ensemble, especially one led by Milioti and Romano as Hazel’s widower father, Herbert, who has a synthetic partner named Diane, was too good of an opportunity to pass up. “I’m proud to be a number three behind these two. I’m honored to do anything with these guys,” he says, adding that with this series, “I hit the ensemble jackpot.”
To his credit, his co-stars feel the same way, with Dumezweni gushing about working with him on set. “He’s such a character and he won’t be the same every time and I really loved that. That energy, that’s what I really enjoy,” she says.
As for his other two upcoming projects, Magnussen is really excited to see both films and to see what happens when they finally debut in theaters. “It’s really a wonderful thing to be a part of,” he says, noting that when it comes to the Bond franchise, he’s “amazed to be a part of such a legacy. It is unbelievable.”
In The Many Saints of Newark, he plays a younger version of Tony Sirico’s character, Paulie Gualtieri, while in No Time to Die, he’s listed as CIA agent Logan Ash. And his role in the latter came about from his previous collaboration with director Cary Joji Fukunaga.
“The reason I was able to do Bond is because of Maniac. I became friends with Cary and that relationship was what I gained out of it,” Magnussen says, noting that what he loves about smaller, more intimate projects like Maniac and Made for Love is the personal connections formed with the cast and crew. It’s very unlike the two films, which he ascribes himself being more of a “hired gun” than anything else.
“There are projects in my career that are entangled deeper in myself and Made for Love feels more personal to me because I was there every day and a part of the process of creating it,” Magnussen muses. “Some things hit you deeper than others.”