Billy Crudup is one of those actors who refuses to be pigeonholed. He’s comfortable on stage and on screen, in big-budget Hollywood productions and modest indie films. He’s played bad guys, good guys, tough guys, sensitive guys. But it’s fair to say that he’s most attracted to roles where he gets to play some kind of flawed anti-hero. In his latest film, Blood Ties, which is part gritty crime thriller, part family drama, Crudup does exactly that, as a New York cop in 1974 who struggles against his ex-con brother (Clive Owen) after he’s released from prison. It’s a remake of the 2008 French film, Les Liens du Sang, which was itself based on a book. Directed by Guillaume Canet, a French star in his own right who actually originated the role Crudup plays in the American version, the film also stars James Caan, as the family’s imperfect patriarch, and an impressive assemblage of talented actresses, including Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis and Zoe Saldana.
Billy Crudup recently spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about Blood Ties and the influence of classic 1970s crime thrillers on Canet’s vision for the film. He also talked about his current Broadway run alongside Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Shuler Hensley in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
BILLY CRUDUP: That’s right. And that film was based on a book, which was based on a true story about two brothers. I believe it was in the south of France. But Guillaume was an actor in the previous film, and when given the opportunity to direct a movie in America, this was the story that he was the most interested in telling, I think because he had such an affection for so many of the movies that were made in America in the ‘70s – crime dramas, like Dog Day Afternoon, French Connection and Serpico. The chance to pay homage to them and inhabit the world that so many of his heroes from film had inhabited, I think was too much to resist.
You can definitely see the influence of those classics when you watch the film.
CRUDUP: Yeah. He left no stone unturned when it came to using the inspiration of those other films.
In the original, he actually played the same character you play. Did he have any advice for you?
CRUDUP: I played it exactly like him, gesture for gesture. I had to do it in French first, and then they translated. No, he actually was not territorial, at all. In fact, he was not interested in exploring his experience in doing this film, in the least. He was totally committed to the enterprise of making a new movie, an American movie. And I thought that was really cool. I was glad for it.
What about you? How did you approach it? Did you go back and look at the original?
CRUDUP: I did not go and look at it, just for the fact that I’m not good enough to watch somebody else’s work and just not steal it completely. I avoid watching other people’s versions of films or plays that I work on. And Guillaume had no interest in revisiting aspects of the French version. He really wanted to find a way to create his authentic telling of this story. And by the same token, he was interested in my version of Frank. That being said, as someone who wrote the screenplay and was very interested in character study and nuance, he knew these characters in and out. And so, he was the person that I went to, to really uncover who Frank was. And he was so impressive at being able to articulate that to me in his second language. So, I was roundly impressed by him.
I read an interview where he said one of the reasons he cast you in the role was because he saw some vulnerability in you.
CRUDUP: Well, I was sure you were going to say he was interested in me because I was such a tough-guy badass. The vulnerability is little bit of a disappointment that I need to take some time to recover from.
CRUDUP: Thank you. I wish you would tell Guillaume that! It was a contradiction, for sure, in this character. It’s probably what interested me about the character, as well. The characters that I’m typically drawn to are sensitive men who are experiencing some sense of identity crisis or growth in their life that they don’t know how to overcome. And Frank was one of those. He was bound to this history that he had with his family, that he had nothing to do with creating. And the life that he had created for himself, as an adult, which seemed to be going fairly well, was completely undermined and inauthenticated by his family. So, it was a really upsetting place for him to be because, on the one hand, he desperately wanted the approval of his tough-guy dad and tough-guy brother. And on the other hand, he was completely repulsed by their moral inauthenticity.
It’s interesting because the film is set in the 1970s, which is around the time when those antihero characters started to emerge in cinema. That was a time when filmmakers really started exploring the other side of the tough-guy coin.
CRUDUP: I think that’s a fantastic point. And I’ve always been interested in the antihero myself. And the landscape for telling those kinds of stories has narrowed considerably, over the last few decades. We have quite a few superhero stories, but not quite as many human antihero stories that are told on the main stage in American cinema. And I was always an enormous fan of the actors – Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman – who took on those kinds of roles.
Also, one of your Blood Ties co-stars, James Caan.
CRUDUP: James Caan, perfect example. It was a total thrill for me to get a chance to work with him in this, by the way. And I think Guillaume has a tremendous affection for those kinds of characters and those stories. I hope that this is a sign that there’s more movies like this to come. But, you never know.
There are a lot of great actors in this cast.
CRUDUP: I think Guillaume was able to assemble such a strong cast because he’s an inspirational artist. When you speak to him about why a film is important, he speaks to it and he speaks of it as though it’s oxygen. There is no question that the making of this film was as important to him as anything in his life, at that moment. And that kind of concern and care over art is magnetic. People are drawn to it. I certainly was. I found myself completely impressed by his ability to maintain that kind of creative rigor.
CRUDUP: Oh yeah, I’m still doing it. I’m doing it right now. We’ve got two more weeks with Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land. It’s an absolute dream come true for me. And I’m glad you mentioned it because it has been just one of the thrills of my life.
What’s it like to be on stage with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart? I imagine it must be amazing to get to work with them each night.
CRUDUP: Oh, yeah. Amazing. They’re incredible. It’s one of the most exciting experiences of my career, for sure.
Blood Ties opens in theaters on March 21st.