In ‘Hello tomorrow!’ Billy Crudup sells life on the moon : NPR
The Apple TV+ series Hello tomorrow! takes place in a high-tech future that looks surprisingly similar to the past. Robots have big cylindrical bodies and spindly little arms, and hovercraft have big fins – just like cars from the 1950s.
Actor Billy Crudup stars as Jack Billings, a salesman who markets timeshare properties on the moon. He says one of the pleasures of the job was interacting with various members of the technical team, including puppeteers and CGI specialists.
“You work with people wearing bright green leotards, handling this rather clumsy robot,” Crudup explains. “There’s a team of 100 people on a show like this who are involved in almost every shot. And it’s a pleasure to be part of the circus in this way.”
On the show, audiences don’t know if Jack’s vision of inhabiting the moon will come to fruition, but Crudup says his character clearly believes he’s onto something.
“When I play Jack, there’s not an ounce of me that’s not 100 percent sure that people are going to live happily on the moon away from their troubles,” Crudup said. “Jack tells himself this story over and over and over again, that he can outsmart the odds and make it happen.”
Crudup drew inspiration for the character from his own father, a salesman in Texas who marketed everything from Farrah Fawcett posters to “brockabrella” – an umbrella hat endorsed by baseball player Lou Brock.
“There’s nothing he wouldn’t sell,” Crudup says of his father. “I’m sure he wasn’t a big salesman when it came to results, but he was a dedicated salesman.”
Hello tomorrow! is the latest in a long line of acting roles from Crudup. Among his film credits is almost known, in which he played a virtuoso rock guitarist. He also spent years performing in theatre, winning a Tony Award for Tom Stoppard’s play, The Coast of Utopia. Most recently, he won an Emmy for his role as a cynical television executive on the Apple TV+ series, The morning show.
Crudup describes his recent television roles as life changing: “There’s no going under the radar anymore. I’ve had 25 years of acting experience, and very rarely have I quit before. But after that, it’s a pretty thing, so it’s been amazing creatively and amazing practically.
On training as an actor at NYU’s Tisch Graduate School
[Theater director] Zelda Fichandler…gave an inspirational speech at the start of each year that made you feel like being an actor and being part of the storytelling lore was needed, which was an amazing feeling to have. You often get so discouraged by your desire to be in front of people and that kind of vanity that comes with it. You need it and you want it and you despise it. And she gave another point of view, that it is a glorious human tradition, and if you want to undertake it, you should undertake it as a professional and an artisan. So be sure to build an instrument that can sustain you through time, and build a way of being that allows you to be reflective, allows you to pivot, allows you to adjust and grow. …
The last piece I did was in 2017 or 2018 I think. And I played more than 10 characters in it. And I would never have been able to deal with that situation practically, emotionally and psychologically, to be alone on stage for an hour and 15 minutes and tell a story, playing all these characters. And that’s really what I trusted, what I put my faith in, that was the basics that I learned at NYU.
On the Voice of MasterCard’s “Priceless” Iconic Ads for 13 Years
I took the job just to create a demo track for a woman who worked for McCann Erickson, the ad agency that was trying to win the account, but they didn’t win the account. So I just went for the $200 session fee to set up a demo track, and then when they picked up the account, they said, “Use the voice you used in the demo.” And I remember the first two years where I felt a little attached. I was excited about making movies and had gone to Santa Fe to work on a movie called The Hi-Lo Country with Woody Harrelson, and one weekend I had to go to Albuquerque to do some leads for MasterCard, and I remember it was boring at the time. … It was probably a year later, I wasn’t working, I had no prospects or anything, that I realized I had my dream job; that I could maintain that as long as possible and earn some money that would allow me to make the kind of artistic choices that I wanted, to still be able to live in New York.
By learning to be a rock guitarist during almost known
For [director] Cameron [Crowe]it was really a plan he wanted: a close-up of my fingers during a solo, and then [he] wanted to be able to pan me. So I basically spent four months trying to learn that riff. And the other elements, about handling the guitar, being in the band, we had rehearsals for five weeks or four weeks or six weeks – I can’t remember now. But every night we would meet, I think, in Westwood somewhere in a studio, and Peter Frampton, Nancy Wilson and Cameron Crowe would try to teach the four of us how to be a band. … And I admit, whether or not we filmed the movie, the group camp experience was worth the price of admission. … It was so glorious to be there with Nancy Wilson and Peter Frampton and Cameron Crowe and hear their stories. There was enormous pressure, because I didn’t want to suck as a virtuoso guitarist, but the joy that came from being part of a rock band was there, in the room. So it was one of those lucky experiences.
On how intoxicating it was to perform in front of screaming fans in almost known
We go out on stage and it’s dark and there are 1,500 extras there, which is a huge amount of extras. I don’t know exactly how they succeeded, but they did. And it was packed in there and they played the music on playback and let me tell you, the effect of even a fake audience shouting for you while you play fake guitar is beyond anything I’ve lived. I can immediately understand how musicians twist in their psyche because you are so idolized and revered in an unusual way. I just get chills thinking about it. It was an incredibly visceral moment.
On the endurance of his line “I am a golden god” Since almost known
Apparently, as Cameron reported, that line came from [Robert Plant]. …I saw Robert Plant [at LAX airport] and I was like, OK, I’m going to go talk to him and maybe, maybe it will be true. And this will also be my chance to talk to Robert Plant. How awesome would that be? But I panicked and went the other way, then I got on the plane and there he was sitting next to me. And again I panicked for 5 hours. But when we landed, as I was pulling my hand luggage out of the compartment, he took the time to notice how shitty my hand luggage was and said, “Well, looks like it’s seen better days .” At that time, I said, “My name is Billy Crudup. I played Russell Hammond in almost known. It’s reported that you said, “I’m a golden god,” and Cameron saw it. Is that true?” And he was like, “Oh, it’s you. Wait, that’s my line!” And I said, “Well, that’s my line now.” And I got off the plane, and the flight attendant said, “Oh, both golden gods.”
While playing News Network President Cory Ellison on morning show, and deliver the character’s captivating long monologues
The character himself, the way I saw him, was like a shameless capitalist, and someone who was very capable of reading a play and understanding where… the power was in the social structure and making his best to ride in whatever way he could at that time. Everything is transactional for him. He always thinks about upward mobility. He always thinks of magnificent problem solving. He’s kind of a fabulist in that sense. And he hadn’t yet experienced some kind of failure, professional failure, to give him the humility to calm down. He is therefore unbridled by his enthusiasm to be able to solve the world. And there’s an incredible joy in playing this character, when I have enough time to prepare myself not to trip over the words – because he doesn’t trip and gets through those paragraphs in one breath.
Audio interview produced and edited by: Lauren Krenzel and Theo Chaloner. Audio interview adapted for NPR.org by: Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper.