BILLY CRUDUP: IS HIS BEAUTY
MORE THAN SKIN-DEEP?
When I interviewed Billy Crudup for Playbill
in 2002, he struck me as an exceptionally bright, decent young man,
one who was very much in love with his former leading lady, Mary-Louise
Parker. Since then, he has become the father of a baby boy named
William, thanks to Parker, who is now his former sweetheart--thanks,
perhaps, to Claire Danes, who plays opposite Billy in "Stage Beauty." --Guy Flatley
his chiseled features, lithe body and magnetic presence, Billy Crudup
is the ultimate matinee idol. Certainly, hes the last person
youd dream of casting as John Merrick, the tragic Victorian
figure whose face and body were so grotesquely misshapen that he
caused people to shriek and faint when he was put on display as
a carnival freak. Nevertheless, Crudup was director Sean Mathias
one-and-only choice to star in the revival of Bernard Pomerances
1979 Tony Award winner, "The Elephant Man."
But fans hooked on the looks of the mercurial performer, who won
the Outer Critics Circles Outstanding Newcomer Award for "Arcadia"
and "Bus Stop" on stage and made his movie mark in "Jesus
Son" and "Almost Famous," need not fear. As Merrick,
Crudup avoids putty and prosthetics, relying instead upon his artistry
and the imagination of theatergoers.
"Merrick is defined primarily by the way people in the play
react to him," Crudup tells me, looking cool and casual as
we sit in a hallway just outside a rehearsal hall off Times Square.
"When you see characters again and again turning away from
him, you as an audience member begin to use your imagination and
try to see what theyre seeing in him, try to smell what theyre
smelling in him, and you come to your own conclusion about whats
horrifying in him. The interesting thing to me is, when hes
finally given the seal of approval by those in power, there is something
deeply cruel about the way these people embrace him. He becomes
a way for them to feel good about themselves. There is still a lack
of recognition of his humanity. Miss Kendall, the actress, is the
first person that sees his humanity, and that gives Merrick a newfound
courage. She sees vastly different characteristics that exist within
him, not the least of which is his own sexuality."
actress who sees inside Crudup in "The Elephant Man" is
Kate Burton, but in real life its Mary-Louise Parker (pictured
at left), his true love and Manhattan roommate since they were teamed
in "Bus Stop" in 1996. Dont expect to hear the details,
"My personal history is uninteresting," insists the 33-year-old,
New York-born actor who ripened into a boy scout and class clown
in Dallas, finally earning a masters in Fine Arts at NYUs
Tisch School of the Arts. "The more that people think about
me and my personal history, the less theyre thinking about
the characters that I create."
character he did not create was the one Leonardo Di Caprio played
in "Titanic," reportedly because that blockbuster was
not the sort of vessel he wished to board. "I was never offered
that role," Crudup sighs. "That was a creation of somebodys
imagination. Listen, I never intended to shy away from admiration
or adulation. Believe me, I want people to like my work, I want
people to see my work. I feel that a movie like Jesus
Son [in which he starred with Samantha Morton, above] should
have been seen by millions and millions and millions of people.
Why it wasnt is beyond my comprehension, but it is not my
intention to appeal to a limited audience."
In the end, the rapport between Crudup and his audience is what
counts most; thats why his heart belongs more to the theater
than to film. "The biggest part of who I am as an actor is
being on stage," he says. "Thats the environment
I was trained in, its what I feel most comfortable in, and its
the process that I like to explore the most."
And theres less emphasis on perfect looks in the theater,
a fact that seems to please Crudup, even though his looks come criminally
close to perfection. "I recognize that the bones on the side
of my face are really pronounced and high," he says after a
lengthy pause, "and that theres symmetry in my face.
Beyond that, the reasons one feels good about oneself rarely come
from the way that one looks. I go through the same sort of sweeps
in feeling good about myself and my own virility and sense of self-esteem
as I would think anyone else does. It rarely has anything to do
with how good I think I look."
However good or not good he looks in "The Elephant Man,"
what is it that Crudup wants the audience to come away with?
"Hopefully, itll be a very personal experience for everybody,"
he says. "I think there are people who will be incredibly uplifted,
who will be able to celebrate this guys humanity. And there
are people who will be devastated, who will be forced to confront
things about their own existence that are difficult to cope with.
And I think there are some people wholl simply enjoy a good
night in the theater."