One of the absolute highlights of this year’s unusually robust Tribeca Film Festival was Noah Buschel‘s “Glass Chin” (read our review here). It’s the tale of a down on his luck former boxer named Bud (played by Corey Stoll) who gets seduced by the criminal underworld. And there’s no one more seductive than Billy Crudup, who plays J.J., a kind of loan shark/restaurateur, in a performance that borders on being downright mesmerizing. Crudup is a wonderful actor but in “Glass Chin” he taps into something really powerful and odd. And we were lucky enough to chat with him about the process of creating the character, which he equates to the experience making Zack Snyder‘s “Watchmen.” Oh, and he gets a shout out J.J. Abrams for a “Star Wars” job too.
It’s important to note just how articulate Crudup is. There wasn’t a moment when he was searching for a word or having trouble coming up with a thought. Incredibly smart and emotionally acute, at one point when he describes his “Glass Chin” character as someone who has figured things out to an exact metaphysical certitude, it’s hard to not think Crudup is just talking about himself.
What initially drew you to “Glass Chin?”
Well I’m friends with Yul Vasquez and he had worked with Noah before and really liked his friends. I had never seen one of Noah’s films. So he sent me the script and told me they were interested. The character, as written, I had found really intriguing – it was a different sort of take on the power player, the moneyman, the loan shark, that I had ever seen before. He was someone who was openly articulate and expressive about the ways in which wealth has changed his life. And it was off-center. I appreciated that about it. After speaking with Noah, he had cool ideas about the character. So it was the character and the people that drew me to it.
What did you see in him on the page and how would you describe him to people who hadn’t seen the movie?
He’s kind of a fundamentalist in the sense that he is sure that he has the answers to life. There are no questions for him in the way the world works and more importantly no questions in the way that people work. And he’s leveraged that to great advantage, whether or not he’s the kind of person you want to emulate remains to be seen. But he’s the kind of character who could easily end up a cult leader or head of a multibillion-dollar corporation. He might call himself a visionary. I would call him a lunatic.
Even the art he picks out, he’s so sure about.
He’s got absolutely no questions about things he fundamentally doesn’t understand at all. And we meet people in the world, highly successful people in the world, who have persuaded themselves that they understand everything about the fabric of reality and frankly their confidence is somewhat persuasive. Because to most of us, there’s lots of questions, and we get shit wrong all the time.
There are these great moments in the movie where you’re delivering monologues right to the camera or directly off-center of the camera. Was that difficult? Was there someone else there?
Well I confess that the creative process was one of the more invigorating experiences I’ve had recently on film insofar as I didn’t know what to expect from Noah. He had a kind of confidence in his filmmaking that gave me confidence. There were practical problems that I simply didn’t try to address on the day. He said, “This take we’re going straight into the camera.” And that’s what I did: straight into the camera. There was a kind of artfulness in the play of his direction that gave me a freedom. I wasn’t sitting there thinking, How am I supposed to make sense of this particular one? Or, Is he going to get the right coverage of me on this one? There were times when I don’t think he was even watching the take, I think he was sitting there listening with his eyes closed. And that didn’t bother me in the least. I thought it was pretty exciting. He, as a filmmaker, was pretty clear about the resources he wanted to use to tell the story and therefore you have a kind of freedom once you understand the parameters that you get to operate in. So I was thrilled by it.
Did anything surprise you about the way he cut all that stuff together in the final version?
Nothing is coming to mind at the moment, just because I was sort of clued into the fact that it was going to be told in an unconventional style, just by working with him. I just watched it all with a giddy grin. I was really pleased that he was able to make it all come together in the way that he did. And I really thought the character we put together was as interesting as it was on the page, and I was very proud of that.
This is an incredibly original character but one that certainly owes a debt to past screen gangsters. Was there anyone or any film that you were paying homage to?
There wasn’t. It was so original on the page that I was simply trying to access that. This guy is a real original. So I didn’t who I could base it on because I’d never seen anybody like him before. So my default thing, for better or worse, in that kind of situation, is to let my imagination run wild and work wild with the director exclusively on collaborating. I don’t tend to go to other people or other archetypes or a frame of reference when there’s something that original.
We’re five years on now from your portrayal of Doctor Manhattan in “Watchmen.” Looking back on that whole experience, what do you take away?
I confess: I’m one of those actors who finds it incredibly hard to divorce myself and my performance from the work itself. So I don’t know that I’m the right person to ask about the movie. But in terms of the process, it was one of the more exciting processes that I was able to work on. And it’s not dissimilar to “Glass Chin” insofar as it was a completely unique character and something supernatural like that is unique. But we also shot it in a way that was so unconventional for me. I was always in this blue LED costume with these motion capture devices and, again, you have to exercise so much of your imagination in these environments.
I think one of the things that people take for granted when they watch a film is the actors have to exhibit an extraordinary amount of force to block out the stuff that isn’t a part of their reality. And when the audience sees it, they’re seeing everything the actor isn’t seeing. The actor is typically having to manage people in their sightline, their mic, a costume, a million different things. And Doctor Manhattan was no exception whatsoever. I was supposed to be playing this master of the universe and I was in white pajamas with these 10-pound battery packs that were pulling my pants down. I had to say, “I know I look ridiculous but I am playing a living god. So I deserve some respect.” It was a really exciting and difficult challenge and Zack [Snyder] was amazing in helping me try to navigate an intellectually and philosophically difficult character to understand. One of the things an actor tries to access is immediacy, so that you feel like you’re experiencing it for the first time. But when you’re playing a character who knows what’s going to happen and can’t stop himself to reacting although he knows he can’t stop himself from reacting, there’s a whole separate set of things to consider. It was a great experience.
You’ve worked with J.J. Abrams on “Mission: Impossible 3.” Has he talked to you at all about joining the “Star Wars” family?
I am playing the Millennium Falcon. No. He hasn’t called or emailed me or texted. But that’s just my impression. I’m sure he’s going to cast me.
I think you’d make a great Chewbacca.
Well thank you. My son would be very excited to hear you say that. Unfortunately, I am still waiting for J.J. to call. And they’ve got to be doing more than one, right?
Yeah they’re doing three. And spin-offs!
Yeah, see, there’s got to be a part in there for old Bill!