When it comes to versatility in acting, Emmy nominated actor Billy Crudup has built a resume worthy of chameleon status. He’s a Tony winner with three additional nominations for his work in the theater, a character actor who’s done everything from the Mission Impossible franchise to acclaimed indies like 20th Century Women, and now Crudup is garnering sensational reviews for his work on Apple TV+’s The Morning Show.
The series, centered around a morning news program named “The Morning Show,” sees Crudup play network entertainment & news executive Cory Ellison. Within Ellison’s first few frames it’s evident that this captivating and brilliant character will be a force on the series.
Ellison’s interest is peaked by small-time TV reporter Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) following her appearance on The Morning Show. Jackson rose to fame thanks to a viral video of her profanity-laced tirade at a protest event. On The Morning Show, Jackson faced off with anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) in a heated interview which intrigues Ellison.
Ellison’s fascination grew following a one-on-one with Jackson, leading him to hire her as a field correspondent for The Morning Show. It’s only a day later that anchor Alex Levy — in a bold move to challenge the network in contract negotiations — publicly announces that Bradley Jackson will be taking over as her new co-anchor.
Throughout the rollercoaster of season one, Ellison’s bond with Jackson evolves in surprisingly human ways. His mentorship and friendship to the rookie anchor gives the show its moral compass as it explores the seedy world of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Despite missing out on a leading actress nomination, it’s worth noting that Reese Witherspoon’s performance as Bradley Jackson is the actress’ finest work to date.
Awards Focus spoke with Crudup about the wonderful synergy of past and present going into the Emmy awards. Crudup, already a Critics Choice winner for portraying Cory Ellison, discussed building the character at the first table read, the backstory behind his gentlemanly nature, and reuniting with Cameron Crowe for the 20th anniversary of Almost Famous.
Awards Focus: You’ve talked about the rhythm of the character in previous interviews, when you got to the table read is that the first glimpse the cast and producers got of your vision for Cory Ellison?
Billy Crudup: We had talked extensively about what could possibly motivate Cory and how he navigates this world in then first two episodes, but we hadn’t made it manifest in any type of performance yet. The table read was the first time I showed everyone what I was working towards.
Mimi Leder, Kerry Ehrin, and Kristin Hahn were great collaborators as we refined the character, exploring the idea that he spoke faster because of his intellect. They welcomed any insight that I had, especially when it came to working with the other actors in the moment. Cory works in a social environment, that’s where he’s most fun to watch and the most unpredictable. The totality of the character really didn’t take full shape until we started playing the scenes.
AF: Cory’s relationship with Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) is so intriguing and layered. The complexity only grew throughout the season and you both disappear into those characters.
Can you talk about that first scene where he’s feeling her out as a possible field reporter following her interview with Alex (Jennifer Aniston) on The Morning Show.
Crudup: At the beginning of the second episode, Cory interviews Bradley because her interview with Alex was so provocative and interesting to him. It’s quite a long scene and the narrative between them takes a lot of turns.
It’s funny because the feeling out process that happens with Cory and Bradley in the scene was the same thing occurring between Reese and I. We’d had some superficial rehearsals but the discovery of that relationship happened during that scene.
It was very intuitive, not over intellectualized, and the give and take felt very organic. When we finished, we sort of thought, “What have we opened this up to?” There were so many possibilities stemming from that meeting. The great thing about it is how it ends, with Bradley abruptly leaving… both Cory and the audience are left wanting more.
AF: Their relationship is opened up to so many possibilities. A key scene for me was when Bradley returned to her hotel hammered drunk and demanding to speak to Cory. We see Cory guide her to the elevator, help her to the room, and as a viewer I was holding my breath.
Cory is not someone I ever considered capable of taking advantage of someone in that state, but you never know what the writers will devise. I’m curious what was going through your head as you read that scene?
Crudup: It was very clear to me from my early discussions that we should never expect any predatorily behavior from Cory towards women. The way Kerry Ehrin described it to me is that Cory was an only child who was very close to his mother. Not having a male figure in his life and watching his mother have to navigate the power structure of a more sexist time… that left Cory with a protective instinct for women.
Conversely, he’s very willing to be duplicitous and nefarious in the business world. He wants to play the game at it’s highest level. Back to the scene, when I read how vulnerable Bradley was in that moment, I thought it was the perfect provocation scene for the audience, because they don’t know these things about Cory. It’s not until we see him the next morning, and you see Cory took care of her like he would any friend.
And he sort of says, “I wanted to make sure you were safe after what seemed like rough night.” Cory also knows that he’s responsible for bringing Bradley into this world, which created this stressful circumstance that drove her to drinking. He has a duty and responsibility to curate her experience as the lead to the news program.
AF: Cory is very likable and charismatic, but he also seems immune to stress and feeling pressure. I think he has a line where he says something to the effect of, “If it doesn’t work out, I can go run another studio. I’ll land on my feet somewhere.”
Crudup: I can’t imagine that way of living, so to play someone who is so carefree is a nice reprieve from my normal way of living. Cory’s affability in situations of pressurized chaos is one of the things to focus so clearly to how other people are reacting to it. Then he’s able to manipulate the circumstance to his best interest.
If you’re overwhelmed by the stress, you lose control of your prefrontal cortex. You don’t think straight, where Cory thinks with agility, depth, and perception, and that ends up dominating people who are too stressed out to compute at his level.
AF: It was fascinating to see Cory in Los Angeles working on the creative executive side of his duties. We learn that he greenlit an expensive TV pilot just to have it result in a teachable moment, and he explains that brilliantly using a baseball analogy.
How was that moment for you? Do you hope to see more of Cory’s creative executive life in season two?
Crudup: Definitely, I liked seeing him in that environment and how he operates in his positions of authority. He likes to mentor through metaphor and wants people at their highest levels. The ones that are phoning it in should get out of dodge, because Cory wants gamers.
AF: In terms of Cory’s relationship to Chip, does he trust Chip to run The Morning Show or is he just a short-term ally for getting rid of Fred, who is Cory’s superior at the network?
Crudup: I think Cory is good at holding two competing thoughts at once, in terms of both situations and people. It allows him to be ruthless and forgiving at the same time, which is highlighted by his relationship with Alex in season one.
With Chip, I think he wonders if he has the capacity to manage such a chaotic environment after the Mitch scandal. At the same time, Cory respects what Chip has done at The Morning Show with the personalities and components of the live format.
It’s important to note that the entire format of a live news show is entirely new to Cory, he’s not really had an opportunity to watch The Morning Show in action.
You’re seeing Cory learn who operates with the most dexterity during the first season, and he sees Chip be able to manage again and again situations that Cory throws at him to destabilize the mechanics of The Morning Show.
For Cory, he doesn’t really know how the show works until he shakes it up a little bit and sees the moving pieces. Once he does, he describes to Fred the reason that they’re keeping Bradley on the show. “Chaos is the new cocaine.” Cory knows once he shakes things up, he’ll be able to put the show together in his vision and Chip is a major component in that.
AF: The Rolling Stone 20th anniversary reunion ( https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/almost-famous-reunion-video-20th-anniversary-1034720/ ) of Almost Famous was tremendous. It featured you, Kate Hudson, Cameron Crowe, and Patrick Fugit sharing memories for close to an hour. I know you said you were going to watch it with your son, did you get a chance to do that? What was his take on your rock star, Russell Hammond?
Crudup: I was watching it with my son and he found it so fascinating that he wanted to stop on different lines in each scene and discuss. So, we really took our time and with it being the end of his summer break we only got through the first hour or so. Luckily, the Untitled cut is two hours and forty minutes, so we’ve got plenty to go.
It was so a lot of fun to go back and reflect, but at the same time there’s a reason I don’t watch movies with myself from years ago. I’m someone who’s very judgmental of my work and there were some parts of the viewing are uniquely unpleasant for me (laughs).