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Interview: 'Blood Ties' star Billy Crudup talks guns and '70s mustaches

"Blood Ties" star Billy Crudup talks about playing the role played by his director in the original film, plus forgetting all the skills he learns on movies.

Billy Crudup plays a cop whose brother (Clive Owen) is a crook in "Blood Ties." Credit: Getty Images Billy Crudup plays a cop whose brother (Clive Owen) is a crook in "Blood Ties."
Credit: Getty Images

In “Blood Ties,” Billy Crudup is in a position no actor has possibly ever been: starring in a remake while being directed by the actor who originated his role. A remake of the 2008 French crime saga “Rivals,” it was directed by Guillaume Canet (“Tell No One”), who cast the Tony winner and “Almost Famous” star as a good cop whose brother (Clive Owen) is a criminal.

Did you watch the original?

No. I still haven’t. I don’t like to watch films typically as a way of referencing material I’m about to do. I’m doing a play right now [“Waiting for Godot”], and there have been many productions of it before that I could have accessed. I like staying away from that. You want to create the world with the people you’re telling the story with.

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You’re also playing the role Canet played in the original. How did he handle that?

He was not territorial. He could not have been less concerned with his own pervious version of it. He really was adamant about Clive and I creating our own version of it. At the same time he had a very clear sense of how he wanted to tell the story cinematically. I admired that, particularly as English is his second language. He’s more articulate in his second language than I am in my first. It’s not even close.

Though he’s acted in American films like “The Beach,” this is Canet’s first film shot in America. Did he have much difficulty with that?

I think it was much more difficult for Guillaume to figure out how Americans made movies. He’s been making movies in France for a while now, and he has a very clear sense of how they go about making them. That’s not the way we make them here. He’s used to stealing shots. When he would try to do those things and find out he couldn’t, he’d go out of his skull. “You have to get everyone to sign things!” It was a steep learning curve for him.

You’re the good son, but he’s not always that good. He has his dark aspects.

One of the interesting things about it for me was this sort of good cop is the black sheep of the family. There’s this sense that this family was trying to have a different kind of counterculture environment, and that Frank going by the book and leading a solid, normal, respectable life was going against the family way. He’s a man with a strong moral center, and it’s constantly being called into question. He finds that a challenge. When he’s in his brother’s company he’s reduced to being a 12-year-old again. A lot of us are familiar with that with our families.

What was difficult about preparing for this role?

The gun work. I haven’t had extensive experience with firearms. And needless to say if you’re going to play a police officer who has to handle guns, you don’t want that to be a distraction for the audience. It turns out the official way in which police department approach using firearms has changed over the years — even a handgun. We had to hold the gun in a way that was right for the time, rather than they are right now. Back then you held it cupped under the hand. Now it’s [mimes holding a gun with both hands level].

One perk of acting is you get to learn things you’d never think to learn.

Every time I learn some kind of discipline I get really into it. Five minutes later it’s gone, on to the next thing. Sometimes that really sucks. I did a film that [William H.] Macy directed called “Rudderless” where I play the guitar. And I played the guitar in something a long time ago [“Almost Famous”] and haven’t played much since then. So I had to relearn the guitar for this, and got really into it again, and then as soon as it as over I stopped playing.

What about getting into the ’70s vibe?

I have this amazing picture. Once I grew my mustache and grew my hair out and put on those suits, it reminded me of a picture in my old scrapbooks. And it turned out I looked exactly like my dad. I have a picture of me and my dad form 1972 that — it’s staggering, the resemblance.

This is very much an homage to gritty ‘70s Hollywood films.

One reason I was interested in this was those movies hold a special place in my heart. All of that goes out the window once you start working on the material itself. I suppose there’s some actors who’d think, "I’m going to walk like Gene Hackman in 'The French Connection'!" I’m not smart enough to do that.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge.

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