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Billy Crudup talks about fighting with his brothers, Clive Owen and 'Blood Ties'

Frank (Billy Crudup) is a dedicated policeman. His older brother Chris (Clive Owen) is an ex-con who did time for murder. Their father Leon (James Caan) is ailing and sister Marie (Lili Taylor) is tending to him. The cast includes Marion Cotillard as Chris’s ex who is now a drug addict and hooker, and Mila Kunis as Natalie, who falls in love with Chris. Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) is Frank’s ex who is now with Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts). He’s a brute. Noah Emmerich plays Frank’s boss, Lieutenant Connellan, who cares for Frank but cannot save him from making idiotic choices.

Billy Crudup
Billy Crudup
Dorri Olds

The story is familiar but the strong cast and 1970s setting makes it exciting. Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with Crudup on March 17, 2014 in SoHo.

Dorri Olds: Were you exhausted after all that running and brawling?

Billy Crudup: [Laughs] I’d have to say it was pretty exciting. I like to exercise athletic rigor. You don’t get to do that much as an actor. It’s mostly just a lot of feelings and crying. I’m always excited to do something butch. My stunt double did most of it.

Would you say director Guillaume Canet was interested in showing contradictions within this family?

Yes, when the good cop is the black sheep, that’s a very perverse family dynamic. That influenced these brothers in such a significant way that they didn’t know how to relate to their own successes and failures. They know themselves best when they’re together and are repulsed by that. I certainly know from my two brothers growing up, sibling rivalry creates your own mythology in the family structure. It’s only revealed during Thanksgiving and Christmas as we get older, but it’s vivid as can be on those days, that’s for sure. I’m reduced to being 12 years old again like that. [Snaps fingers.]

Did you watch the film “Blood Ties” was based on?

I did not. I’ve never found that totally helpful. [Long pause] As I’m thinking about that now, perhaps I should start exploring that. I’ve always tried to create whatever it is, whether it’s a film or a play, with the people I’m collaborating with in the moment and keep our references to the work that we’re working on based on the material and use our own imaginations and our own material.

I carry with me my own history, my own aesthetic, and all of the films that I have seen, when I approach something creatively so you don’t necessarily have to reference it in order to know. Those are the kind of nuances that I’m interested in. Guillaume played the character that I played and he was totally disinterested in sharing that experience with me. He didn’t want me to do a version of what he had done before. He wanted us to create it in a new way. And the screenplay already went a long way doing such a good job of illuminating who those characters were. So, no, I didn’t watch it but I want to watch it now.

How was it creating the movie’s family with the other actors?

Phenomenal, and it came super easy. Lili Taylor and I had worked together when we did a production of “The Three Sisters” about 15 years ago here in New York and I’ve always adored her work. James Caan is one of the great American actors whose work I have admired forever. To be able to have those two, and Clive and I, in scenes that were written really well, it was super easy considering how complicated the scenes could be.

Did you and your brothers ever get into fistfights?

[Laughs] Yes. My older brother Tommy and I spent a lot of time grappling and at a certain point, unlike the characters in this film, we realized we’re getting too old for this. You don’t want to be fist fighting when you’re an adult. Clive’s character and mine hadn’t learned that lesson yet. You get to see the moment when they do learn it on film. I think part of the practice when you’re younger, certainly for me with my siblings, was you work out all of your difficulties in what is essentially a safe environment. Yeah, I might have to go get some stitches or I might break my thumb, but ultimately I’m not putting myself in real jeopardy there. You get out a lot of aggression. I found that very easy to relate to in these characters.

Click here for Part II

“Blood Ties” opens in theaters, On Demand and iTunes on March 21. Crime drama thriller. Rated R. 128 min.

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