“He’s just a classic high-stakes poker guy,” says Billy Crudup about Cory Ellison, the devious character he plays in the Apple TV+ drama “The Morning Show” in a performance that won him a Critics’ Choice Award and earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. “There is a thrill playing that sort of person in this situation when everybody is already feeling so disorganized and on their toes. If he can veil his motivations, he has a tremendous amount of power.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Crudup above.
Cory Ellison runs the entertainment division for the fictional UBA television network and has just stepped into the news division, but his schemes and motivations aren’t always clear to those around him, or even the man who plays him. “When you read a part like that initially your instinct is to reach out to whoever wrote it and go, ‘Can you please tell me what the hell is going on with this guy?’ Because I want to chart some sort of trajectory for him that gives the character an arc,” Crudup explains.
The actor even did some of his own legwork to flesh out the character’s inscrutable persona: “I’ve got pages and pages of notes trying to describe the motivations of every head turn, blink and stutter,” he says. “There is no end to the discovery that goes into somebody with this kind of mindset.” And when in doubt, he had guidance from showrunner Kerry Ehrin about “what she felt Cory’s motivations were” and also “pivoting with me if I had a different interest.”
But Crudup tries to “reserve judgment” when it comes to the morality of his character. From Cory’s point of view in a ruthless, capitalist business, scheming to get ahead hardly makes him a villain, so “if that includes stepping on people, discarding people, not considering the feelings of others, it’s irrelevant in the bigger picture of somebody who continues to rise in the position of power in a society that rewards ambition.”
Crudup also imagines that Cory may have more of a moral compass than we get to see. “I do believe that Cory has some empathetic and deeply personal ethical values that aren’t necessarily at play in this game that he calls work,” he argues. “I think you see some of the extensions of that ethical, moral center just through the cracks, and it’s enough for me playing him to believe that might be exposed in a more dynamic way in a different environment.” So he leaves it to viewers to decide for themselves “whether or not that kind of appetite is one that you want to model or enjoy from afar.”
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