Billy Crudup can now be seen in Season 2 of "The Morning Show." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Billy Crudup says the writers and producers of his Me Too- and Time's Up-themed dramedy, The Morning Show, found a new way to stay relevant by realistically depicting the mayhem of 2020.
"I kept my expectations very narrowly focused. I felt so grateful to be a part of that first season and to watch it unfold the way it did," the 53-year-old actor told UPI in a recent video interview.
"I resolutely said, 'I am not interested in predicting how the next season will go. You guys just tell me where to stand and tell me what [my character] says,'" Crudup recalled saying to the writers. "I'm glad that I did that because who could have possibly known where the world would go?"
Season 2 of The Morning Show, which debuts Friday on Apple TV+, again finds inspiration in real-life events.
This time, it depicts how its characters react to 2020 happenings, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the contentious U.S. presidential election and civil unrest across the country sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
"It was fascinating to watch them once again try to hit a moving target and be a part of a cultural discussion in real time or in near real time," Crudup said. "It exceeded all of the expectations that I didn't have."
Inspired by CNN anchor Brian Stelter's book, Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV, the series is about the inner workings of a New York-based a.m. news and chat program at the fictional UBA network.
Crudup -- whose credits include Almost Famous, Watchmen, Big Fish and Spotlight -- plays Cory Ellison, the network executive who oversees The Morning Show. He won an Emmy last year for his performance.
The show also stars Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy, who is left to pick up the pieces when her popular co-host, Mitch Kessler, is fired for sexual misconduct. Reese Witherspoon plays Bradley Jackson, the rough-around-the-edges field reporter hired to replace Mitch.
Season 1 ended with Alex and Bradley reluctantly teaming up -- with the support of Cory -- to denounce on-air the toxic culture at UBA, after which Alex quits her job and producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) is fired for orchestrating the stunt.
Season 2 opens with Bradley hosting the network's New Year's Eve broadcast and the characters looking forward to a brighter year, which turns out to be 2020.
Realistically playing out the strange and tragic year as it was unfolding was a bit surreal for Crudup and The Morning Show crew.
"It was so close to the reality of it that when we were playing some of those scenes, initially, we were learning about how the pandemic was starting to spread throughout the world," he said.
"It was difficult to actually get to a point of not knowing, as the character, because the fact of going to work during the pandemic, during the protocols, you have nothing but a sense of awareness of the specter of this at every stage."
Cast and crew members were tested for COVID-19 eight times a week and everyone wore masks when the camera's weren't rolling, he said.
"There are different zones you could operate in. To then step into the scene where you are making a joke about the name 'corona' is a very strange exercise," Crudup added. "The best acting that any of us were able to accomplish was pretending to not know [about the pandemic] while we were in the midst of managing it every day."
The actor described the show as a "gift," since he gets to express himself creatively and entertain audiences, and also participate in his community's "shared discourse in understanding complicated things," guiding the attention of viewers to important issues such as power and corruption.
"It's the best iteration of my career that I can imagine. I grew up going to movies like that. I grew up wanting entertainment like that," Crudup said.
"Hopefully, that discussion and that movement is part of that wave of progress that our children will encounter and be grateful we waded our way through it."
While Cory is a fascinating character to play, Crudup isn't quite sure where his moral compass is.
"The jury is still out. What he ultimately wants is a level playing field. As a person who checks all the boxes for privilege -- an affluent, straight, White male in America in the 21st century, he has been the [beneficiary] of enormous tacit privilege his entire life," Crudup said.
But Cory is also hyper-competitive.
"So, what he would really like to prove is that, when everybody is involved, he will still come out on top because he is so smart and he is so ambitious and so capable," Crudup said. "You can have different motivations for wanting the same good thing."