Actor Billy Crudup on his new Apple TV+ show 'Hello Tomorrow!'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Apple TV+'s new series "Hello Tomorrow!," set in what's called a retro futuristic world of robot bartenders and delivery drivers in a 1950-esque landscape - which traveling salesman sell real estate and timeshares on the moon.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HELLO TOMORROW!")
BILLY CRUDUP: (As Jack Billings) No one here is not a dreamer. Am I right? You wake up to the Earthrise. The Brightside - that's a place for real people to start fresh, unwind, retire. Not to mention, you own an asset your kids'll be grateful for. So please take a minute, and start living your brighter tomorrow today.
SIMON: Billy Crudup is sales chief Jack Billings. Hank Azaria and Haneefah Wood also star. Billy Crudup joins us from New York.
Thanks so much for being with us.
CRUDUP: Thank you so much for having me, Scott. It is absolutely my pleasure.
SIMON: Hard not to like Jack Billings. He's charming. He really listens to people. He's responsive. OK, he's also unscrupulous. I have to ask, does he remind you of someone close to you?
CRUDUP: Most certainly. I had enormous affection for my father, and he was on the run from the truth his entire life. The fabric of reality of day-to-day living was too mundane for him. It was impossible to imagine for him that that's all there was. Additionally, I think he felt a burden, which I think is a facet of the promise of this country, that if he didn't exceed the expectations of his father and the inheritance that he had received from him in terms of ambition and character and success, that somehow his life would add up to nothing. And it's a very interesting burden to put on people - on the human psyche to say, your life experience will be less than. And I saw that wear on my father.
SIMON: Yeah. I mean I read - so, of course, I trust it - it was on the web - your father used to sell, like, umbrella hats and coffee additives and Farrah Fawcett posters.
CRUDUP: This is correct - and inflatable ice chests and anything else that could fall off a truck.
SIMON: Yeah. Jack Billings has moments of blinding clarity. Not giving too much away, he tells someone, speaking about moon real estate, your problems will be waiting for you up there too.
CRUDUP: Yeah. One of the great challenges of this - I suppose it could have started when people began to colonize America, this notion that they were coming to the New World...
CRUDUP: ...And the - needless to say, they embarked on this journey with great hope and promise. And the new world, in no respects, is a lot like the old world if you can carry with you the same kind of burdens. The only thing that can really change is the mindset surrounding it. And I think that's universal. I think the prospect of weeding through our day-to-day lives - sometimes it forces us to conjure a sense of existential hopefulness. And that takes the form, in our country, of products quite often, and what the next vege-dice (ph) chopper can do to make your life a little bit easier.
SIMON: But to make people care - they do also have to care for these deeply - I don't want to call them deeply unscrupulous people - for these people who were trying to sell something that they shouldn't try and sell anyone.
CRUDUP: You need a good story. And I think that's one of the primary themes that I responded to in this. I often thought of Jack as a preacher, a preacher of - he was spreading the good word of hope through consumerism. And that requires a very deft skill so as to not make the listener feel like they're being sold.
CRUDUP: That's the nail in the coffin of any salesman, when somebody feels like they're being sold the bill of goods. And to your point before, one of Jack's great talent is his level of empathy, his ability to identify...
CRUDUP: ...The human condition in every door that he opens, and when he can through curiosity - and I think that's a kind of loving gesture on his part - uncover a need or a yearning in that person, what specifically that is. I bet he's got something in the trunk of his car that can help it a little bit.
CRUDUP: And the question is, if you don't charge too much, what's the problem with that? That exchange has been going on - in fact, that is my profession. We sell you a story.
CRUDUP: Hopefully the transaction between that two-hour story and that $13 is not too steep a price...
CRUDUP: ...For you to get a little reprieve from your day-to-day life or even inspire a bit of hope.
SIMON: The look of the of the series is so distinctive. I think it's been compared with "The Jetsons" come to - you know, come into our vision. How was that done? Was it all post-production? Were you aware of it when you were shooting?
CRUDUP: No, it was so much of it was practical. And the - they did something very shrewd in the actual teleplay, which was they used long-format prose to describe each and every object. And they used iconography so we could see a bit of the style while reading the script. And it was easy to imagine what that world might be, but it took some expert craftspeople to create it. You really do feel this entire world is lived in. And I think that's one of the beautiful tricks about it, too, is it's not great.
SIMON: It looks a little rundown sometimes.
CRUDUP: They used to say - and I thought of this when we were trying to set up our connection - the future is so great, but it's a little bit glitchy sometimes, too. And sometimes when your robot delivers you a beer, there might be a bit of motor oil in it. So...
CRUDUP: ...That's the thing that I feel like they were saying so well, which is the past and the future and the present - they're - they don't seem to change materially in this way.
SIMON: Does a skilled salesperson share a lot with a good actor?
CRUDUP: As an actor, the greatest way to draw somebody into the story is to make them forget that you're an actor. And one of the ways you do that is to seem authentic in the world. And none of these feelings are mine. None of the clothes are mine. None of the thoughts are mine. The words aren't mine. However, with a little bit of ingenuity and craftsmanship, I can make it appear as though they're mine for long enough to transport you to another world. By the way, that's no easy feat. And so Jack being able to read the room and figure out what people - what specific people - want is his own declaration of using authenticity as a tool.
SIMON: Billy Crudup stars in "Hello Tomorrow!" on Apple TV+.
Thank you so much for being with us.
CRUDUP: Thank you, Scott. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.