Over the course of his Hollywood career, Billy Crystal has visited storybook kingdoms, run with the bulls and psychoanalyzed Robert De Niro... twice. You might think he's done it all, but Crystal's most recent film, Standing Up, Falling Down, gives the certified Hollywood legend the chance to do something he's never done onscreen before: attend his own (fictional) funeral. In the film, which premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and opened in theaters and on VOD one year ago in February 2020 (it's currently streaming on Starz and Hulu), the veteran actor plays Marty, a wisecracking Long Island dermatologist whose boisterous exterior masks some private pain — pain he shares with new best friend, Scott (Ben Schwartz), a struggling comedian looking for new direction in his life. Marty and Scott help each other out for a time, but only one of them is left... uh, standing at the end of Standing Up, Falling Down. (Spoiler alert: It's not Marty.)
"I've haven't died in anything — at the box office sometimes, but not in a film," Crystal jokes about his character's fate, adding that it was accompanied by an unexpected circle of life moment. "Ironically, the funeral scene was shot in my hometown — that's the synagogue I was bar mitzvahed in! That was a nice little perk." (Watch our video interview above.)
Besides awarding him with a landmark career moment, Standing Up, Falling Down — which was directed by Matt Ratner and written by Peter Hoare — is poised to potentially bring Crystal actual awards. Since the film's premiere two years ago, Oscar buzz has regularly percolated around his performance, with outlets like Variety and Deadline citing Crystal as a contender. (Despite having hosted the annual Oscar telecast a whopping total of nine times, he's never received an acting nomination.) "It was a great part to play," Crystal says of his onscreen alter ego. "I just sort of got him. I felt very at ease with his pain, and what he was covering up. He's a pot-smoking, hard-drinking dermatologist, which was really difficult for me because I'm not a dermatologist! So the research was quite fun."
Interestingly, there are some parallels between Marty and Buddy Young Jr., the stand-up comedian that Crystal played in his 1992 directorial debut, Mr. Saturday Night. That film tasked him with playing both older and younger versions of Buddy, who in his old age is estranged from his family in the same way that Marty is. Revisiting that specific emotional terrain as an older man himself was another new experience for Crystal. "It helped, because it was very freeing — I didn't have five pounds of rubber on my face! I was a big fan of Jack Lemmon... he was always a hero for me, because he could play big, broad comedy like Some Like It Hot and Mister Roberts, and then he also breaks your heart in Days of Wine and Roses and Save the Tiger. I kept thinking of Jack in this part. I said, 'This is my Jack Lemmon part.'" (Not for nothing, but Lemmon won his second Oscar for his dramatic turn in Save the Tiger.)
If Crystal does end up in the Oscar race, he won't have the pleasure of attending the ceremony in person at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Although the telecast has been delayed until April 25, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to keep it an all-virtual event like last year's Emmys. "These are such difficult times, and the movie business loves to celebrate and people love to celebrate with them," Crystal says, crediting Jimmy Kimmel with successfully pulling off his virtual Emmys hosting gig. "I thought he did great. I know how hard it is to do live... but to do it in an empty Staples Center, and yet make it funny and appropriate, I thought he did a fantastic job, as did the producers."
Don't expect to see Crystal reprise one of his signature musical numbers for this year's virtual Oscars, though. "Where am I going to do it? I haven't left this chair since March 13! My food is piped in, I'm on an IV and I'm actually sitting on a commode!" But he's hopeful that better times are ahead, revealing that he recently received his first dose of the COVID vaccine. "I just want us to get healthy. Everybody's got to do their due diligence, not just think the vaccine is the cure-all. You've really gotta mask up folks, and help us get it right."
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