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Billy Crystal: The Art of Comedy Screenwriting
There are performers that impact your life without you even knowing it and today’s guest fits that bill. On the show, we have comedic genius, multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer, director, and television host, Billy Crystal. We’ve seen Billy’s versatile work across all areas in the entertainment world, stand-up, improv, Broadway, behind and in front of the camera, feature films, television, live stages like SNL, and animated movies.
It’s fascinating how much the man has done over the span of his career—and his lengthy IMDB page is only the tip of the iceberg.
Billy’s career took off for his role in the 70’s sitcom SOAP, where he played a gay character, Jodie Dallas. This launched him into box office hits such as When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, Analyze This, and the kids favorite, Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. just to name a few.
Aside from hosting the Oscars® a record nine times and being only one step away from an EGOT, he’s a philanthropist. Billy, along with Whoopi Goldberg and the late Robin Williams created the annual fundraiser stand-up comedy show, Comic Relief, in 1986 that has over the years, raised over $60 million to support the homeless.
The late 80s and early 90s were a really magical time for Billy’s career. He had the box office hits Running Scared and Throw Momma from the Train. He had scene-stealing parts in the classics This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride.
There’s the 1989 box office smash hit When Harry Met Sally, starring Billy alongside Meg Ryan and Carrie Fisher. The story follows Harry and Sally who had known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.
You can’t talk about Billy Crystal classics without mentioning City Slickers for which he won a Golden Globes award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical/Comedy. On the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest.
Billy’s interest in entertainment started way before college. But his decision to go to NYU put some goals into place for him. He was a member of an improv/comedy group in college and soon he started to host solo standup shows. By 1978, he landed his first starring feature film role in Rabbit Test in which he starred with Joan Rivers.
Towards the end of the 90s, Billy joined iconic Robert De Niro and Lisa Kudrow in the box blockbuster hit Analyze This and its sequel to the Analyze That.
Billy’s work transcends generations and Gen Z is his newest fandom; distinctively for his role in Monster Inc. and Monsters University, Mike Wazowski. Monsters University revisits the relationship between Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sully” Sullivan during their days at Monsters University when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.
Billy will reprise his role as Mike Wazowski in the Monsters at Work Disney+ series that is set for release later this year.
One defining element of Billy’s work, be it writing, acting, or directing is that the pulls from real-life experiences and balances funny and hard conversations effortlessly. Having started out in the business since he was 20 years old, it is absolutely thrilling to watch how he’s knitted together diverse platforms and filed into an accomplished career.
This Friday, May 7th, Billy’s newest film, in which he wrote and directed, Here Today, stars himself and the incredibly funny, Tiffany Haddish, will be released only in theaters. These two make a seamless pairing and their chemistry is oh so charming. The intergenerational teaming of Billy and Tiffany tells a love story that is of friendship, support, and empathy. I absolutely LOVED the film. Do yourself a favor and go out and catch this gem of a film.
When veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz meets New York street singer Emma Payge, they form an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust.
Billy has always been there to make me laugh, in good times and bad. I can not tell you what an honor and thrill it was getting to sit down and speak to a filmmaker, writer, and actor that has meant so much to me in my life.
Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Billy Crystal.
Learn screenwriting from legendary screenwriter James V. Hart (Hook, Contact, Bram Stroker’s Dracula)
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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I'd like to welcome to the show Billy Crystal. How you doing, Billy?
Billy Crystal 0:07
I'm great. I see Alex,
Alex Ferrari 0:09
thank you so much for being on the show. It is. I am humbled and honored to to have you on the show. Truly it is I when I was speaking to like I was telling you earlier speaking to my wife that was gonna have you on the show. And we both kind of geeked out a minute. It took it took us a minute, we kind of kicked out and I've, I mean, we just kind of like oh my god, it's it's you know, it's Mr. Chris, I'm not gonna embarrass you. I'm not gonna embarrass you. But I mean, I when I was when I was going, coming up, in growing up in high school, I was in a video store. Wait a minute, calm down.
Billy Crystal 0:40
I know. I know. But you know, when I said when I was a kid I loved you know. My mother was listening to city slickers. I heard you in a womb. No, you're
Alex Ferrari 0:51
not that young. I'm not that young. Thank you. Thank you, though, for saying that. But I'm not that young. When I was in high school. It was the 80s, late 80s, early 90s. So that was kind of like, a really magical time for your career from running scared and 86 When Harry Met Sally city slickers in that whole kind of that run. So, you know, you, you, you've been a very big part of my life growing up, and I just want to say thank you, before we even get started. Thank you for all the amazing things you've done over the years. And now my daughter's when I told them, they go my daughters now who are nine, they say, I told them like, oh, we're gonna I'm gonna, they always want to know who I'm talking to. I'm like, I'm talking to Mr. Billy Crystal. And they tell me, and they go, city slickers. And I go, yeah, yeah, because I showed him sleeve slickers. The other day, literally, like, probably a month or two ago, we showed him city slickers, and he loved it. And then then they go, what else is he done? I'm like, oh, his Mike was our ski. And their eyes just exploded like you're talking.
Billy Crystal 1:50
When, when, you know, I have four grandchildren. So when they first started to be aware of grandpa in a different way, other than the guy who carried them and put them into bed and stuff. So now we were walking in very interesting, beautiful mall here called the Grove. And in LA, and some paparazzi just started taking pictures of us and it was was weird for them. What is what what is? What, what, what, what, because I hadn't mentioned anything, and they will let you know. So I said, Well, you know, I'm in the movies, I do movies. And and we're who I while I'm Mike wazowski. And they flipped out. They just flipped out like your daughter's except they're my granddaughters. So they will call the house looking for Mike wazowski. So if I answered Hello. Oh, is Mike there? I'd have to be Hold on. I'll get him that went on for like three years. It was it was just every day. I'll get him. Oh, I said those kids again. Yeah, Mike. Oh. So I appreciate you know, we have a new series coming out called monsters at work, which will be July 2 under Disney plus, we just finished 10 of them john Goodman and I and a whole new cast of wonderful new characters. So it'll be it'll be kicked up again. You know? If it's Mike, they know we buy I'm very happy about that. He's one of my if not my favorite character I've ever played.
Alex Ferrari 3:21
He's the Monsters Inc. I mean, let's we have to get started with monster take up. And when I first started, like that last scene, just like tears, just me. I don't care if you don't have a heart. You have to cry in that movie. It's amazing. It's amazing. Now how did I want to let the audience I want to go back a little bit into your career. How did you get started in the business?
Billy Crystal 3:40
Um, you know, I in the bit? Well, it's two separate kind of answers, Alex, I mean, I got started when I was about three, four years old, literally making what your parents laugh, your relatives laugh to older funny brothers. They're hilarious still. And, you know, when you're the youngest in the shortest, you tend to be the loudest. So I had a fight from my, my spot, you know, and usually when we had an act together, I would close. And I'd be on the coffee table. And I was sort of like a little Jewish, Don Rickles at three, four or five years old, I could imitate them and so and so but and that never stopped. That just has never stopped. And when I graduated from NYU film school, I had two wonderful friends that we did improv together because I was always, you know, still doing comedy in some way. And we formed a comedy group. And we've been together for a long time, like four years. But all during that time, I knew that I was sort of hiding and that I needed to be out there by myself that I was at my heart really a stand up. And so we have to four years towards the end. It was just a really emotionally hard time I had a baby already. And and I was substitute teaching and the junior high school that I went to. And which was weird because I'd be in the teacher's dining room and they would teach us that I had. And now I said, it's okay to call me by my first name. And I would say, No, you're still Mr. Graf. You're Mr. tardy? No. So, so then we started working, working and, and I said, I just got to, I just kind of get off on my own and out of the blue, a friend of mine calls from NYU and said, Listen, do you know what I wanted to do stand up at a fraternity party zbt house on Mercer Street, in the village and and I instantly said, I'll do it. I'll do it. And he goes, well wonder, when did you start doing stand up? I said, oh, I've been doing it for a wild lied my ass off, put together a bunch of, you know, lift 1015 minutes that I thought would be okay. You know, this was a Tuesday and the gig was a Friday night. This might work that went work, but I just, I just had to do it. And I got up there that night. And I I just exploded? I did. I just improvised for like an hour. And, and that was there was no turning back. I mean, that was that was really it for me. So that was like 1973 and change.
Alex Ferrari 6:21
And I mean, I've I've worked with stand ups a lot in my career as a director and I, it's it's hard to improv, yes, it is hard to get up on that stage. And do you know, and you always think you're the funny guy? Yeah, like, Oh, yeah, I could tell jokes. Yeah, with three or four people, but you get in front of a bunch of strangers with that light on you. And that mic, all of a sudden, you're not as cute as you might have thought you were?
Billy Crystal 6:41
Yeah, no, it's, it's until you get your feet underneath you and, and your brain working the right way. Right. And you're able to put yourself into your act, you know, and not not just do like an act, but talk, talk about what's important to you and find the funny about that, then that's, that's really something, you know, for me, it's, it's, you know, all these years later, it's, there's only a few places I'm really comfortable. In my own skin, and onstage is one of them.
Alex Ferrari 7:15
Now, what did stand up do as far as helping you prepare for the very gentle and inviting and warm film industry.
Billy Crystal 7:30
And I think about that. Because, you know, it's hard when you do your own things, and you believe in what you're doing. And then suddenly, as you you know, you're, you're starting to show work to people who tell you no, but or we don't like that we like this. And it's a different audience. But and a powerful one, because they can say yes or no. So that was, you know, that's it still is always a challenge. That's why I you know, we're here today, I am so thrilled that we were able to get something made. And, and, and finished during the pandemic, but that we were able to write a funny, moving movie, full emotional journey for an audience that and I have to say, at this age to get to get something done, and have people embrace it the studio people embrace it like Sony has with this movie. So yeah, so it's the standup. Or it's always the place that I returned to for new ideas. You know, if if and money, but it's
Alex Ferrari 8:57
mostly money. It's mostly man, let's just because
Billy Crystal 8:59
It's just downtime and and God knows there have been, you know, well, why don't I this isn't happening, that's not happening. Well, you know, what if I can't let's, let's book some days, and I'll go out on the road, like three years ago, I did 35 cities, and I had the greatest time. And then your mind starts getting all oiled up, you know, and and you start seeing things differently. And then, you know, I, we were on the road, you know, Janice, and I've been married almost 51 years. So right from the beginning. She'd be making notes in the audience for me, or I'd run back to the motel after I did a gig. And and she'd be there and we go over the notes. And so so now, three years ago, we're running back to the hotel and doing the notes. You know, we're just and then seeing all that could be this that could go that that that could be that that's funny that workers and then it's just it's all how it started out and it all feels very right.
Alex Ferrari 10:00
That's amazing. And it's amazing that, that you you still you as you were explaining it to me, you were like, a 20 year old, you were like a kid like, yeah, and then we got this and that the juices flowing, we got this and that and this and that. And it is fascinating. The, the the creative mind and how it works, especially, again, the stand up comic is very interesting creature to say.
Billy Crystal 10:25
Well, the thing, the thing about it I love the most are the surprises, right? And it's thrilling, it is absolutely thrilling when you can knit together an entire sequence off the top of your head because the juice of the audience is so good. And then it's like, you know, you're, it's a there's a power about it, that it's very hard to explain unless you experience it yourself. You're walking, you're talking you're thinking you're thinking ahead. You know, you're it's almost like chess, you three moves, you're setting up things, you're setting the audience up where they don't see it coming here, but when you get on a riff and it's in it's, it just comes and you get on a roll. It's it's really it's, you know, it's really something it's, it's still it still is a great feeling to have.
Alex Ferrari 11:23
Now, I have to ask you this because my father told me, I have to ask you this. He was a monstrous fan of soap. One of your early shows that really kind of arguably kind of blew you into the into the mainstream a bit and, and your character Jody that you brought to life on soap was, I mean, I remember watching it later, like when I was in high school, I would watch episodes, and my father just so obsessed, obsessed. He couldn't stop laughing with that film with that show. But it was a pretty, pretty bold character in the late 70s to be bringing out a gay character on television was where you were the first I don't even know if you were the first Yeah, it was the first
Billy Crystal 12:06
week recurring starring character in a network television show. They are like films. And but nobody, you know, approached it with humor, right? The way that the brilliant really, you know, they say boys, she, he's a genius. She's Susan Harris, who created so it was a genius to me. She wrote the first 65 or 68 episodes all by herself. Wow. For a lot of characters. You know, we had like least 12 main characters and then supporting characters in one eight people and so on so forth that would come in and out of the story. The jokes are great that the characters were fantastic and amazing cast. And, and and Jodie Dallas was when they approached me about playing him after seeing me on a Tonight Show with Johnny and and I met with him and I was nervous about it until I met with him. And it was Susan and her late husband, Paul Witt and Tony Thomas, great producers. And to me the best director in television at the time j SandRidge, who would was Mary Tyler Moore director and and just, you know, one of the MTM heavyweights and, and we talked for a long time, about what Where's he going? What what's what's to be said, you know, what, what, what? how honest is this going to be how, you know, and, and it started out, honestly a little rubbery I thought and and, and then it's settled in into a real interesting, thoughtful, funny, stood up for himself strong character who knew who he was that most of the time, there was some confusion about his to himself, his own sexuality and so on. But then, you know, he just was very endearing to people. And it was four years of it. And I think the test of it, Alex was he had a one night stand. And he ends up fathering a baby girl. And his mother sues for custody. And it was a big court battle. That was my story, you know, because it was a soap opera. So that you know your story comes around every couple of months sometimes, which was frustrating. But Jodie wins custody of the baby. And they did a poll. I remembered ag xavc did it who should get the baby and it was almost unanimous that Jodie should get the child and I thought that was the victory. Have the character, the trust for a gay, single gay man to get cut to the child, so I'm very proud of those years, you know, it was four years. I saw on Twitter that I don't know, two weeks ago was the last episode of soap aired 1981 I guess two weeks ago, I don't know. But it was a great group of actors to work with, that really was supportive of me, knowing the pressure that I was under. And Richard Mulligan, who played bird Campbell was a genius. And, and Catherine Hellman, who passed away last year also just really nurtured me. And rock, you know, was, so who played best you know, but Bob was very, very, always such a strong man had to play a black servant for white, white people, or rich white people, that he played it with dignity and with humor, and, and sometimes was the the only sane one on the cast, and sometimes both portrayed that way, the only two same people or, or, you know, the gay guy and Ben Benson, you know, back then they would say stuff like that. And Bob was very nurturing for me. And, you know, he would wait for me when I would do a scene, and I'd come off the set, and he'd be like, one of the first ones there to give me a hug and say, that was really good, so and so forth. And, and we had a long talk about it once. And it was really, it was really beautiful. He said, you know, art to carry characters are minorities. And, and, you know, so we have to stand up for each other. And it was, it was a beautiful thing. All the people there were were great, just great.
Alex Ferrari 17:04
Well I mean, from there you I mean, you obviously you're, you know, a legendary actor who it's been in so many classics, and I said again, don't wanna embarrass you, but you're a very event a veteran actor who's been in tremendous amounts of you know,
Billy Crystal 17:19
legendary better than veteran price means he's all in good shape everybody.
Alex Ferrari 17:30
You get you get you get paid more as legendary as as opposed to veteran I think that's generally the difference. But you've not only been in so many amazing films as an actor, but what a lot of people don't realize too is you're very accomplished writer and also an accomplished director. And one of the things I've noticed in a lot of your writing and and directing and some some of your projects, but writing is that you pull from real life experiences as as a writer with things like my giant, Mr. Mr. Saturday night, America, sweethearts, the comedians, do you find it easier to write that way? Like the pull from, from things that you know, because I remember watching, I might have been one of those PR junkets from America's Sweetheart, that you said the story like, Yeah, I just, we just kept doing these things. I'm like, this is kind of ridiculous. Someone should write a movie about this. And my giant was about you and Andre and Princess Bride. Like, is that a fertile place for you to write from?
Billy Crystal 18:27
Oh, yeah. I think that's, you know, you write about what you know, what you feel. And, you know, the longer the longer I'm around, the more material I have to draw on, either as a writer or as an actor, is his life experience. And sometimes those aren't fun experiences. But you know, I liken sometimes my word to Rumplestiltskin. The, the mean, fairytale character would turn straw into gold. And, and sometimes you take the straw in your life, and you turn it into into gold. And I did that, you know, throughout your chapter, trust it, that if it's real, and you know, you make it you make it something, you know, artistic, there's a line in here today is I, I take the truth and make more interesting. Yeah. And as a writer, and you know what that was, that was very true for what 700 Sundays was on Broadway was a story of my life and my relationship with my father, both alive and when he passed away in the aftermath of a sudden loss when I was just 15. And, and so, yeah, so it's real, it's painful, but you know what happens out if you tell it the right way. When you're on stage, you see the audience nodding their heads. You see them engaged, you feel the laugh. They're Of course you feel the tears is very powerful feeling to be on stage on blood I did every night for years on Broadway, feeling the audience feeling your own your pain, because they're feeling their own. And I think that comes with, you know, a confidence that sometimes you just have to unburden yourself and in let it go and just hope that it resonates.
Alex Ferrari 20:29
Now, there was another movie that you did. I think it was your first it was if not your first feature was jeffie your first feature that you were the star or carried it which was rapid test. Oh, yes,
Billy Crystal 20:41
the book is gonna be pleasant. Yeah, with Joan Rivers directed it's about the world's first pregnant man. It's a farce. It's just seemed It was.
Alex Ferrari 20:56
It was. It's fascinating because I saw because first of all, it was a woman director back then was a big deal. I remember seeing her and then she was in the marketing of it, but she wasn't in it. If I'm not mistaken. I remember that.
Billy Crystal 21:09
All the posters, all the posters for me with a belly and have pointing to it with a going like this. You know? Yeah. Something on that said director person.
Alex Ferrari 21:21
Right. Exactly. Center. Right. Exactly. So director person,
Billy Crystal 21:24
y'all had a jump was first of all, she was a phenomenal comedian. just hilarious person. And one of the hardest working funny people I ever met was was Joan. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 21:41
yeah. And was that was that when you got that job? As an actor? You're like, well, I'm a star of a movie. How would What did that feel like? I need to get back to that.
Billy Crystal 21:49
of all First of all, I wasn't the first choice for that movie. Okay. And I have to say it because he maybe he'll watch it but we laugh about it every time we see each other. Dennis Dougan who direct Yeah, so many of Adam Sandler's films and is a really good funny director and was a wonderful actor. He had a series called Richie Brock on the private eye and he was at Hill Street Blues all the time. And he was he shot for like a week. He was shooting for a week. So I was at a Dodger game. And these days, remember, there was an announcement by Billy Crystal to the white courtesy phone please Billy Crystal to the white courtesy. My wife was pregnant at the time so don't Oh, no. Oh noes have seven a baby now now and now. So I run to the Hello. This is a belly Hi, it's Joan. Listen, I made a mistake. Can you come over to the house? You'll start tomorrow start tomorrow what the movie is that? It didn't didn't work out with him. It was the end that was wrong. And so that ended the bummer. So I have to leave the game. go to her house. Walk script weather and and start the next day. And yeah, and they said they Yeah, it was that's how that happened. The highlight of that movie for me and then we were Alex no matter what you say we're moving on?
Alex Ferrari 23:15
Billy Crystal 23:19
Was I got to work with imaging coca. And imaging was from the original sin Caesar your show shows its uses our she was a genius, comedic performer, comedy actress, and I just loved her. So I had a chance to work with her. So that was that was the highlight for me. And now we will move on now.
Alex Ferrari 23:44
Now, when you're writing I always love to ask this about writers do you start with character? Or do you start with plot?
Billy Crystal 23:51
Um well here today started with in the sometimes you just the whim of like, Well, what about this guy to do a story about something and then you start like fleshing it out in your mind for weeks making notes here and then then if you guys don't you start to see if you start to write it. Here today started out of the totally out of the blue. My my co writer and one of my closest friends ever Allons y bell. Allen was an original Saturday Night Live writer created Roseanne Roseanne Adana with Gilda, we've been friends. He was like the first friend I made and when I started doing stand up, we live near each other in Long Island and I would pick them up on my on our way to a wonderful club called catch a rising star on the Upper East Side of New York. We'd hope to get on by one o'clock. Then I drive them home, I lived in an hour outside of Manhattan. We'd listened to the cassette tapes of our shows that we just don't know sets and forget and help each other get better. So we we were very, very close. as friends, and then I saw him, and he worked on seven or two Sundays with me and collaborated with me on seven or just Sundays and was invaluable. And then he's on Letterman. And he's telling the story about this auction luncheon that someone had purchased. He was the prize of this luncheon that someone get to have lunch with him. And, you know, as we often do, and raise money for a charity. So he's at the restaurant with this, this woman who's really not into comedy at all. And he said, Well, how much did you pay? I'm just curious. For the charity says, Oh, 22 is 20 $200. That's good. No, no, no. $22. So now he's sort of like hating her. And I teach there, then she then has reaction to the seafood salad she has she blows up, she goes into shock. This is true, totally true story. He's telling the story on Letterman. It's hilarious. And he has to take it to the hospital, there's total stranger, she doesn't have insurance. And it's charity lunch and cost them I think, like 20 $200. So I'm watching the show. And you know, because he's on, and I started typing right away on my computer. And I sent him an email saying out what a hilarious story. This is a great way for two people to meet. Who are they? Where do they go from here? If you're interested, this could be a really, really great way to launch a movie. So we talked the next day, and then we shouldn't then we just started, you know, who could they be? What could what can happen to them? And and, you know, I wanted to do a story about an intergenerational teaming. And not a love story, but a love story, but not a romantic love story. Right? But the movie about friendship about support about empathy, which I feel is so lacking, you know, and, and then so now, alright, so then you go, who are they, and so on, so forth. And Alan and I both had a very wonderful relationship with a senior writer at SNL. From the beginning, and from when I was there, and at 45. His name is herb Sargent. And herb was in his 50s, when everybody wasn't, and he was very much who Charlie burns is in here today. And we just loved him. He was witty, he was funny. He was he wrote most of the jokes for a weekend update in the beginning helped create that section and, and he just sort of like, would roam around and approve or disapprove of what you were writing, you always ask them, you know, what do you think and he'd give you an honest, and he was just the greatest. And so we thought that was a good guy. And then, and then I was in Penn Station in New York. I was heading out by train, and I and I saw this little band is woman singing with a combo in the waiting room at Penn Station. And I thought, well, that's interesting that I saw her again, in Soho on the street, with like a gypsy jazz band. And she was great. And I and I emailed Alan immediately said, this is who she could be. She's a performer, she's got bravado, she's sassy, she you know, and and she's got a career that may happen, and so and so. And so then we started writing and, and then here we are,
Alex Ferrari 28:31
you know, I can't believe that. Most of the movie which which, by the way, I saw, and I had the pleasure of watching and as I told you, before we started recording it is. So there's so much heart in the film, and it's just almost took my wife and I back, because we're not used to watching content like that anymore. Because it's just not something unless you start going back into older movies of you know, 1015 2030 years ago. That's what we can act what I kind of grew up with the you know, the city slickers of the world, and the winner made salad, there's heart in those films. There's art in those those stories. And it just was so wonderful. I can't believe that a lot of that was based on kind of based on a true story,
Billy Crystal 29:12
or a short story he wrote called the prize, and Alan was the prize. And so it just just took off from there. And then, you know, the added element of, you know, that he was had suffering from the early onset of a form of dementia was something that I was dealing with, with a relative of mine who was a novelist, as my aunt was a brilliant woman. And she came to me one day and said, I'm I, I'm losing my words. I'm losing my word. And that was profound to care for and we thought, Well, you know, what if Charlie is has that a funny man, who who's losing his funny, who's losing his currency, which is his words, just I want to go broke, has a great deal of drama about it. And and then, you know, as they become friends for her to give up a promising career to take care of him as the ultimate kind of friendship, and and really defines love. So we decided to go that way and then and we did and we're, you know, it's, it's a really funny movie Don't get me wrong
Alex Ferrari 30:28
that was about to say how do you how do you balance? How do you balance that, that is a pretty heavy comp, it's a pretty heavy conversation when you're talking about dementia onset, but yet it is funny and heartfelt. So you get you really balance that so beautifully, to the point where it wasn't too sad. And it wasn't too funny. It just has a perfect kind of just right balance between them. How do you balance that as a writer and a director?
Billy Crystal 30:52
Well, it's just, you know, as the writer, that's, you know, you lm, we're very careful in where we were going. And as a director, it's, it's making it real, and trusting the performance, and when you have somebody as wildly funny and charming as Tiffany and, and being able to play off her and counterbalance that with his appreciation for and is affected for which grows. So the movie, and the story grows on you and keeping those at the right levels was really, you know, I think the task and and creating a whole other life for him, which I think is, for me very interesting in a movie about his late wife, who comes to life in his mind. And shooting it with, you know, the subjective camera, which is me, and you get to know her. And you get to love this woman who you know, was taken from him. And she's funny, and she's charming. And, and so I would play I would shoot her would I be right behind the camera. So she would talk right to the camera. So she's like talking to Charlie, because when you remember things out, you don't remember them in two shots or wide shots. Or you just remember that you remember what you see. So that was that was, you know, I think a choice I made while we were writing. I said I could I could shoot it this way because I knew right away I wanted to direct this and I told them that I I know what this should be. And when that happens. It's It's a wonderful feeling. I hadn't directed a film 20 years, like 20 years from an a movie, which would just honor the night again, honoring the 20th anniversary of 61 about marrison mantle who I knew very well and I was so I'm not in that movie. But there's as much of me and 61 as there is in here today. Because I I love those guys and that that year, but you know, you have to just make sure that the balance is right. And it's it's a tricky one to pull off. But I but I know we did.
Alex Ferrari 33:16
Now how do you direct a force of nature like Tiffany haddish? Like, I mean, she is an literal force of nature as an as a performer. She's so wonderful. And you guys have all the chemistry in the world. By the way. She's you guys, you could just tell that you love each other. How do you direct that? And not only directly from off camera, but how do you drink it while you're in the scene with her? Like that's a that's a juggling act to say the least.
Billy Crystal 33:41
Oh, for sure. Um, she's a brilliant talent. And she she, from the time we first met. I told her what I needed from her and what I didn't want from her. And that yes, so I said, I need Emma, I need Emma page. And when there are moments where I need Tiffany will plug those in. But But you but you have to, you know and she was so grateful for the chance, I guess. And and looking forward to it so much to to stretch her talent. And she just gave herself over to to what I wanted her to do. And if it wasn't comfortable, we talk like it would with any actor actors. And then there are moments where just let us sprinkle. You know, I need something here. What do you think what do we got? I'm here, I'll be right that you know. And so and I needed to get emotional in a way that she hadn't before which he was very scared of. I said and I kept telling him to just stay in these moments. It's hard, you know with movies are frustrating to do because they're forever And then you have to hit that moment. You know, and, and as many texts as it is, I, the director needs to satisfy the movie. And the movies are a collection of moments, so we have to get to a certain place. So there's a moment where she cries, which was very difficult for her to do, but I was sitting there with her on camera, and the cameras behind me. And she was fighting it. Because that's a natural instinct for anyone not to, you know, show emotion in their life, you know, and she's, uh, she had a tough childhood, and she, you know, would and, and she didn't want to get there, but I talked to him, just very quietly while and as hard as the crew was all around. So you know, everybody that that doesn't need to be there is just me and her in the camera behind us. And I just talked to her and it came, it came in, it came in and suddenly that's there as a beautiful moment, where she's listening to Charlie talk about the darkest moment in his life. And it's, it's just Bond's them forever. And you know, I think she's, she has extraordinary personality and and there's so much so much there for the world to see. And I'm excited for what she's going to do next.
Alex Ferrari 36:31
You know, and I i can i can tell when you let her go a little bit. And when it was Emma and when it was Tiffany because you can kind of sense that while you're watching because I've watched Tiffany I've been a huge fan of her so I can see when she goes off that you know she does Tiffany when she's Tiffany you can tell so like that scene in the bedroom. With that, that's all all Tiffany
Billy Crystal 36:52
love a girl and I you know what? I said you know what? It's going. I love it. She looks at She looks so looks so cute. With the way she smiles and looks at him. And it's it's just a great little. But those of you know what Rob Reiner used to call freebies. Those are freebies. Yeah, you know. But that's when you work with somebody like that. And, and they can just do that. It's it's, it was very exciting to you know, and I'm sitting opposite are trying not to laugh and no one. This is good. This is good. And then she just went, and then you know, an editing room I just said, Now let's keep that. I want that.
Alex Ferrari 37:38
Yeah, you've worked with some of the most remarkable film directors in history. really remarkable. I mean list of people you've worked with, is what is the biggest lesson that you've taken from one of those directors, any one of them?
Billy Crystal 37:54
I guess, rob the because it Rob's got a fantastic year. Robert does. And and there's a line that the Charlie says in a meeting with the two other head writers of the show that he he works on in the movie. And he turns to her and says there's a music to comedy. There were notes. Yeah, that's a great line posts. And that was very much Rob thing about when we were doing Harry and Sally about hearing it the right way. It the inflection which drives trolley crazy would like
Alex Ferrari 38:41
oh my god, the inflection thing was that that blow up was genius.
Billy Crystal 38:44
Oh, yeah, that's great. And yeah, so I think you know, Rob Sure. And, and then directing yourself. I learned so much from I love this guy, Danny DeVito. I just adore Danny and Throw Momma from the Train is a really, really funny, odd and to watch him handle both things. You know, both jobs so effortlessly. And you know, the DP and I movie was Barry sonnenfeld.
Alex Ferrari 39:16
I've had Barry on the show. He's remarkable.
Billy Crystal 39:19
Yeah, and he was a dp he also shot When Harry Met Sally. Yes. And raising Arizona and on and on and on the Coen Brothers movies and those big wide angle shots and so on. Gorgeous and, and hilarious person himself. And yeah, so I would say I would say those two guys for sure.
Alex Ferrari 39:38
Now when you're when you're working on When Harry Met Sally, did you I mean, I'm not gonna ask you to Joe was going to be a hit. But did you did you know that it was going to have this cultural spark as far as like a conversation about men and when? Because when you watch it, you go on? Well, yeah, women and men can't be can't be friends. And then you're either on one side or the other. Like, yeah, you can. No, you can't. You can't. No, you can't. Did you know Did you guys know? When you were writing this? I was gonna spark this kind of because it was it was for people listening, you have an understanding 89 when that came out? I mean, it was everywhere.
Billy Crystal 40:09
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Everywhere was a provocative, it was a provocative one liner can men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in a way that was nor as you know, that was their premise. And, and then, you know, handled in such a beautiful way and witty way in a very realistic way that, you know, the and I hope this happens with here today that people want to movie ends they walk up the aisle talking about it and they go out for coffee and they're talking about it. you stimulate conversation you you know, and Harry and Sally definitely. That, you know, because you know, Alex You know, there's so much you said about the fake orgasm scene. Because nobody had nobody had really used the word orgasm, you know in a movie, except Ron Jeremy. And so
Alex Ferrari 41:08
let alone with fake orgasm and then to have her do it on camera that was like,
Billy Crystal 41:12
mine. It was it was Mind blown. By
Alex Ferrari 41:15
the way, Rob and Rob's mother's line, still, arguably the best line in the entire movie. I'll have what she's having with your mom or his mom.
Billy Crystal 41:23
No, no, no, it was.
Alex Ferrari 41:24
It was it was it was the
Billy Crystal 41:25
line that I wrote. So I did so Oh, so Oh, yeah. Yeah, Estelle Rhino was one of the my favorite people. And the late Carl of course was like a, like an uncle and, and to me, amazing people. But But yeah, but it, it got people yapan that for sure. And here it is. All these years later. People are discovering it. Younger people. And the people who grew up who were at the ripe age of falling in love When the movie came out, and now telling their kids to watch it. We're now falling in love. And and so if the beat moves on to beat moves on, you know, so I, we had a 30th anniversary screening, I guess, what, two years ago that the beautiful Chinese theatre here in LA and Meg and I were there and and you know, Chris and Rob and Rob introduced us and they brought us out on a loveseat like we are in a you know, in the end of the movie and and the place went berserk. They really was it was really kind of it was really nice. It was really nice.
Alex Ferrari 42:42
That's amazing. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Billy Crystal 42:51
Have a rich uncle
Alex Ferrari 42:54
that's the best way to get in
Billy Crystal 42:59
it's so hard it's so hard but you know write write something that you believe in you know and just don't don't don't ever get deterred from from your your goal in your in your career and in your life. You know, things happen, things happen.
Alex Ferrari 43:26
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Billy Crystal 43:39
I guess patience is mine.
Alex Ferrari 43:44
Patience is the big is the big one and three of your favorite films of all time, as of right now not forever but just today that you can think of
Billy Crystal 43:57
Some Like It Hot genius. Both godfather films will count them as one even though
Alex Ferrari 44:07
Billy Crystal 44:09
Oh, and you know I visit but it's a movie from the I guess the 40s every time I see it, I cry. It's called the best years of our lives. And it just it just kills me. Myrna live Frederick March Dana Andrews. It just is. It's just a killer about America after world war two and soldiers returning home. It's just that that's I you know, when I need a bit of something. Go to that. I just I just adore that movie.
Alex Ferrari 44:54
Now and where can people watch here today?
Billy Crystal 44:57
theaters only, man. The only
Alex Ferrari 45:00
Yeah, so 99 so 2019
Billy Crystal 45:08
We have Fred Bernstein who is a mic producing partner who's a fantastic person who, you know, from the time he read the script until, well, well, till the day we open has been just such a strength for me and the movie always getting me everything I needed to make the movie The way that I, I saw it. And yeah, so we had a lot of offers to stream. But after a while, the streaming thing, it's a great was great because we couldn't get to theaters, but then everything just sort of got to look like television. And, and, and we held out and held out. And then Sony swooped in, really like a month and a half ago and said, We love this. And we want to put it in theaters. That you know, if America does what it's supposed to do, and and get vaccinated and wear masks all the time, you can get your life back. And, and that's why I don't understand people complaining about it and and then that stops everybody else from you know, getting our life back, we can do this. And so so they came in and we're in theaters only starting May 7 all across the country. I think we're 1200 theaters, and hopefully, you know, Mother's Day people will want to go and take mom and have a cup of laughs and and feel something that's it's a real family is very together. It is about the movie,
Alex Ferrari 46:43
and it does spark a conversation. It will spark a conversation without question. But it has been an absolute honor and pleasure talking to you on the show today. Thank you so much, not only for being on the show for making here today, which I tell everybody you got to go see. But also for for the years of, of just making me laugh and now making my children laugh.
Billy Crystal 47:05
It's a pleasure, Alex, I'm a veteran,
Alex Ferrari 47:08
obviously, as a veteran as a veteran actor, writer and director. But thank you so much for everything, Billy. Appreciate.
Billy Crystal 47:15
You are welcome, nice talking to you.
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