A Good Man Was Easy to Find

New York didn’t have to look far to find 2002 award recipient Billy Crudup

You really want a guy like Billy Crudup to be a star the way a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt is. You want the juiciest piece of Crudup trivia on a fan Web site dedicated to him to be more than just the fact that he once played Schroeder in a Lab! Theatre production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” You want lunchboxes with his face on them. More segments about him on “Entertainment Tonight.”

You want that, as a Tar Heel alumnus. But you’re so glad Billy Crudup doesn’t.

“Billy loves the theater so much.” said John Haber of the actor to whom the New York Carolina Club presented its 2002 Award for Distinctive Contributions to the Arts in May. “You get paid much more money to do films, but he continues his commitment to acting on stage as well as pursuing his film career.”

Crudup, a 1990 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, starred in 2000’s Almost Famous

Crudup’s well-known disregard for the treadmill of stardom and focus on quality roles is one of the main reasons Haber, who chairs the New York club’s awards program, and the rest of the club’s board of directors chose to honor him this year.

The day after Crudup accepted the award before a group of 80 alumni at the annual brunch to celebrate Tar Heel arts and entertainment, he was nominated for a Tony for best actor for his role as John Merrick in the Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, which had a short run last spring. It was the 34-year-old actor’s fourth turn on the New York stage. Although Crudup didn’t capture the statue, sad Haber, it’s unlikely to be his last chance to own the coveted hardware.

“Billy has unquestionably achieved a great deal in his field, and of course he’s presumably in the early years of his career,” said Haber. “But given the span of time he’s been a working professional, he’s made outstanding achievements in the arts, which reflects well on the University. We don’t like to reserve this award for people who are at the end of their careers. We want to recognize talent as it’s happening.” 

After finishing his degree at Carolina, where he starred in a popular campus soap opera, “General College,” that aired on student television, Crudup moved to New York and earned a master’s of fine arts in acting from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Then he earned something better: a career breakthrough with his widely praised portrayal of Septimus Hodge in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on Broadway. Since then, Crudup has appeared in numerous critically acclaimed stage and screen roles, including the role for which moviegoers know him best — that of an up-and-coming rock guitarist in Almost Famous. 

Past recipients of the New York award include comedian Lewis Black and best-selling author Mary Pope Osborne. who also was present at the luncheon. Black won the American Comedy Award for Best Stand-up last year and is a regular contributor to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He will be returning to Chapel Hill in November to perform during Alumni Weekend. Osborne is the author of more than 40 books for children and young adults, including the series The Magic Tire House.

Ray Dooley, chair of UNC’s department of dramatic art and a frequent performer with the PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, praised Crudup for his humble address to the luncheon group. 

“He made a charming speech, really” said Dooley. “He talked warmly of his time at Carolina and the work he did there and what it meant to him. His graciousness in coming to accept the award just an hour before an afternoon curtain for The Elephant Man says a lot about him as a person, not just as an actor. He is just a real good man.” 

The May event at the New York Marriott Marquis was the sixth of its kind sponsored by the New York dub and the UNC department of dramatic art and attracted the largest audience yet. Linda Wright, chair of the board of trustees for the club, presented the award to Crudup.