Billy Crystal talks to Saga

By Neil Davey, Tuesday 18 December 2012

He played the first openly-gay character on US TV. He’s done stand-up. He was Harry when he famously met Sally. He’s hosted the Oscars and played a one-eyed monster. Billy Crystal's is not the typical Hollywood CV. In his latest film though, art finally imitates life as Billy plays a long-time married grandfather. Neil Davey finds out more.
Billy Crystal in Parental Guidance. Photo by Kerry HayesBilly Crystal in 'Parental Guidance'. Photo by Kerry Hayes

Billy Crystal in the flesh is pretty much what you’d expect Billy Crystal in the flesh to be. He’s fast talking, quick and funny, be it on the secret of how he and Janice have stayed married for 42 years – “see other people” –  to his latest film, Parental Guidance, which is “a family film… but not in the bad sense.”

He’s spot on. While it’s unlikely to trouble the Academy Awards next year, Parental Guidance is a thoroughly enjoyable tale of two grandparents (Billy and Bette Midler) struggling to look after three grandchildren in accordance with their daughter’s modern parenting techniques.

“It’s a fun movie, there are some good jokes, you feel something...” says Billy, explaining what appealed about the script. Well, that and the chance to work with Bette Midler for – can this be? - the first time? Really? 

“Yeah, I know, right?” says Billy. “It’s weird because you’d think we’d have worked together. But that’s why it works, it makes sense to people right away.  It’s almost too perfect. It feels real.”

Another thing that feels real is the interaction between Billy and his onscreen grandchildren. There’s no great trick to that one: Billy has three grandchildren of his own. Given that he lends his voice to Mike, one of the “stars” of Monsters, Inc., that must make him one of the coolest grandparents in the world.

“They didn’t really understand what I did,” replies Billy, “I was just Grandpa… and then they saw Monsters Inc. They love the movie so then I had to be Mike. I couldn’t just be me, I was Grandpa Mike and six months of that voice will drive anyone out of their mind. Then they saw The Princess Bride, so then I had to be Miracle Max for a while. They’ve seen Parental Guidance a couple of times - their mother, Janie, is in it – and they like it. Plus I get to speak in my own voice and I have two eyes...

“Now they’ve seen a bunch of things, they’ve seen the Oscars, so they understand a little bit more. They’ve been around when the paparazzi come, which is always a little uncomfortable. Dylan, my six year old granddaughter said to my daughter, ‘Mommy, do people know that grandma is married to Billy Crystal?’!

“It’s a very nice feeling that we’re sharing this stuff and they’re not overwhelmed by it. That’s how we rolled as parents: I have an odd job, this is what I do and we always kept the house as normal as we could even though I was in movies or on TV. It was important for them to know that and to know that I was really happy in what I was doing. It was a great lesson to them, to any parent. My dad loved what he did and that was really imbued in me. I’ve seen too many people who are miserable in their jobs, and kids pick up on that. You should be happy in what you do.”

The interview hits a slight tangent when Billy wonders what exactly Saga is. In some respects, it’s similar to the American Association of Retired People.

Billy’s clearly pleased at the level of support from the AARP for the film, even having a screening at an AARP convention.

“There were 3500 people. It was like a rock ‘n’ roll concert. They went crazy – it might be the best thing I’ve been involved with my entire life. But then this is a movie by Baby Boomers with Baby Boomers for Baby Boomers - and their kids.”

Without giving too much away, there’s a particularly stirring speech when Billy’s character finally snaps and rails against the touchy feely, don’t-raise-your-voice beliefs of modern parenting techniques. One suspects that the AARP crowd appreciated that moment. Billy nods. “They went berserk over that. I could have run for President...”

Parental Guidance is released on December 26th.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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