Billy Magnussen Is on Fire and He's Only Getting Hotter (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic
Billy Magnussen's career is on fire. The actor, 32, was already Tony-nominated before he got his breakthrough role as Rapunzel's Prince in Into the Woods. (In fact, it was because of his work on Broadway that Meryl Streep herself recommended him for the role.) He's since appeared in two Best Picture contenders (The Big Short and Bridge of Spies) and Emmy-winning TV series such as American Crime Story (playing Kato Kaelin in The People v. O.J. Simpson) and Black Mirror. (He's Valdack in the Star Trek-riffing "USS Callister.")
Turns out, last week, his last hotel caught fire, too. "I was in Montreal, someplace called Mont-Tremblant, I think? Whatever," he recalls. "The first night we were there, the alarm went off at, like, seven in the morning and our hotel caught fire. So, we had to go into the snow, and it was aggressive." The Canadian inferno proved not so much a matter of life and death as an inconvenience, one remedied with a spa trip. "It was someone else's hotel room. It was 420 -- which is my birthday -- that apparently caught fire."
This week, the New Yorker is safe here in L.A., visiting to go on auditions and promote his new movie, Game Night. The madcap comedy, starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, is about what happens when the couple's regular game night stops being polite and gets way too real, after a staged kidnapping mystery party inadvertently becomes the real thing and the suburbanites are left to solve it while outrunning Bulgarian mafia, underground fight clubs and sociopathic police officers. These days, gambling on yet another R-rated action comedy requires, at best, hesitant optimism, so perhaps the biggest surprise of Game Night is that it's actually good.
"I think that's awesome when people are like, 'I...really thought it was good?'" Magnussen exclaims with a whoop. "Like, that means a lot. It's better than someone saying, 'That was good.'" In conversation with ET, Magnussen reveals how to be a respectful s**t talker and teases his upcoming projects, including Disney's live-action Aladdin, a comedy with Tiffany Haddish and a Netflix series opposite Emma Stone and Jonah Hill.
ET: Let's start with some easy game-related questions.
Billy Magnussen: LET'S DO THIS!
Are you a board game guy or drinking game guy?
Can you combine the two?
Sure. What's your favorite board game played as a drinking game?
Oh, you know, if you roll under the omen number, you should drink. And if you roll the omen, you drink. You just add it to many things. Cranium, also, if you lose a round, you have to take a drink.
I played Betrayal last weekend and there definitely was not enough drinking, so I'm going to start implanting your rules.
It's so fun. It's a game where you're rolling dice all the time. Or you could even do, like, every time there's a blank space, because it's only zero, one or two. Every time there's a blank, you have to consume something.
I need to stop us before we get very involved with Betrayal.
[Laughs] Well, it is the best game in the world.
How competitive are you on a scale of 1-to-quit in the middle of the game because you're losing, then leave and take the game home with you so no one else can play?
No, never will quit in a game! I'll ride it out to the end, man. I will ride it out to the end. Because you don't know! It's like playing Fortnite. You could keep going in Fortnite and have one percent of health, but if you take the other guy down, you're still in it.
Do you find you are a competitive person, though?
Yeah, of course, man! Of course. I think it's fun. I think it really shows character in people, how they deal with a game, funnily enough.
Does that competitiveness manifest in, like, a simmering rage? Or are you a big s**t talker?
No, no! I'm all about the game, and I comment on specifics. I'm a good loser. If I lose, I'm respectful and whatnot. If I'm a winner, I'm respectful and whatnot. I have to thank my dad for teaching me that growing up, win or lose, still have a little honor. That said, am I s**t talking? Yeah. Of course, I'm s**t talking. I've been s**t talking all my life.
Speaking of competitiveness, with such a deep bench of talent on this [Game Night also stars Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler, Lamorne Morris and Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan], do you find that you're competing on set to make people crack?
That whole film, these people I'm working with, they're hysterical. It was difficult making this movie, because we couldn't stop laughing. I guess there's a hidden undertone of that, like, Oh who's going to crush it today? But also working with talented actors and you find that the true person you're trying to crack is the audience. So, if you guys can work together-- Like, working with Sharon Horgan, the best part was the relationship being funny, not a line specifically. You know? I think good humor is situational, not just like saying a witty-- Yeah, there are witty lines and whatnot which are hysterical, but I love kind of situational such.
Sharon Horgan is, I'm convinced, a full-on genius.
She absolutely is. And-- Yes, dude. President 2020.
I don't know if she can be president...
No, I know. Because she's Irish. Or U.K.? Whatever!
Thinking about Game Night and one of my favorite movies you were in, Ingrid Goes West--
Oh, you saw that?!
Ingrid Goes West was one of my top 10 favorite movies of last year. But you get called on to play the aggro, sort of clueless, straight guy himbo quite often. Why do you think that is?
I don't know. I guess it's my face? That's it. I think that probably a lot of people were similar to that character growing up in high school and when they look at me they see that. I don't think I'm that guy, but, you know.
You don't seem like it. I want to talk about some of your upcoming projects, because you are killing it lately--
Dude, man! I've been so fortunate, I can't tell you. I'm hustlin', dude. I'm trying to hustle. You know, every opportunity I've gotten has been an absolute dream, and I couldn't be more grateful for it. I'm like every other actor out there, just auditioning. Trying to do it.
You have Aladdin. How closely does that hew to Disney's animated movie?
How closely? Well, the Disney animated movie was what? An hour-and-something long. This is a two-hour film, I would guess. I don't know. I don't know the running time. But it's definitely, I would say, developed and you really see these characters live and breathe, which-- It was awesome, man. I'm telling you, it was such a magical-- It's a whole new world, man. [Laughs]
I think they're going to be so excited and surprised and loving it! Look at the story of Aladdin. It's about knowing your own self-worth -- or finding out your own self-worth is good enough -- and I think a lot of these characters go through that journey. And as long as we share that and share our hearts with it, I think it's going to be fantastic. And being on set, that's what I felt.
Do you get to sing?
They didn't script me to sing. I might have sang just to sing. But, yeah. No. There was definitely not a song for me in that.
Disney hired a Tony nominee and didn't give you a song?!
Dude, I don't know, man. But it is my second Disney prince. So, we're going for a hat trick. I have to figure out how to get one more.
Then you have [Ike Barinholtz's directorial debut] The Oath, which, like Game Night, has a stacked cast.
Duuude! Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish-- F**k! They are awesome. They are unbelievable people. And the rest of the cast too. Carrie [Brownstein]. Who else was in it with us? John Cho! Dude! Awesome dude! Meredith Hagner!
I need to hear your Tiffany Haddish party anecdote. Have you gotten one yet?
You know what? That woman has the most beautiful heart. That was the best part of her, sharing her heart with everyone. That girl is special, man. She really is. I don't have a party thing.
On the TV side, you have Maniac. [A Netflix limited series directed by Cary Fukunaga that stars Stone and Hill as patients in a mental institution.] How was working on that?
Ahhh! I don't even know, but I can't wait to see it! Dude, it is so unbelievable and so wild. Every day going to that one was just, like, Didn't know this was coming. It's a trip. It's an absolute trip. You can't explain it-- It's so insane. It's so insane. I just want you to be excited about it, because it is such a journey and a trip and it's going to be so fun.
It seems like we're going to see a pretty different side of Emma and Jonah in this. Did you find that was the case?
Yeah! They were delightful. It's really funny, like, years ago when they were coming out with Superbad and stuff like that, I was just admiring them from a distance and now getting the opportunity to work with them, it's shocking. Because you have an idea of these people and then you meet them and you're like, Oh, you're just so much better than I imagined you are! You're awesome!
Lastly, you were just in "USS Callister," which was the breakout episode of this season of Black Mirror. Whenever an episode hits like that, people start clamoring for a sequel episode or a spinoff. Have you heard any whispers of more "Callister"?
You know what'd be cool, man? You know we're online now, the Callister crew? What if they were online and going to different games, different types of games. Like, you could think of a combat game or Fortnite game. Wouldn't that be cool? And maybe I did get contacted about something. I don't know! You'll have to find out!