Billy Magnussen shuffles through many roles, and has the energy to match.
The night before, he’d attended a wedding; much dancing ensued. But if he’s tired, you wouldn’t know it. He arrives in Midtown Manhattan ready for action. The week before, he had been in Wyoming for a bachelor party — different couple — and had partaken in a rodeo.
Now he’s back to work. The Queens, N.Y.-born actor — who lives in Brooklyn — has a full slate of projects coming out this fall, including Netflix’s secretive and much buzzed-about miniseries “Maniac.” He signed an NDA, and details were sparse for the Cary Fukunaga series, which was based loosely on a Norwegian show of the same title and stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill.
“Cary’s great, man, Fukunaga. I love him. Besides working with an awesome director that I’m inspired by daily, I gained a friend. Really great guy,” he says while ordering a coffee and cookie from a kiosk in New York’s Bryant Park. “I’m so happy. Emma Stone? Awesome. I love her.” In fact, he’s stoked on the whole cast, which also includes a bevy of big names in various cameos and scenarios. “Every episode is different because they’re in that subconscious weird dream state. I play five freaking different characters. It’s so wild.”
And there you have it. If you want more, you’ll have to wait until its late September release. Well, he offers one more tidbit: in an early episode he sings “Every Breath You Take,” and Magnussen emphasizes that the stakes were high. “I had to sing the song in front of Sting’s wife [Trudie Styler],” he adds.
In addition to those multiple-roles-in-one, Magnussen has plenty more on his plate. He has the political comedy “The Oath” with Tiffany Haddish and dark-thriller series “Tell Me a Story” with Kim Cattrall, both out this fall, and “Velvet Buzzsaw” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Toni Collette on deck for 2019. And in August, it was announced that Magnussen has been tapped to co-star with Sharon Horgan in a project for Amazon. Oh, and he’s also in pre-production to direct his own film, which has been two years in the making. He has his DP, production company and preliminary cast and is going out for financing.
“I’ve been doing acting professionally for 10 years now, and it just felt like the next progression. I enjoy what I’m doing with acting, and so grateful for everything I’ve achieved. Now it’s just time to try something else. Keep the thrill, get pumped again,” he says.
He describes the story, which he hashed out with his screenwriter, as a social commentary told through a survival story. “My point of view is that I know masculinity is a toxic thing because if you hold onto your ideologies, you’re going to butt heads and you’re never going to hear someone else,” he says. “People from different states, backgrounds come together…and actually, have to confront each other and use each other and listen to each other to survive. It’s funny, but it’s a lot.”
Magnussen continues to seek novelty in the familiar — even in his hometown of New York. “Everyone’s like, ‘I love skipping out of town and going to Europe going out on an adventure,’ but to rediscover New York over is really magical,” he says, stopping in front of the steps to the New York Public Library. He recently rented a car with his girlfriend, “The Bold Type” actress Meghann Fahy; they visited Coney Island and drove by his childhood home in Woodhaven, which he found loomed larger in his memory. “Making new memories in spots [with Fahy] — it’s really great.”
There was even something for him to rediscover in “Aladdin.” Magnussen is a costar in the live action version out next year, and he’s particularly jazzed on the role — he brings it up himself, twice.
“‘Aladdin’ — that was such a dream, man. Will Smith’s the genie,” says Magnussen. “[My character] is a suitor coming in, trying to woo that Jasmine.” Is he successful? “You gotta see the movie,” he says, smiling. But unlike “Maniac,” audiences are all too familiar with the storyline — which, Magnussen adds, contains a lesson for all.
“Again, what’s the story of ‘Aladdin’? It’s teaching yourself that you are worth it, you don’t have to fake it, it doesn’t matter where you’re from; you are who you are, and love is love. And Jasmine is a princess,” he says. “At least, that’s what I thought ‘Aladdin’ was about.”
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