By Christian Holub
April 30, 2019 at 04:32 PM EDT
Noah M. Rosenthal/Tilted Windmill Productions

It was quite a day when Ben Schwartz learned that Billy Crystal had hand-picked him for a co-starring role in his newest movie. The film in question — Standing Up, Falling Down from first-time director Matt Ratner and screenwriter Peter Hoare — focuses on an unexpected intergenerational friendship between a struggling comedian who moves back home with his family and an older dermatologist (and barfly) he encounters in the neighborhood. After Crystal was approached about the latter role, he was given a list of names that producers were looking at for his younger scene partner. It was Schwartz, and his work on shows like House of Lies and Parks & Recreation, that stood out to Crystal.

“I felt very lucky,” Schwartz told EW ahead of Standing Up, Falling Down’s premiere at Tribeca Film Festival last week. “I got a call saying, ‘they’re interested in you for this role, and you were handpicked by Billy.’ To me that was like oh f— this is incredible. How am I gonna say no to this? I read the script, saw there was something here, but I thought we could play with it a bit. Luckily he felt the same way.”

Aside from casting Schwartz, another thing Crystal wanted from the script was deeper motivations for his character Marty. Marty drinks — much more than Schwartz’s millennial Scott, who he meets in a bar one night (and then again the next day when Scott comes in to his office about a skin rash). Crystal, who doesn’t drink, really wanted to understand how Marty’s life brought him to this point.

“I don’t drink, so to understand somebody who does I wanted to know, what is he numbing?” Crystal says. “He was a very lonely guy, guilt-ridden, shamed, and those are bad things to live with. So what were those reasons? This young man who comes into his life is giving him something his family’s not giving him, because his actual son won’t talk to him. This is a doctor who hangs out at a sleazy bar, just because he’s the king there. Then he has someone who grounds him, who he can just talk with. No one else talks to him except to ask, ‘could you take a look at this? I think it’s a boil.’ So those were the things we put in that made it more real for me to play.”

Marty isn’t a performing comedian in the way Scott is, but he does have a highly successful Twitter account (as Schwartz says, “He is a cool guy! Every other movie would have the older guy be not funny at all, whose jokes are s—– and old, but I’m a comedian in the film and his jokes on Twitter are funnier than anything i’m writing”). At one point, Marty gives Scott some comedy advice, suggesting he forgo “jokes and bits” in favor of telling the truth of his life in comic form. But because it was Crystal delivering these lines, they had to adjust the script so they weren’t talking about real-life comedians by name.

“That was a dance we had to do with the dialogue,” Crystal said. “Because of who I am, I can’t comment on comedy too much. In the original script there were names, and I was like ‘no they’re gonna see Billy saying that.’ So he just says ‘talk like a person, tell me the truth.’ Without grabbing him by the shirt, throwing him up against the wall, and saying ‘you need to do this with your stand-up, kid! When I played Kutsher’s in 1958…’ I couldn’t be that kind of guy.”

“You did play Kutsher’s,” Schwartz pointed out.

“I did, just not in 1958!” Crystal clarified.  

Over the course of filming, Schwartz and Crystal ended up bonding in similar ways as Marty and Scott do. Just as one scene finds the characters connecting by rewatching the Mets play in the 1986 World Series, Schwartz and Crystal recently stayed up until 2 a.m. watching an L.A. Clippers game.

“I knew before we started that we would be good together, just by the way we were hanging out,” Crystal said.

Schwartz, for his part, said he’s most excited for people to see Crystal’s performance in the film.

“Billy gives a performance that’s so wonderful, so beautiful and so nuanced,” Schwartz said. “It’s just lovely to see someone who you know can play comedy so easily — it’s math to him, it’s cake — and then to see him play these dramatic moments in such a real way. I really am excited for people to see Billy in the film. Obviously you want to see him as a lead in anything, but this is a really beautiful performance he puts together.”

Crystal was clearly touched by these compliments, inspiring Schwartz to lean towards this EW reporter’s recorder and declare, “let the record show he is crying!”

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