Movie and theater actor Billy Crudup, who appears in two Oscar-nominated films this year, said he began practicing meditation after suffering from panic attacks, three of which occurred on stage during performances.
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“It’s such an uncomfortable experience,” Crudup told ABC News’ Dan Harris during an interview for his live-stream/podcast show, “10% Happier.” “And I took the approach that I took with everything before that … which is ‘I’m just going to muscle through this’ and that’s just ‘no bueno’ for very long so I had to start figuring out some other ways to get some help.”
Crudup, who has been in dozens of Broadway and off-Broadway shows and movies, is best known for his role as ‘70s rock star Russell Hammond in the 2000 movie, “Almost Famous,” and as Will Bloom in the 2003’s “Big Fish.” He stars in the movies “Jackie” and “20th Century Women,” both nominated for Oscars this year, and has a new Netflix series with Naomi Watts called “Gypsy” expected to be released this year.
One of the first times Crudup said he experienced a panic attack was while he was having a latex mold of his face made for a role. He then said he experienced them during performances for Tom Stoppard’s trilogy of plays called “The Coast of Utopia” and again while doing a monologue for the off-Broadway play, “Metal Children.”
“I’ve never had that level of anxiety where I couldn’t cope with it,” he said.
When he was first starting out as an actor, Crudup said he felt “a huge burden to take the craft seriously” and became frustrated with not being able to find inspiring roles. He even asked Matt Damon for advice.
“And he [Damon] said, ‘Why don’t your write something,’” Crudup said. “And I said, ‘Dude, I’m going to kill you. The first thing you wrote you got an Oscar for, OK? I don’t know how to write. I don’t have any -- Why don’t you just start welding or something.’”
As time went on, Crudup said the pressure to be ambitious and successful kept building. He equated the feelings of anxiety with a story he told of when he was a young boy and his father took him deep sea fishing off the coast of North Carolina.
“I had always imagined I guess that once you got past the breakers, it was calm out there, and I was deeply disappointed and incredibly nauseous when I discovered that the swells continue throughout the entire ocean and forever and that’s sort of how I felt when I arrived at my adult life,” Crudup said. “I had all the trappings of success in adulthood. I had responsibility, I had artistic agency, I had money, I had friends, I was in relationships, and my family was close to me and supported me, but there was an underlying sense of disease, and that was confusing to me.”
Crudup’s ex, “Weeds” actress Mary-Louise Parker, first introduced him -- and then later their son, William Crudup, now 13 -- to meditation. Crudup also sought help from renowned Buddhist psychiatrist and author Dr. Mark Epstein and legendary Buddhist meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein. It was through their influences and others that Crudup says he started practicing mindfulness meditation as a way to “triage” anxiety.
“I grew up hearing a lot about my gut, and ‘go with your gut, your instincts are always right,’ … I’ve come to believe that it’s probably not as useful as it sounds,” he said. “Having to let go of that idea, and that your gut might actually lead you in a direction that’s not helpful to you sometimes, has been an interesting exercise.”
Now that his son meditates, Crudup said they talk about it and sometimes meditate together, although he said his practice today is still in its “infancy.”
“I’m terrible at it,” he said. “[But] when I can catch myself, I count it as a complete triumph, but it comes from a ton of work.”