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WATCH: Ben Mendelsohn’s Brilliant Career, from ‘Bloodline’ to ‘Star Wars’ (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

WATCH: Ben Mendelsohn's Brilliant Career, from 'Bloodline' to 'Star Wars' (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

Ben Mendelsohn

Anne Thompson

One of my favorite online series of the year was “Damages” creators Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman’s Florida neo-noir “Bloodline,” a dysfunctional family drama that explains just how and why three siblings would turn on their oldest brother, played memorably by Ben Mendelsohn, who was nominated for a supporting actor Emmy. He plays the family black sheep Danny Rayburn, a volatile wild card who disrupts the Rayburn family, led by matriarch Sissy Spacek and local sheriff Kyle Chandler. He will return in Season Two via flashbacks (do catch up with the first season on Netflix to find out why).

The creators “were so interested in the black sheep,” Mendelsohn told me. “They had something in their lives, talking of the universality of that, they wanted to dig down into it. That’s the way they pitched it at the start. I was flattered to get offered that one, that’s when I knew, I had my suspicions, that things were going well.”

Mendelsohn knows it’s the role of a lifetime; he’s been shooting the second season, along with Gareth Edwards’ “Star Wars” spin-off “Rogue One” (December 16, 2016), co-starring Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen and Diego Luna. He can’t say much about either, of course. But he met with Edwards (“Monsters,” “Godzilla”) a year ago—who had admired prison drama “Starred Up”—and landed a slot in a movie that may or may not wind up a standalone. He’s also coming up in 2016 release “Una” opposite Rooney Mara. 

Mendelsohn is an actor who is so fun to watch that I willingly submitted to the torture of watching him pay a gambling addict who can’t say no to a long-odds bet in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Mississippi Grind” (September 25), which has earned rave reviews since its Sundance premiere, but like many indies these days, flailed at the box office, even with A24 behind it. (It may have fared better on VOD.)

Now Mendelsohn has earned an Indie Spirit nomination for his brilliant performance as an inveterate loser who owes just about everyone he knows some money. He takes up with his luckier partner in crime (charmer Ryan Reynolds), who joins him on an ill-fated gambling road trip down the Mississippi.  Put just about any other actor in the role, and you’d hate him, points out Tom Christie in his Berlin review.

“We appear to be quite different stylistically,” said Mendelsohn of Reynolds during an L.A. interview. “But there’s great crossover between us and he has got a really good ear. Whatever way you deliver your thing, he will hear it very well, his response pitch is excellent, in that way he can treat you like a guy setting up a punchline, switch between those two classic roles in comedy, the straight man and the gagger. It’s hard to find with such a good-looking, strong guy. He’s good fun to be around. if he doesn’t turn up, ‘Mississippi Grind’ does not get made, full stop.”

At age 17, Mendelsohn won Australia’s supporting actor award opposite Noah Taylor for 1987’s “The Year My Voice Broke,” and grew into a major Down Under movie star. Since he emerged out of the ensemble cast of David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom,” he has played supporting roles in studio epics like “The Dark Knight Rises” along with some excellent indies. He popped in Derek Cianfrance’s superb drama “The Place Beyond the Pines,” which he remembers as a particularly satisfying experience, playing opposite Ryan Gosling, who later directed him in “Lost River.” Working with the improvisational director Gosling on location in Detroit was “exhilarating, but it’s a high-wire act,” Mendelsohn said, “you either come up with something that works or off you go!”

And Mendelsohn and his buddy Scoot McNairy stole the show as a drug-addled bumbling duo in Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” starring Brad Pitt. Their bonding came about because they roomed together on location in New Orleans.

While Mendelsohn has considered directing, it’s not on his mind for now. Maybe producing. “I suspect I’m better suited to some kind of crewing up or production,” he said. “I’ve been on sets for so long, it’s such a comfortable environment for me, but I think you have to switch off your actor head when you are directing, and that’s not something I’m going to do in a hurry.”

And why should he? 

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