His filmography reads like a list of nasty, humane bad guys, or down-on-their-luck losers. When you think of 47-year-old Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, you think of all the gutless, despicable characters he’s had a chance to play on the big screen. But in his defense, he sees an admirable challenge in playing a villain. “In some ways, you want to be something of a lawyer for your character, you want to present the best defense of what and who they are,” he recently told The New Hollywood podcast in a one hour talk.
Long respected as a character actor, Mendelsohn’s profile is rising. He’s one of the key anchors of Netflix‘s acclaimed series “Bloodline.” And on the way, he has blockbusters lined up including Steven Spielberg‘s “Ready Player One” and the much-anticipated “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” And this new phase of his career seems to tickle the actor as he quips, “I feel like a kid at the candy shop.”
Mendelsohn broke out internationally with 2008’s “Animal Kingdom,” where he turned out to be the menacing standout of a cast that included an Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver. Mendelsohn’s Andrew “Pope” Cody was a baddie for the ages, a man that would do just about anything to get what he wanted. Since then, he’s been on a roll, starring in critically acclaimed fare such as “The Place Beyond The Pines,” “Starred Up” and “Mississippi Grind.” Talking about the latter, he reinforces what many critics noticed about its subtle nod to the late Robert Altman, saying, “The thing about that film is that it’s an incredibly beautiful homage to ‘California Split.’ ”
He also has kind words for his co-star in that film, whom he calls the “funniest man he’s ever worked with.”
“[Ryan] Reynolds is unstoppable, he’s brilliant, he has such a quick wit. So fast, I mean, he is so fast. If you got a first name Ryan, you got a pretty good chance in life,” he chuckles, also referring to his memorable experience working with Ryan Gosling in “The Place Beyond The Pines.”
Mendelsohn also reveals that he never watches his own movies, to keep the spontaneity alive when he acts. “I don’t watch them, I’ve never seen them. I actually think that when I stopped watching them I actually got better…[If I do watch them] on the next film I’m on set and I think, ‘Oh don’t hold your head like that because then you look like that.’ Listen, you know when something’s worked and you know when something hasn’t worked.”
The conversation gets looser as he talks about the newest season of “Bloodline” and later explains how Scoot McNairy and a bunch of dogs were the best thing about making the under-seen 2012 film “Killing Them Softly.” However, he does admit that enjoying a movie shoot is the least of his concerns: “I think you’d rather have the worst time on earth and make a fantastic film, than you would just having the best time on earth and make something that is forgettable.” Also, don’t get him started on his love of playing video games, a topic that could easily take up another whole podcast. “I’m not that much of a first person shooter…I’m more a strategy type of guy, sorta like ‘your turn my turn’ type of guy. Although ‘Diablo,’ I love ‘Diablo.’ I can play it again and again and again.”
Mendelsohn refuses to talk about the new ‘Rogue One,’ but he does dish on his love for cinema. His favorite film changes year to year, but he seems to be in a Tarkovsky kind of mood lately. “For the longest time [my favorite film] was ‘Taxi Driver,’ but now it’s ‘Andrei Rublev.’ I’ve only seen it once, but I would find it very difficult to go back, and the first time I saw it, it took me about four or five times before I could get past the first half. It’s a long movie and it’s not an easy movie because it’s got real chapters and it’s very slow and meditative, but once you hit the second half, it’s an extraordinary feat of filmmaking…I’m not a big fan of ‘Solaris‘ though, but for my money ‘Stalker‘ the easiest one to watch.”
The entire talk is well worth a listen, as he shares how Nicole Kidman got him his first job in Hollywood, acting opposite her in the thriller “Trespass,” and more. Listen below.