Ben Mendelsohn Talks About 'Star Wars: Rogue One' and Looks Back on His Awesome 2015

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  • Ben Mendelsohn
    Ben Mendelsohn
    Australian actor

Ben Mendelsohn at the Tribeca Film Festival (Getty Images)

Ben Mendelsohn was rolling around Los Angeles when he called Yahoo Movies earlier this week, enjoying the sunny SoCal weather and the waning days of what the 45-year-old Australian actor readily calls the best year of his life.

“It’s been an exceptional year,” says Mendelsohn, who earned an Emmy nomination for the Netflix drama Bloodline and starred in acclaimed indies Mississippi Grind and Slow West. “I’d venture to say it’s been the best year of my career thus far. It’s well surpassed my expectations or even what I’d have dared to dream about.”

The actor will only become more famous next year, when he will play a feature role in the Star Wars spinoff film Rogue One, which is being directed by Gareth Edwards. Mendelsohn spoke to Yahoo Movies about that new adventure, along with his part in Mississippi Grind, where he plays a down-and-out gambling addict named Gerry. The film hit Blu-ray and DVD this week.

It seems like you’ve come out of nowhere, but you’re not an overnight success story.
No, but I can understand why it feels like all of a sudden. I get that. For Australian audiences, I’ve been around there for three decades, so there are people who have grown up having seen me for their whole lives. But obviously, here, it’s very much post-Animal Kingdom. Though I had come here for many years, trying my hand, with nothing to show for it, really.

British actors make the leap all the time, but it often takes Australian actors longer to make it. We don’t watch Australian TV here.
That’s true. The English watch a lot of Australian TV, there are soaps and whatnot that make it over to England, and in fact are a huge part of their psychological television makeup. But for the crossover between us and you guys, no, not at all. You’re still talking about Crocodile Dundee and Olivia Newton-John. Those are, 40 years on, they’re still the most notable touchstones of Australian culture. Crocodile Dundee was, and still is, a huge imprint. For forever, I would have people going, “Throw another shrimp on the barbie,” or “That’s not a knife” at me. He did a lot for us, Paul Hogan.

One of the most heartbreaking moments in Mississippi Grind came after he got caught trying to steal from his ex-wife, he says, “I’m not a good man.” That understanding himself was heartbreaking.
Yeah, it’s a really sh—ty moment. There’s a film called Midnight Run, with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, and in it [De Niro] has to go to his wife’s place to get some money as well. And he sees his daughter there, whom he hasn’t seen for a very long time. And it is the most beautiful scene in the film. I always thought of that scene in Mississippi Grind of being the ugly flipside of that scene, because Gerry goes back, but there’s no tenderness in that exchange, really. He’s doing exactly the stuff that he did to end that relationship.

I think Gerry feels a lot worse than he perhaps is; he certainly struggles, and certainly by his own hand, but he’s trying to be better. That’s what’s sort of beautiful about him, he’s still trying to be a good guy. He’s got a pretty crappy life. He’s not having a good time, he’s not liking where he’s working, he doesn’t have a girlfriend. No one is looking to cuddle up to Gerry.

And next year is going to be even bigger, since you’re in Star Wars.
It’s been an amazing time. Star Wars is Star Wars. It’s a big and beautiful deal.

Were you a big fan growing up?
Oh, tragic. I’m 46, so when the first one came out, I went to see it at the movies and I bought the whole box and dice. They used to have these bubble gum trading cards, and I can still remember the card that I couldn’t get. I think it was No. 77, and it was Han Solo and Chewbacca. It was a shot of those two firing their blasters. I can remember when I got one. It’s huge for me, Star Wars. It’s a big, big deal.

Being in Star Wars is like a dream that you don’t wake up from. There’s no one that was working on those films that was not over-the-moon, and just wanting their A-game to be on display. Everyone that’s involved in them feels passionately about them, has an enormous love for them. There was Star Wars Friday, where everyone would wear their Star Wars clothes to the set, whatever they had, T-shirts and full outfits. I know I can safely say that.


The one photo they released so far looks great, a ragtag crew. It’s hard to see what you’re wearing, some sort of vest and goggles.
It’s going to be something else. It’s a great story, and it’s going to be a very welcome addition to the universe. That galaxy, a long time ago and far, far away, just got a little bit fuller.

You were in The Dark Knight Rises, so you’ve been on something this size before.
I have, but I did a lot more on Star Wars than I did on Dark Knight Rises. That was an enormous film, it’s Batman. These are pretty bits of our culture. I have been involved in a big film like that, but not to the degree that I was in Star Wars.

It’ll be cool to see you do some big action stuff.
I hope you enjoy it.

Have you finished it? What are you going to do after that?
I have finished on Star Wars. I’m going to go do some Bloodline, and after that, I don’t know. The skies open up again.

Kyle Chandler told us that you’ll be returning for Bloodline, despite the fate that Danny suffered.
I will be returning. I’ll be in the second series, and again, I can’t say much about that, except that I will definitely be in the second series.

It must be awesome to have people want to know really bad, and be able to say, “Nope, can’t tell you!”
If I had my way, I would [tell them], but it’s a pretty big spoiler alert to be dropping on people.

It’s amazing the lack of info there is about Star Wars out there, how few leaks there were.
I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been there on that set, and I don’t know anything about it. They won’t tell anyone. I was there working on a Star Wars movie and I could not find out about the one that’s about to open [The Force Awakens]. They are serious. And I’ve never seen such a well-drilled ship as that. That is something I have never seen before.

Watch the trailer for ‘Mississippi Grind’ below: