Knock at the Cabin 's Ben Aldridge defies old Hollywood fears after coming out: 'I'm meeting myself in my work'
Ben Aldridge has committed a cardinal sin of the gay community. At the time of our interview in late January, it still hasn't been rectified. He has not seen M3GAN, the viral horror sensation starring Allison Williams.
"Gays love horror," Aldridge remarks from his Hackney flat in East London, where the 37-year-old actor has been based for the past 18 years. "All the gays have turned out for M3GAN." Well, all the gays except for him. "I definitely will!" the actor from Pennyworth, Spoiler Alert, and Knock at the Cabin quickly promises in a fit of laughter. "That film's also about 'love is love,' right?"
Fueled by a TikTok-friendly dance, the movie hit a nerve with LGBTQ movie-goers. (Just watch the Saturday Night Live sketch.) Aldridge now hopes they'll love his own foray into horror. After all, Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, stars two gay actors, Aldridge and Jonathan Groff, as a married couple held hostage with their daughter in a log-cabin AirBnB by four strangers raving about the apocalypse. It may not have a yass-ified killer robot that slays both literally and figuratively, but it does have the kind of representation Aldridge has always craved.
"I hadn't done anything in this kind of genre, and I haven't done anything as intense as this," he remarks. "That was a whole new kind of muscle."
Universal Pictures Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff, and Kristen Cui star as a terrorized family in 'Knock at the Cabin'
Aldridge never set out with the determination to play gay roles in mainstream studio films. It just so happens that the characters he's recognized for now identify as such — a lawyer left mentally scarred by a past homophobic bashing in the plot-twisty Knock at the Cabin (in theaters Friday) and a photographer dying of terminal cancer in the sentimental Spoiler Alert. Through his success, he's overcome a fear he once had early in his career.
"I'd been taught and shown throughout my 20s that [coming out] might cost me work and might cost me jobs and I might not get hired to play straight or it just might work against me," Aldridge says, sporting a light layer of scruff and the kind of mustache that, from the right angle, makes him look like Freddie Mercury by way of Brooklyn. The words of Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding), who notably said that revealing his sexuality to the world ruined his career, would often echo in his mind. "It just didn't feel like something that was possible."
Since Aldridge came out as gay with an Instagram post on World Pride Day in 2020, he's only been thriving. Though, he admits it was "a calculated risk."
"I made that decision going, 'Well, if that's gonna play against me in any way, I don't wanna work with the people that are making those choices,'" he says. "What [coming out] did do, I think, was align me in queer projects that I wouldn't have necessarily been considered for. A journalist put it to me, 'Do you feel like the universe has rewarded you for coming out?' I don't believe that it would reward me, but I think in being authentic, you interact with the world in a different way. Therefore, what comes back at you is also gonna be different. I have really relished playing gay men. It has given the work that I'm doing much more meaning. I'm meeting myself in my work."
David-Simon Dayan Ben Aldridge
Aldridge got his start on screen playing romantic straight male leads, starting with the 2009 television movie Compulsion opposite Parminder Nagra. It premiered on ITV in the U.K. when he was 24. Aldridge says he properly came out in his personal life a year later, which is why he doesn't really think of his 2020 Instagram post as "coming out." "It wasn't something that I was fiercely protecting," he clarifies. Yet he was craving something.
He thinks back to his time playing Charles James, a role he describes as "an alpha male army captain" in the BBC One military drama Our Girl, which began broadcasting in 2013. The cast was on location for months across Malaysia, Nepal, and South Africa while filming the third season. Aldridge points out he was the only gay person on the show. It was during that time in 2017 when he found Looking, the HBO drama about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco. It also happened to star Groff, Aldridge's future Knock at the Cabin costar.
"Looking was one of my favorite TV shows," he exclaims. "I remember thinking that it wasn't very well supported. They came under fire for not representing the entire [LGBTQ] community, of which we have the most community. It's hard to tick all those boxes." Aldridge admits it sounds sad, but, while working on Our Girl, the friends on Looking felt like his own. "I was like, 'I need some gay friends.' I put that on and it really helped me. I didn't yet have my own gay community. That taught me what I could potentially have in friendship."
Aldridge feels "it's been a very slow journey to Pride" for him. He already had his gig as young Thomas Wayne, the pulpy, never-without-a-trench-coat future father of Batman, in the Epix-turned-HBO-Max comic book drama Pennyworth when he finally made the decision to come out as gay publicly. It wasn't that he was grappling with the decision. He felt like he might have been hiding behind those romantic straight parts he racked up in his career. "I wanted to be proud and authentic about who I was," he says.
Giovanni Rufino/FOCUS FEATURES Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge in 'Spoiler Alert'.
Others in the industry felt that change in Aldridge. The actor found he didn't have to audition for the role of Kit in director Michael Showalter's Spoiler Alert, based on the true story of journalist Michael Ausiello and his late partner. Aldridge had a Zoom meeting with Showalter and Jim Parsons, the film's co-lead and executive producer. That was all it took.
That wasn't the first time Aldridge didn't have to audition for a job. Phoebe Waller-Bridge cast him as the "Arsehole Guy" in Fleabag season 1 after seeing him on stage in American Psycho — where, he notes, he was "also playing an a--hole." "We knew each other a tiny bit socially. She just was like, 'You can play an a--hole,'" Aldridge remembers. "I don't know what that says about me..."
What it says is that Aldridge has the kind of range many actors are still working for. Even Dave Bautista, another of his costars in Knock at the Cabin, says he's been actively trying to break from the action-star mold in which Hollywood encased him. For Aldridge, Fleabag was his first real foray into comedy, Pennyworth became his introduction to a superhero franchise, Spoiler Alert made him a leading gay romantic lead, and Knock at the Cabin broke him into horror.
"I had already known him just from some work in Fleabag and things like that, but it wasn't until he auditioned for this part that I became aware of him as a leading man," Shyamalan says of casting Aldridge. "That's a specific set of skills that an actor needs to have. They have to inherently be able to follow something over a hundred scenes. He has that."
Aldridge initially thought he was leading the film with Bautista, not Groff, who hadn't been cast yet. "All it said on the email that I got was Dave Bautista was in the film. So I was doing this entire audition thinking I was auditioning to be his younger boyfriend and that Dave was gonna be this total daddy gay bear," he recalls with some slight embarrassment. "I remember saying to Night in an actor-y way, 'I've never seen Dave play a part like this kind of sensible father figure before. It feels like a real departure.' He was like, 'What are you saying? ... Dave isn't playing Eric. Are you mad?' It really affected the way I was playing the scenes. A little bit like, 'Hey, daddy!'"
Bautista laughs when he hears this story. "I can tell you it would've been not as good because there's no way I could have tackled that role the way Jonathan Groff did," he says.
Everett Collection Ben Aldridge as Andrew beside Jonathan Groff as Eric in 'Knock at the Cabin'
Aldridge had been aware of Groff's work for some time, even before he first watched Looking. He remembers auditioning for the actor's part in a West End production of Spring Awakening. Aldridge went through about 12 rounds over the course of a year when he was 21, culminating in a week-long workshop in which two sets of casts performed the entire musical front to back. Producers then cherry-picked which actors from each set they wanted for the roles.
"I didn't get it," Aldridge says, "which actually, really seriously is the most gutted I've ever felt about not getting something." He still looks back on that experience with at least some fondness. Listening to Groff in the original cast recording taught Aldridge how to sing the music.
Shyamalan cast the Andrew and Eric roles for Knock at the Cabin almost simultaneously. Groff's Eric is much more buttoned-up and quite careful. Andrew is always on high alert. After getting attacked in a bar one night, the attorney picks up boxing as a means of self-defense, determined to never be a victim again. Aldridge was self-conscious about this element initially. "I'd never thrown a punch," he says. The actor trained first in London and then in Philadelphia, the home of Rocky. Once a certain physical scene was shot for the movie, Aldridge immediately dropped his high-intensity boxing routine. But he agrees, "It was integral to the character."
Aldridge could connect personally to Knock on the Cabin on multiple levels. Flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film as vignettes show Andrew's complicated relationship with his parents. Though he doesn't have the same dynamic with his own mom and dad, Aldridge says he can understand that fear of rejection for being gay. He jokingly remarks that his own experience with anxiety and panic attacks probably brought authenticity to those panicked moments of Andrew tied to a chair.
The story also grapples with the idea of religion. The four home invaders — Bautista's Leonard, Rupert Grint's Redmond, Nikki Amuka-Bird's Sabrina, and Abby Quinn's Ardiane — are convinced that if the family doesn't willingly choose one of their own to sacrifice, then the whole world will come to an end.
"I grew up in a fiercely religious evangelical household," Aldridge mentions. "I've been on a real journey with that. I don't know what it is. Is it healing or something? It's so revealing to be connecting to things that I have lived and I understand so well and that feel very specific to me and to our community."
Aldridge thinks back to his 25-year-old self when he first came out of the closet. Some advice he would impart in hindsight is "to lose sight of the noise of success," which he's been able to do quite well so far. However, he admits he's quite excited about his current moment in the spotlight between Spoiler Alert and Knock at the Cabin.
"I could never have imagined that, 10 years later, I would be an out actor playing gay roles, and it being the best my career has been," he says with pride. "I just didn't think that was ever going to be a possibility."