INTERVIEW: 'Killing Them Softly' Star Ben Mendelsohn Talks Ryan Gosling, AC/DC & Not Watching His Own Work
Ben Mendelsohn has played a lot of memorable criminals over the last two years, but it's sign of his chops that the performances have virtually nothing in common. The son of a neuroscientist and a self-described "autodidact," Mendelsohn, 43, began as a TV actor in his native Australia in 1980s and encountered film stardom there in 1987 as the ill-fated juvenile delinquent Trevor in The Year My Voice Broke.
In 2010, Mendelsohn gave another breakthrough performance as Andrew "Pope" Cody, the oldest son of a notorious Melbourne crime family, in David Michod's chilling Animal Kingdom, and in the two years since has given three more riveting performances in key character roles. He played the oily and corrupt billionaire Daggett in the final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. Early next year, he'll be seen as Ryan Gosling's cohort in crime in The Place Beyond The Pines, and this week he's in theaters as the small-time heroin-addicted criminal Russell in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly.
Mendelsohn, who probably could have been a neuroscientist himself judging from the clinical, amused way that he looks at his craft, talked to Movieline about his friendship with Dominik, his work in The Place Beyond The Pines and Gosling's upcoming directorial debut, How to Catch A Monster, and how his performance in Killing Them Softly compares to a classic-but-underrated AC/DC song.
Movieline: I'll get to Killing Them Softly in a minute, but I’ve got to ask you about your character in The Dark Knight Rises. Where did you learn to play a Wall Street scumbag so well?
Mendelsohn: I think there’s a lot of mythos about what’s required in acting. The way that actors talk about acting is generally quite punishing, and I think actors want to put forward the idea that they do all of this work because, you know, it’s a post-De Niro world, when, largely, in fact, it’s almost never true. You know, if you want to encounter these [Wall Street] types, it’s very easy now to get a feel for them. You’ve got the Internet, and if you’ve got a few years on the clock, you will have met a few people like that. But script and context takes care of so much. Unless you're no good at this at all, you should do fine.
You and Andrew Dominik are both Australian. How did you come to work together?
Andrew and I have known each other for an incredibly long time. I'm godfather to Andrew's child. So we’ve been talking about working together, or rather, he has been dangling potential roles in front of my face forever. Let me give you a little Mendelsohn 101: I came up in television in the early- to mid- 1980s in Australia. By the time the late '80s happened, I’m something of a young semi-Tom Cruise — you know, leading man-child around there. Andrew and I knew each other from the mid-'80s but we weren’t friends. We come from Melbourne, but we both ended up shifting to Sydney, and by the mid-'90s, we were thick as thieves. We used to spend like every day together. There was a gang of about five of us guys and we would hang out all the time. You know, I was the big swinging dick on campus and Andrew was this ad guy aspiring filmmaker. At one point, we were even talking about doing Chopper.
And then Andrew suddenly became the dude, and he would talk to me about this role or that role, but he never gave me any of them. He talked about this one, too. I was in Australia and I got a very frantic call, "Can you put down a test?" And I’m like, "Okay, I’ll put down a test." I put down a test, and I didn’t hear anything. Like two months went by, and I was about to take another job, and I got a very frantic emergency call from him pleading and imploring me to take the role. And I’m like, "You fucking idiot. Of course, I want to do it.”