Part 1 of my interview with actor Ben Loyd Holmes who tells us about his upcoming film projects including MERCS, and what it was like to work on Spooks, Whitechapel, and the rumours about his role in Skyfall.
Actor Ben Loyd Holmes is probably best known for his roles in Band of Brothers and critically acclaimed The Hike (which he wrote and produced) as well as popular British TV shows like Spooks and Torchwood to name but a few. A couple of days ago I caught up with Ben for an interview, where I discovered not only is he a lovely and funny guy who has a wealth of knowledge about the industry, but is also very humble and appreciative of his success, and fan support. Ben was also kind enough to talk a bit about his time working on Spooks and with Peter Firth (as he is aware I’m a Spooks fan) and to tell us about his new projects coming up.
What attracted you to the acting world and how old were you when you began?
I was very young actually, my dad is in the film industry and I was a Pampers baby [laughs] so basically I was kind of doing it while I was still in nappies literally. When I was a kid, I kind of moved away from the industry. I grew up; when you’ve got family in the business you either get into it quite intense or you kind of take it for granted.
Does it help or hinder you? Do you have a higher expectation of yourself if you have had family in the business, or do others?
I think you have more expectation of yourself, and you feel a bit stupid when you’re going to things; my dad, I remember when I was very young and growing up and there was Robert De Niro always around, and Alan Rickman and people like that, and when you get into your teens and you see what these people can do, and your dad is hanging out with these people all the time, its kind of intimidating. So I kind of moved away from it for a long time, and then when I was 19 I thought; “Maybe I’ll give it a crack!” That was then and this is now.
What was your first role?
My first proper role; my first role in anything interesting was Band of Brothers, I’d done a few little things before that. I was in Star Wars very briefly, and I was in Gladiator and a few other little things. but nothing of anything really to speak of, but Band of Brothers was really the first thing.
You’ve been in a wide range of roles in both TV and film , do you have a favourite?
I think in terms of whether I like TV or film more, it depends on the project in terms of, some TV is shot in a very filmic way. Like a TV project called Whitechapel…and Spooks actually, Whitechapel and Spooks are kind of shot more like films than they are like TV shows. You work on a TV show they sort of churn out a lot of material so you don’t get the same time to work on character; they don’t want you to have too much depth to the character, so it’s a bit more interesting when you’re doing a film.
Do you have an actor you aspire to be like?
Obviously I’d love to emulate the careers of someone like Pacino or De Niro. Just in terms of the sort of roles they’ve been offered and allowed to play. I love the fact Pacino is able to play Scarface and make such an unlikable person likeable. But then I also love Hank Azaria he’s got an amazing career, not many people know who he is. He’s able to walk down the street and not get recognised; but he’s got this incredible career where he’s able to play an incredibly wide range of characters and that for an actor is one of the most interesting things.
You wrote and produced The Hike, what made you go from the acting side to the writing and producing?
Writing is something I’d always done, but not done very well! I think when we’re growing up we write things be it poetry or stories or whatever. I wrote a few things and then when I was in my early 20’s I started writing something and showed it to the director, he said he loved the story but the script structure was wrong. So I went off to learn structure, at which point the teacher tore a chunk out of my script and said: “Oh it was rubbish and I should never have written it.” But then after that, taught me how to write properly. I think if you enjoy storytelling; which most actors are storytellers, that’s what we do. Then writing is enough a progression.
In terms of producing, producers make things happen, if you’re a writer or actor you’re at the mercy of a producers waiting to find your project. And then someone does or you’ve been cast in a project and then it’s a case of making that thing happen and getting it to the streets; be it cinema or television or dvd or whatever. If you’ve got that mindset or you’re driven, learn the business side and you can understand that side. Producing is something I think a lot of people can do. It’s not like being a cinematographer where you have to be great at composition. Being a producer is understanding the business and just being able to make things happen! It’s not an easy job but its something that allows you control in your destiny if you’ve got the grit.
Does been an actor make it easier for you to imagine the characters better when you write them, because you know from both sides?
Definitely! If you’re an actor you work on story – and then you work on storytelling. You’re not just trying to read lines. You’re trying to create a character and put that character into a story. So when it comes to writing you kind of think, and tell stories in a certain way. So I think it really helps for creating someone with a bit of depth. If you don’t act, I assume it must be harder to insert yourself into a character, rather than writing outside it. But there are obviously many talented writers who don’t act. I just think for me it definitely helps having being there.
I’d imagine you would know more of what gets left in and taken out?
I think it would take you longer to learn the craft if you hadn’t acted. I’m not saying I’m a great writer, but I’m definitely learning and improving and trying to come up with good stuff. I think for me having that experience helps me at the stage of writing I’m at! It’s definitely helping me get to where I want to.
Why a horror? Is that a favourite genre of yours?
No, the horror is not really a favourite genre of mine, the reason I did the horror and The Hike was because, horror is now a very crowded market. Horror is a very easy film to make in terms of – there’s not a massive budget required; you don’t need such big stars, you can shoot it really on a lot less than you would shoot an action movie generally speaking; financially and production wise its easier. But on top of that it’s actually quite a fun purpose film to make. You’re normally covered in blood and mud and whatever else, and you’re thrown into quite intense situations. So horrors are quite fun. But The Hike itself, although it’s a very very dark film, and it’s definitely not for everyone, The Hike was an interesting movie to be involved in because its kind of a twisted story; and has quite a twisted message attached to it. Putting yourself and the other cast members in those situations, it makes it quite interesting, its through that adversity you get some fun interesting performances out.
Shauna MacDonald from Spooks was also in the movie wasn’t she?
Yeah! Shauna some people know her from Spooks; some people know her from The Descent. She’s lovely, she’s a very talented actress.
Did you choose the cast or did someone else?
Shauna was….I’m trying to think of whose suggestion she was. I think she was actually Rupert’s [Bryan co-writer & producer] suggestion we were sort of going through who we would like, and we didn’t think we’d be able to get Shauna because she’d been taking some time out to have her baby, it was a case of trying to make the schedules work, and there was a character that wasn’t in for a huge amount of time, a lot less days, so we thought that might work and luckily it did. And luckily it was something she wanted to do. So it was something that worked out and we were really pleased to have her.
You mentioned on twitter about a good year for roles. Does that include Skyfall?
I wish it did!
It says on your wikipedia profile – that’s where that’s come from!
Does it! oh right! Its amazing what ends up on the internet. Yeah I have done Skyfall, I’m not obviously producing, it’s going to be a very good film! Definitely one to watch!
So you can’t say what role you play?
I can’t say too much. There are a few images out there I believe a few paps took. There’s just a scene between myself and Dame Judi Dench in Vauxhall. I can’t say too much more about it sadly.
That must have been amazing though?
Yeah, Judi is lovely, and Sam the director – Sam Mendes is fantastic director and a lovely guy, and for myself to be working with the two of them was a real achievement. It’s a thing I’m very pleased to have been able to do.
See exclusive images from the set of Ben’s new film MERCS here.
Part 2 of Ben’s interview will be posted tomorrow, where he talks about his future roles, what it was like having Peter Firth hit him in the face in Spooks, and he answers your tweeted questions.