This past Thursday, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Rob Benedict over the phone. I have to admit, I was looking forward to this interview hoping to gain a better insight into Rob Benedict. He is a true artist in every sense of the word constantly seeking out ways to express his creativity, but it is storytelling that encompasses who Rob Benedict is.
Rob is not only a talented actor and musician, who is hilarious, kind, easy-going, but he is one of the most charming and gifted conversationalist that I have interviewed in a very long time.
In this first part of the interview, Rob talks about how he got the “acting bug,” his creative process as an actor and musician, the short film Lifetripper and his band Louden Swain.
AM: I read that you first got the acting bug when you were in the sixth grade performing in a community production of The Winslow Boy. What do you believe drew you in during that performance, to make you want to become an actor?
Rob: There was something really magical that really happened when I was on stage. It was the first time I felt that feeling of becoming a character who wasn’t me. It was a British play, so I had a British accent and here I am this boy going growing up in Missouri and I am playing this character in England and I just felt transported. I really felt the magic of what that was and something about being in a theater with an audience right in front of you and I just felt transported. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world and in that moment I knew I wanted to become an actor.
AM: Was it almost an instinctive reaction, like coming home?
Rob: Yes, definitely. I remember when I auditioned for the play and the director came to my house and let me read for the part and immediately afterwards he asked to be in the play. It was like the perfect storm and I just felt it in my inner being. I just knew I had to keep on acting…keep on striving for that feeling.
AM: Was regional theater a major part of your childhood?
Rob: Yes! My parents worked at a community theater, so theater was always part of my life. Actually, The Winslow Boy was a college production, where they needed a boy to play the lead role. After that performance, I started doing more community theater. I majored in theater when I was in college and afterwards, I did about two years worth of regional theater. It is part of my background and it is a great way to get started as an actor and learn the craft. When it is good, it’s great! It’s a magical experience because it is live and you get that instant feedback. It is like a drug, a high that you keep on wanting to obtain again and again. When it really works, there is nothing else like it!
AM: Your acting credits include a range of different genres and mediums from regional theater, to television and film which most recently include Touch, NCIS: Los Angeles, Psych, Shameless, Lifetripper, A Little Help and your hilarious ‘Funny or Die’ video with David Foley Sexy Daddy. With all of these roles underneath your belt, how do you get into a mindset of a character and what is the most exciting aspect of building a character?
Rob: Well, it is always a challenge because I tend to play a lot of characters who are not that much like me. The challenge is trying to find yourself in a character that you play. So for all those different characters, even though it is a wide range, I try to find a part of me that’s in that character. That’s where I start, so I don’t have to fake it and it comes from a place that is real in me.
AM: So you are trying to establish a character’s identity through authenticity by trying to find yourself in that character in order to lay the foundation of true characterization.
Rob: Yes! I think it is really rewarding when you can try to transport yourself into something else. It’s funny because I am almost more comfortable playing some of those characters than I am like playing myself. It is like when I was a little boy and I lose myself in a character, but that’s where you find the truth. It is all about trying to find yourself within a character. For the role on Touch, I am playing the role of a crazy homeless guy and you just have to find yourself within that [laughs], but there is a part of it that I really connected with, because of his childlike imagination of knights and dragons, but it is also that feeling of being invisible in a crowd of people. Those are the aspects that I latched onto and it all stems from great writing. A lot of my favorite roles comes from great writing and in turn allows me to take it from there.
AM: Plus the writers kind of left the door open for your character to return.
Rob: Yes! It wouldn’t surprise me, if we saw that character again…fingers crossed!
AM: Regarding your short film Lifetripper which was recently screened in June at the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto, can you discuss about how you became involved in the project and who the character Stan Norman is?
Rob: The director Graham Joyce was friends with a good friend of mine and he wanted to make this short about an everyday guy who would perform a standup act on the bus he would ride to and from work. By the end of the story someone talks him into doing standup and after having accomplished that he goes back to his old life. That was the initial structure Graham had and our mutual friend suggested to Graham that he should meet me, because I used to standup. So we met up and we really hit it off. I helped him write the short film and we infused a lot of the old standup bits I used to do. It came out really well and it is really sweet movie and the way Graham shot it was so beautifully done.
As for the character Stan Norman, he is a single father who is a mechanic and there is a potential for a relationship with his son’s babysitter, but it is kind of a sad poignant story with some really sweet and funny moments when Stan does standup on the bus. He gets convinced to try his comedy routine on stage, but never really makes it to the stage because he realizes that it is not the life that he wants anymore. Stan is perfectly content with the life he has now and he doesn’t have to dream for something more.
AM: You mentioned, you used to do standup, how did you get involved in that?
Rob: When I was starting out, I would go visit a friend of mine who was doing standup and I thought I would love to do that. I started performing and I was doing really well. This friend of mine who is now a comedy writer and I started a standup comedy show that we would perform once a month. It would be us and other comics who were also starting out. The cool thing is now looking back, one of the comics we were using was Zach Galifianakis. At the time no one really knew who he was, but Zach was involved all the time. It was this great little thing that we used to do once a month, for three years and then ultimately my acting stuff started taking over and I really didn’t see myself performing comedy down the line at the HAHA Hut in some random city. That was absolutely not the life that I wanted, so I kind of put everything that I have done over the years in a one person show and then I just put it to rest. So it was fun doing Lifetripper where I could pull out some of the old bits.
It is funny cause at these Supernatural conventions I sometimes feel that energy again when I am doing the Q & A of what it was like when I used to do standup because I used to riff and tell stories. I wasn’t the kind of standup comic who would tell bada-bing punch line jokes. For me it was about the funny crazy real life stories. It is all about finding the truth.
AM: I understand that you co-wrote the short film. Is the writing process different for a short film compared to songwriting?
Rob: It definitely is different. I have tried my hand at feature films and some TV stuff , but a short film is definitely hard because you have to tell the whole story in like twenty pages. For Lifetripper, it was almost like vignettes than regular scenes. You want to take the viewer on a journey, but you don’t have that much time to get there. As for writing songs, it is its own thing. I guess the similarity would be that with a song you are trying to tell a story within three verses and chorus. A song although is more like a poem, so you just break it down into fragments. Songs need melodies and you need it to dance, so it is more like poetry, but it all comes from the same place. I just love creating things and telling stories.
Rob: I just think we have grown a lot over the years as a band. When you listen to are old records, we were more of a garage rock sound. I think when our guitar player, Billy joined the band we were able to play different kinds of music and we fully realized what our sound is and this album is more in that direction.
AM: When coming up with lyrics or melodies for your music, how much do you leave open for accident and inspiration?
Rob: Well that depends, every song is different. The traditional way we write songs in our band is I will bring in a song, just acoustic guitar and lyrics and the band will take it, play with it and it will morph into the song it is supposed to be. In that process there are a lot of happy accidents, as we like to call them. There is a lot of inspiration and just jamming with the band. There will be the occasional song were it I start playing some chords that sound cool together and it will turn into a song. Then I will take those sheets of music and start writing lyrics based around that. There is definitely a lot of room for inspiration with the guys and I think that is really why we lasted so long as a group. We have so much fun playing together, it’s collaborative and we do get inspired when we are playing together. There have been very few times when a song comes in, that it is the exact song heard on the album. It changes constantly. The best way is when it happens organically. If it is too planned or too manipulated then I don’t like the song as much. I love the stuff that happens when it is in the moment and it is the same way with acting, I love the improv. When I used to do standup, I loved being able to tell stories. I love the moments that happen in the moments.
AM: Louden Swain did a live-stream show awhile back, do you plan on doing another one and do you believe that using these types of mediums and social media to display your music, plays a vital role in the way music is explored and recognized nowadays?
Rob: For sure we will do another live stream show. We would love to do something like what Jason Manns just did, where you buy tickets to a live show online. Live-stream shows allows us to create one-on-one connection with our fans, it’s a beautifully experience. It is always mind-blowing to me, the people from other countries who know about our music. When we went over to tour last year in Europe it was amazing. When we went to Germany and people were singing our songs in English, even though English isn’t their first language, it was really touching…it was completely mind-blowing.
As for artists like us, that is the way we get our music out there. We are not a signed band; you don’t hear us on the radio, but using these different mediums is our way of reaching to the fans like what we do with social media. So it is vital for us. We try as much as possible to post things and make videos and reach out to people because that is the way we can get it out there.
AM: The band has a couple of upcoming shows, The Red Line Tap in Chicago on the 27th, The Gramophone in St. Louis on the 28th and Chez Lima in Burbank on August 4th. How does the band prepare for going on the road and playing sometimes unknown venues and what have you learned from your band mates as a performer and as songwriter?
Rob: There is always an unexpected element when you play at various venues. There is always that element of your not quite sure of what you are going to get, but we have done it enough now, that you can go in a defensive stance [laughs] and just survey the room. You can look at the sound system and know that it may not be stellar so you compensate for that. We have played enough out, that we can adjust…adapt if you will to our surroundings. You give yourself time before each show and check it out to know what you are dealing with. The thing I love about my band is that everyone is such great musicians that everyone knows how to kind of bend and adjust to what the venue is. Also, you hope that the venues you get are good ones. You always keep your fingers crossed that you get a good sound system! There is nothing worse than a bad sound system. You learn to adjust and we try to fit into any club that we get. What’s cool is that we have been playing together for twelve to fifteen years now and I think as a band that is something we learned really well to do, is to adapt.
In terms with playing with the guys in the band, I have learned a lot! They are great guys and amazing musicians. We are like a family. It is like a relationship, we have fun, we fight, we create things together and we bump heads and we laugh. It’s everything. We kind of have interpersonal positions in the band. We all have different personalities, but the way it fits together in the band is the reason why it makes us that band. So I learned a lot from them musically and personally. We have known each other for so long now that there is this second hand when we talk, especially when we play music and that’s what is great about it. We can walk in a room with each other and not need to say anything. We could just plug in and play and there is this underlying communication that goes on. That’s the cool stuff that happens. You just feel it.
Part 2 of the Interview