The stories of Daniel Day-Lewis’s method acting are legion, from sending Sally Field text messages in character as Abraham Lincoln to building his character’s house himself using 17th-century tools for The Crucible. As I’ve often written, method acting, as practiced by many of today’s most important thespians, is the art of tricking yourself into believing things you know aren’t true in order to tell the truth when you’re lying. It’s really quite simple, when you think about it. And as I learned recently, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ashton Kutcher aren’t the only committed thespians out there.
If you don’t know who Ben Mendelsohn (above) is now, I promise you will soon. With memorable turns in Animal Kingdom and Killing Them Softly, and bit parts in bigger projects like The Dark Knight Rises already under his belt, the Aussie has a greasy charm that’s all but guaranteed to lubricate his awards chances in the next few years (bet on it, I’m serious). He’s got another big supporting role coming up opposite Ryan Gosling (pictured, right) and Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines, from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, which opens in a few markets this weekend. I recently had the chance to sit down with Derek Cianfrance, and from the sounds of it, Mendelsohn behind the scenes is even more entertaining than Mendelsohn on screen.
FILMDRUNK: I was wondering about [how you cast] Ben Mendelsohn. Had you seen him in something before?
CIANFRANCE: I saw him in Animal Kingdom, and I wanted to meet with him. And he came to an audition, and he looked like a wreck. He was wearing a bracelet on his arm, and I couldn’t tell if it was from a party, like one of those party bracelets, or if it was from the hospital. He sat there at the table with me and he said, “Oh, mate, don’t make me read, don’t make me audition. If you make me audition it’s going to ruin the whole thing.” He says, “If you cast me in this I’ll carry the spear for you.” I said, “Ok, you’ve got it.” The role of Robin in the script is a little older than Ben. Robin in the script is supposed to have dentures. No teeth. In that first meeting, within 15 minutes of meeting Ben, after he told me he’d carry a spear for me, I told him he could do the movie.
We started talking about the teeth. This is an example of trust on a movie, he said he had a lot of dental work done and he said he would have his teeth taken out for the role. And he gave me his dentist’s phone number. Later on that day I had his dentist on the phone, and about a week later – and this shows you the madness that you get into when you’re making a film – I had his dental x-rays in my possession. And we were planning his trip to go get his teeth pulled out. And he was down for it. And I was going to do it! Thank God I had a producer with a conscience around me that told me, “You can’t have him take his teeth for the movie.” I feel like a terrible human being for actually considering it. Now as the dust has cleared on the movie, what a maniac.
So there you have it. For all you aspiring actors out there, the lesson is this: having a good audition is nice, but not nearly as important as being willing to rip out your working teeth if the role calls for it. Loyalty is a prized commodity in Hollywood. It’s for these reasons that the Screen Actors Guild is also known as “The Gay Yakuza.”
Place Beyond the Pines opens in select theaters March 29th.