Ben Mendelsohn plays King Henry VI in “Darkest Hour,”
one of the rare times he hasn’t played a bad guy in a
Don’t worry though, he’s got some major bad guy roles
coming, like Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood” and the
villain in “Ready Player One.”
But he’s quiet about a possible return of his “Rogue
One” character Director Krennic in any future “Star Wars”
After years of being a struggling actor in Australia, Ben
Mendelsohn got his breakout in 2010 as the patriarch of a crime
family on the run in “Animal Kingdom,” and hasn’t looked back
Finding his mark playing complex dark characters in indies like
“The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Slow West,” Mendelsohn hit it
big when he scored the role of Director Orson Krennic in “Rogue
One: A Star Wars Story” last year. But in his latest role
Mendelsohn proves he can do more than just play the bad guy. As
King George VI opposite Gary Oldman as Winston
Churchill in “Darkest Hour” (in theaters December 22), Mendelsohn
shows off his softer side as he plays a man tasked with keeping
the United Kingdom strong during World War II while trying to
match wits with Churchill, though suffering a stammer when he
speaks. (He plays the same character who earned Colin Firth a
best actor Oscar for “The King’s Speech.”)
Mendelsohn talked to Business Insider about preparing for the
challenging task as well as his upcoming anticipated roles, which
range from the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood” to a gaming nerd in
“Ready Player One” — yes, he’s
a bad guy in both.
Jason Guerrasio: When you had to wrap your head around
that you’re going to play King Henry VI, was it exciting or
Ben Mendelsohn: It was both. It was very
unexpected. I got why [director] Joe [Wright] thought of me in
one respect. If you look at me in profile and look at him it’s
not a bad match. There are certain, well, I guess, shyness to me
and the portrayal of him. But other than that it’s a pretty big
Guerrasio: And when you say risk, you mean the weight of
Mendelsohn: Yeah. It’s a risk from Joe’s
perspective. I think there’s plenty of people he could have cast
that were more, um —
Mendelsohn: Yeah. Exactly. Wouldn’t have to
worry about the accent stuff. But I’m very thankful that he did
ask me to do it. And then it’s the company you’re in. Gary Oldman
playing Winston Churchill, that is a film I would go see.
Guerrasio: What was the research like? Did you want to go
really deep in knowing everything about King Henry?
Mendelsohn: No. I was mostly interested in what
I could see and hear. I was less interested in the various
interpretations of the man. I knew the rough outlines of his
situation. It was really to get a sense of where the stutter was
and what feeling you get from him.
Guerrasio: So basically watching “The King’s Speech”
would have screwed you up.
Mendelsohn: By the time the Jello had nearly set
I went back and watched “The King’s Speech.” I hadn’t planned on
it and then I just thought, you know what — um, I’m trying to
find a way to say this that you won’t have to edit me —
Guerrasio: Screw it!
Mendelsohn: Yeah. Thank you. [Laughs.] And I’m glad I did because it is a beautiful portrayal.
Guerrasio: Was it less looking at how Colin did the voice
and more how he moved as the King? His swagger?
Mendelsohn: It was less of that. No. I wasn’t
looking at Colin’s performance as to how he interpreted the guy.
I wasn’t interested to try to take up or ignore, it was more
getting the whole sense of the story. The stuff that affected me
more was the business with his dad and brother. That’s what I
took on board a bit more.
Guerrasio: It sounded like you got in early with Gary,
all the actors were given a good chunk of rehearsal time before
Mendelsohn: They had a long rehearsal period
which I was there for a few days of. And thank God we did. Look,
it was a task and it helps a lot to get comfortable with the
people you’re going to be doing it with. Gary and I had met
before, we worked on “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Guerrasio: That’s right!
Mendelsohn: We don’t do anything together, but
we are in one scene where Commissioner Gordon gets up and makes a
little speech in the back of Wayne Manor. So we were together
over a couple of night shoots together.
Guerrasio: While shooting “Darkest Hour,” between
shooting are you and Gary talking in your character voices? Are
you scared you’ll lose the stutter?
Mendelsohn: Well, once you know where it is you
can pick it up and put it down. You don’t need to do all that
Guerrasio: The connection between you and Gary is you
both play bad guys so well. For you, is it hard to find a role
like this? Something that just on paper doesn’t scream,
Mendelsohn: I consider it a real compliment to
be offered the bad guy. No complaints on that. But it was a
delight to be offered this role in part because he’s a good
Guerrasio: Is it more fun to play the dark
Mendelsohn: No. Well, it depends. I think it’s
more fun to work than not to work.
Mendelsohn: There’s a certain malevolent
delight that baddies get to express. But that’s pretty short
Guerrasio: Coming up you play the Sheriff of Nottingham
in the latest “Robin Hood” movie. Will you give him a more
playful feel? Like Alan Rickman did in “Robin Hood: Prince of
Mendelsohn: Ah, no one is ever going to top Alan
Guerrasio: He was damn good in that role.
Mendelsohn:No one is ever going to top that, and I’m not
trying. But this is an origin story of Hood, it’s a very
explosive kind of piece. But no, the sheriff is not a good guy at
all. But Nolan Sorrento in “Ready Player One” is a fantastic bad
guy. He’s a nerd that’s got too much power. I guess most bad guys
you look at what they do with their flaws. How they’ve
compensated for them in some way and how they try to make
everyone else pay for it. That seems to be one of the thematic
things about most bad guys.
Guerrasio: I think that’s why people gravitate to those
kind of roles, they plug their darkness and insecurities into
what they see that character doing.
Mendelsohn: Yeah. And that kind of misbehaving,
as it were, comes vicariously.
Guerrasio: With “Ready Player One,” was that just another
“pinch me” moment in your career?
Mendelsohn: Oh yeah. I remember meeting
Spielberg for the first time and I said, “I don’t know what your
intention is but this is good enough for me, I got to sit in a
room with you.” He had seen “Bloodline,” he was a big “Bloodline”
Guerrasio: Are you bummed there’s no more “Bloodline?”
Did you feel there was more story to be told?
Mendelsohn: I think from my point of view [my
character] Danny Rayburn was always in the early part of that
telling. I think that those guys had a lot more in them. But
that’s the way it is. Few things have been as good to me as
Guerrasio: With the news that Rian Johnson is going to
expand “Star Wars” and is tasked with making more movies — not
to mention all the one-off movies — is it possible Director
Krennic comes back?
Mendelsohn: I don’t know. I really don’t know
what’s happening with any of that.
Guerrasio: Was it a one-and-done contract for you, or did
you have an option for multiple films?
Mendelsohn: It would be remiss for me to discuss
Guerrasio: Well, I had to try.
Guerrasio: And I guess this is another one you can’t
really say, but are the rumors true that you’ll be in Captain
Mendelsohn: That’s another I wish we could talk
about, but I can neither confirm or deny the existence of such a
project, if there were such a project. [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: Honestly, these kind of questions, are these
fun for you? Because you’ve had to navigate through them a lot
for a year-plus now.
Mendelsohn: Look, honestly, I’m a guy who sat
around being out of work for a very long time so this is not a
problem. [Laughs.] This is a very, very lucky position
to be in.