Benjamin Hollingsworth’s Willingness to Give His All
Written by Vaughn Eric Stewart
Photography/Directing by: Kharen Hill
Hair & Makeup: Anya Ellis for Sappho & Morroccan Oil
I was given some amazing insight about actor Benjamin Hollingsworth from photographer Kharen Hill while she photographed him for Cool America Magazine. Kharen told me that Benjamin was fun to work with, was open to contributing ideas, and was totally uninhibited while being photographed — all the qualities any director would want in an actor, which is why Benjamin works as much as he does.
Benjamin, how did you get involved in acting?
It might have been when I was 4 years old; my older sister would dress me up in her clothes to put on “plays” for our parents. Coming from a family of 4 kids, it was everything we could do for a little extra attention. She would tell me where to stand and what to say. That seed grew over the years into a full-on addiction to telling stories.
For our aspiring actors, how do you prepare for an audition? How do you nail the character you’re auditioning for?
I first start by researching everything about the project itself; who wrote it, who is directing it, and what studio or network it’s for? All of these things go into the “tone” of the project/audition. It is imperative that you are aware of the type of story you are hopefully going to be a part of so you can “live” in that space. Then I try and learn my lines as early as I can so they have time to “marinate” in my imagination for a few nights. Sleep does wonders for your memory. There are enough things to juggle when you are trying to nail an audition and struggling with your lines is just not something you want to block your creative energy. I try to make strong choices that will set me apart from the pack. Now more than ever, casting directors are seeing more and more actors for one role, so you really need to do something that will make you stand out; a choice or a line read that’s different from the way everyone else does it, is the best way to make you mark.
Tell us about your new show Joe Pickett and your character Ote Keeley?
The series is inspired by the New York Times best-selling book series by CJ Box. It follows a big game warden as he tries to navigate the murky waters of a corrupt town of larger-than-life characters. The series is run by the Dowdle Brothers; the same two that helmed Waco for Paramount. Joe Pickett is also produced by Paramount Studios and the Red Wagon Entertainment, the same production company that did Gladiator, Girl Interrupted, Jarhead and The Great Gatsby. I haven’t had this much fun playing a character in a very, very long time. The character of “Ote” is everything you crave as an actor; he’s full of life, energetic and doesn’t live by any rules. This afforded me complete freedom when I was exploring each scene. Ote is paramount to the series. The opening 8 minutes of the first episode is Ote and the lead alone on the side of a mountain. The scene is primal, raw, full of power shifts and suspense. Not often do you have all of the elements of a good drama packed within a scene, but this one did and it was quite possibly my favorite day I’ve ever had on set.
“I try to keep as active as possible with as many different physical activities as I can.”
What’s the most challenging part to getting in touch with Ote?
I needed to find a way to play a menacing poacher from the deep back woods of Mississippi. My usual look doesn’t lend itself to a hillbilly, so that’s where I started. I distorted my face using make up and prosthetics; a trick I learned while studying at the National Theater School. I attached a 4-inch goatee to my face and used a tea bag as a substitute for chewing tobacco. I stained my teeth using a special make-up paint and eventually “Ote” was born. I worked on the accent with a great dialect coach named David LeReaney. I would keep the accent all day on set; from the time I put on my wardrobe until I wiped off my make-up at the end of the day. It would help me keep the sounds casual and lived-in, so when the camera rolled, I felt confident in what I was doing.
What attracted you to the show?
The creatives involved. That is the best way to know what you’re getting into. I had to pass on another job that would have paid three times more to film Joe Pickett, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing as it was one of the most fulfilling projects to date.
You’re also playing Dan Brady in Virgin River. How’s your schedule working out doing both shows?
It can be very difficult to navigate. There was a point where it looked like I was going to lose the role because of the scheduling with Virgin River, but Joe Pickett shifted its shooting schedule to accommodate me and I’m incredibly grateful.
Tell us about the show and your character?
Virgin River is a Netflix original series based, again, on a New York Times best-selling box series by Robin Carr. It follows Mel Monroe, a recently widowed mid wife as she happens upon a small town after fleeing her past in LA. I play Brady, an ex-marine who has had a hard time assimilating back into society after returning from Iraq. My character brings the edge to Virgin River. He is constantly stirring up trouble and slowly redeems himself as the series progresses. Season 3 has just been released on Netflix and the audience gets to see a different side of Brady which was very refreshing to explore.
You’ve done a lot of work. Of all the work you’ve done, what character did you most Identify with?
I can’t pick just one. I guess I could say I identify with them all. That’s my job. I try to find an aspect of each character I play that lives within me. Even if it’s a stretch, there will be a common thread that links us. We all aspire to love and we all have the capability to be hurt. Inside of that are the motivations to every character ever imagined.
Which one did you least identify with?
I find the hardest ones are characters that are not written well. Characters with undefined motivations are difficult to make believable and very hard to identify with.
What character kept you up at night?
They all do; usually the night before my first day on set. It’s not a bad thing as it shows your mind is focused, but it doesn’t help when working a 16-hour day.
When you’re not working, what do you do as an actor to continue developing your skills?
I watch as much as I can. Not just film and television, which is important, but real-life people. I have always loved people watching. Observing people is one of the best ways to portray one. I think that’s why some of the best actors live in New York City.
Name a director, actor and actress that you would love to work with.
Wes Anderson, Bill Murray and Helena Bonham Carter – for obvious reasons; they are all icons that have left an indelible mark on the industry because of their undeniable talent and unique tone.
“I strive to be emphatic in everyday life.”
On another note, how did the Pandemic affect your life?
It reminded me of how much I need preforming in my life. It was the longest I went without acting since I was back with my sister putting on plays in the living room. The void was palpable. Again, it’s an addiction.
Do you think the world is going through something with all that’s going on globally?
Of course. We are hopefully realizing the importance of human connection. If we lose that then we lose humanity.
What do you think you’ve learned during this time?
How to workout with a mask on 😉
What do you like to do on your spare time?
I try to keep as active as possible with as many different physical activities as I can. I love the outdoors, I love gardening, hiking, running, biking, kayaking, swimming, surfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding and working out. I also love team sports like baseball, volleyball and hockey.
What’s something you like to do with friends?
I love to be out on the water. Nothing beats a sunset cruise with some wine and good friends.
What’s something you love to do alone?
Work with my hands. Gardening, woodworking or just building legos or cardboard rocket ships with my sons.
We are a fashion/celebrity magazine. What would you say your style is?
I guess my style has shifted since becoming a dad. I used to wear things because they were cool or in vogue, but now I usual choose my outfits based on function. Is it comfortable? Does it breathe well? Will this food stain come out? lol
Any favorite designers?
I think I have to go with Marc by Marc Jacobs. Marc invited me to the Met Gala back in 2010. It was one of the most surreal nights of my entire life. It felt almost like a dream. I was having conversations with people I had idolized growing up. I’ve never pinched my arm more in one day. I finished the night at 3am sipping on old fashioned with Bond himself, Daniel Craig.
“Observing people is one of the best ways to portray one.”
We are called Cool America. What do you find cool about America?
Well, unfortunately people are focused on the uncool sides of America at the moment. But I find the right in which Americans have to express themselves is cool. Many protests and marches bring about unity, community, and change. America is at a point of reckoning with itself. The ideals the country was founded on have somehow been perverted along the way and the result is unrest and anger. I do believe in a better future, although it must be one where the country embraces its name; THE UNITED STATES.
What do you find cool about yourself?
I strive to be emphatic in everyday life. I often play antagonistic roles that seem to be one way but, in fact, end up having much more nuance and depth to them at the core. First impressions are frequently wrong. We as a society are quick to label people and categorize them as a this or that. I think this is dangerous. We are often at the mercy of online algorithms that only show us what we want to see; again dangerous. It’s up to us to try to see the duality of humanity and not write someone else’s story without getting to know them first. I think that’s why Kharen, the photographer and I really wanted to play with the idea of blurred images on this shoot. We all live in that space between what people perceive us as and who we really are at the core. Understanding that morality is complicated and offering up compassion and empathy to characters that don’t necessarily deserve it has afforded me the luxury of playing characters with real depth and texture.
Pic 1: Jacket: Super Dry, Scarf: Fendi, Shirt: Actor’s own
Pic 2: Tshirt: Actor’s own, Vintage Jeans: Guess, Vintage Cowboy Boots and Hat.
Pic 3: Hand Painted Tshirt by: Artist Ian Mcneil, Versace inspired floral shirt, Trench Coat: Actors own, Vintage tuxedo pants, shoes and leather bag
Pic 4: Vintage cap, Hand painted T-shirt: Stylists own, Pants: National Standard