Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn gets to be an American villain in ‘Ready Player One’
The thick Australian accent is a bit disconcerting when Ben Mendelsohn phones in from Los Angeles to talk about his role in Steven Spielberg’s new film “Ready Player One.” Mendelsohn had used that accent throughout his early career as a leading man, often playing romantic parts, in Australia. But after scoring a memorable bad guy role in the Australian film “Animal Kingdom,” he crossed over to Hollywood, getting work in small arthouse films (“The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Mississippi Grind”) as well as gigantic tentpole movies (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “Rogue One”), and he proved that he was a wizard with American accents. That accent was especially convincing on Danny, the sleazy but charming character he recently played on the TV series “Bloodline,” the show that caught the attention of Steven Spielberg when he was casting his epic virtual reality movie “Ready Player One.” It won Mendelsohn the juicy part of the elegantly dressed Nolan Sorrento, the power-hungry corporate executive and main villain of the piece. Mendelsohn was thrilled to get the gig, and delighted to talk about the road he’s been traveling that led up to it.
Q: You were working for many years in Australia before “Animal Kingdom.” Was that really your ticket to American films?
A: Without a doubt, but it was kind of like the fuse went down and then it went into where the bomb was, but then people were thinking, “Oh, I guess it’s not actually going to go off.” But then, about three minutes later, boom! Off it went. So, it was kind of a delayed reaction. But without a doubt, without “Animal Kingdom,” there’s none of the rest, at all.
Q: You were just starting to make your name here, in small films, when you got to play Daggett in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Was being in a big-budget film easier or more challenging for you?
A: Well, there’s more eyes watching the process, and that can be an adjustment for someone that comes from acting in indie films. That kind of scale started on “The Dark Knight Rises” for me. I was aware when we were shooting it that it was the biggest movie being made on the planet. But you sort of jump in. I’ve had the opportunity to do that kind of thing a couple of times now, and I’ve sort of relaxed into just being who I am and the way I go about doing my work.
Q: How did you get involved with “Ready Player One?”
A: My agent had been tracking it for a good while and he was doing his bit for me. But what was really fortunate was that Steven had seen me in “Bloodline,” and (his wife) Kate Capshaw was really into the show. They had both watched it together, and that didn’t hurt things at all. Then I got into a room with Steven, at which point I became very shy but very happy, and I told him, “Maybe I’ll get to do the movie, maybe I won’t get to do it, but right now, just being in the room with you, this’ll do; if this is all it is, I’m still pretty happy.” The film was kicking around for a while, but several months later, it got confirmed.
Q: Your Nolan Sorrento, one of the honchos at Innovative Online Industries (IOI) is a nasty piece of work. What would you say makes him tick?
A: In the flashback about his past in the company, you see that he’s sort of ignored and marginalized, because he’s a jerk. But, in a lot of the same way that, say, Stalin was a marginal figure with the Bolsheviks, who ends up taking power, so does Nolan Sorrento through IOI. But he’s a jerk. He’s someone with a bruised ego that wants everyone else to pay for it. That’s my reading of the guy.
Q: You’ve said that you already saw the film twice. Was it at all the way you imagined it was going to look like while you were filming it?
A: It was kind of a revelation. With the physical sets, and stuff like that, I had some sort of expectation. But movies are never, ever, ever the way you expect them to be. The experience of doing them, and then seeing them, are two completely different things. What I didn’t expect was the magical ride of it. It really took me by surprise.
Q: I’m sure you’re not allowed to say anything about your upcoming film “Captain Marvel.” But can you at least reveal the name of the character you’re playing?
A: (Laughs) No, that is not possible. (pause, then) Sorry, mate.
“Ready Player One” opens on March 29.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.