Bixby, Oklahoma-born actor, Ben Reed has a slew of TV credits to his name, like “Will & Grace”, “Reba”, and “Young & the Restless”. Now, it’s time to see Ben’s rugged good looks on the big screen. First, you can catch him playing Bradley Cooper’s father in the Oscar-buzzed Clint Eastwood-directed film, “American Sniper”. Ben will also be acting in a film he produced called “Starcrossed”, starring Misha Barton. I had the pleasure of speaking with this down-to-earth father of five. Find out what he has to say about working with Clint and Bradley and how becoming a film producer led him to concerning himself with port-a-potties and possibly hungover actors.
First, let’s talk about “American Sniper”. What was the experience of filming the movie like?
You know what, it was a great experience for me. First of all, from the standpoint that it was a great story. It’s interesting to take a story of a man’s life and put it up on screen. I don’t know if you’ve read the book or anything, but the film pretty much holds true to Chris Kyle’s own story, and in the eyes of many he’s a hero. He is the most decorated military sniper in history. That story in itself is great, but it also touches on the other soldiers that fight and come home with PTSD.
What I like about the film is that it takes Chris Kyle on four tours. So you see him go fight, come home, fight, come home, fight, come home, fight, come home, and you see how he changes every time. There’s a scene where Sienna Miller goes, ‘You don’t think this war has changed you, but it has’. I guess when you’re in the throws of war, you don’t really see it until someone points it out to you.
It was a phenomenal experience. You know, I got to work with the legendary Clint Eastwood, so that was a dream come true. He could not have been any more gracious and kind. He’s an 84-year-old man, so he’s lived life. He’s been in this business for sixty years and he’s seen everything in the business. He’s still sharp as a tack. Very sharp as a director.
Did Clint give you any advice during filming with all of that experience behind him?
Well, he doesn’t give you advice in a sense of, ‘here’s what I want you to do’. You come in, he lets you do your thing, and then he’ll just walk over and say, ‘hey, on this next shot, why don’t you try this?’ And you try it, and he’ll say, ‘That is exactly how I wanted it. And now, this one, try this way and I want you to look at her’. He’ll give you direction, like he’s supposed to just to give him options later to edit. But you know, you’re on the set and everybody’s working and doing their thing… We got to chitchat a little bit between some set-ups, but it was pretty general man-talk. [laughs] What was it like working with some of the cast members?
Well, Bradley Cooper was great. He was very generous as well. Most of my scenes were with him as a 10-year-old boy. The cool thing was when I was shooting the stuff with the young Chris Kyle, he was there. Bradley is also a producer on the film, so he was always there on the set, so I got to talk with him a lot. He was the same as Clint, very welcoming into the team of “American Sniper”. He [Bradley] was everything I ever wanted him to be—you know, sometimes you meet actors and you’re like, ‘oh, what an ass!’ But he couldn’t have been more gracious, and I appreciate that as a fellow actor.
That’s great. I know you’ve done a lot of television. How is the change from TV to movies?
TV is quicker. In one of the scenes on “American Sniper”—the wedding scene… I mean we shot that thing all day. And it’s only in there about fifteen seconds. [Film] is just a slower process and it lets them shoot more. Keep in mind though, most films take 3-6 months to make. They shot this [American Sniper] in 42 days. They were moving at a rapid pace because Bradley Cooper had another job he had to go to. So they just jammed it in between his two jobs.
But acting-wise, acting is acting. You get into character, you live that character, and when the director says, ‘okay, we got it, let’s move onto the next shot’, then you’re done. So it’s not like you’re doing anything different as an actor. You still have to do your research on a character and do your homework in the sense that you build a history. You get a script and within it is a history of that character, but usually it’s pretty skeleton.
As an actor, you get to do the thing that you like, and that’s build your own history of that character. You can build it from when he was a child and how his parents treated him. You can just build this fantasy life if you want, and that’s the way I kind of approach acting, to build a life of that character. Mr. Kyle, Wayne Kyle, the character I play… I can read in Chris’ book what kind of man he was and then I can go online and try to find as much stuff as I could. Thank God for Google. I can get a gist of that, but also, I can bring in my own thoughts as a father—I have five kids, so that’s no easy task. And I take my kids hunting as you see me take young Chris Kyle hunting. And yes, I sit at my dining room table and lecture my kids on how they should live, and values, and discipline.
It’s all about fantasy and everything, but you also have to bring some of your own life in—at least I do, because I have lived a life with children. My father was the same kind of guy as Wayne Kyle. He was very stern and disciplined and wasn’t really a chit-chatty guy, but when he talked to you, it was something you needed to hear. That’s the stuff I drew from to play Wayne Kyle.
Watch: “American Sniper” Trailer
I understand you’re also a producer and you’re starring in the movie, “Starcrossed”?
Yes, we just finished up on “Starcrossed” and now we’re just finishing up on post-production. Then we’re going to start shopping it. I have the lovely Misha Barton starring in that with this young guy I found, Grant Harvey, who’s a phenomenal actor. I’m very pleased I got to have him on my film because their chemistry is amazing. I play Anthony Bishop and we have sort of a love triangle within the film itself. The film is basically about two young people who are kind of lost in their lives. When they finally meet each other, there is a chance of a future together and a hope, like a renewal of spirit. It has a lot of twists and turns as the movie progresses, but we’re very happy with it. And Eric Roberts is in it as well. He plays my business partner.
Watch the Trailer for “Starcrossed”
What’s the biggest challenge of being a producer?
Making every decision! When you’re an actor, you show up, you do your shtick, and you’re gone. Everyone else worries about the film. As a producer, I got to be involved. I had a young writer and he also directed the film. Here’s a kid who never really worked in the business, but he wrote a great film. I liked the script a lot. Once we got it to where we wanted it, I said let’s see if we can shop this. So I shopped it and got to meet actors and actresses I wanted. I got to be in a casting process. It’s fun being on the other side of the table because you get to see these actors approach their characters. You know when someone really worked on it or someone got drunk the night before and didn’t really put any effort into it. That process was fun. Then there was the other process of the crew and the right port-a-potties to have on the set, the generators, and I got to be involved in all of that because I raised the money so I had to know where it was going. It was very stressful, but the most fun I had in twenty years, career-wise.
How do you stay positive, especially in such a tough business?
I wake up every day and think, ‘today, there’s going to be opportunities’. I’m kind of a positive guy because when you wake up in the morning, you can be happy or you can be miserable. So I choose to be happy. I have five kids and I have to set examples for my kids and set the tone for the house. When you come into my house, I have little signs over the door. I’m looking at them right now. One of them says, “add value”, “never quit”, “finish”, “don’t wait”, “you can have what you want”, and “be grateful”.
You know, subliminally I always think stuff like that, even though you don’t talk about it, but if you see stuff like that every day, I just think that kind of stuff sinks in. Life is tough. I don’t care who you are or what’s going on with you. I don’t care if you’re George Clooney—you’ve got some tough stuff going on in your life. Every body does. True strength of a man and woman is how you handle the down parts of your life, and how you gather the strength and take on that next challenge. Do I get depressed and tired of the rat race? Sure. I’ll give myself 24-hours of whining and then get back up on the horse.
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