Ben Mendelsohn on Animal Kingdom, Crafting a Monster, and the Upside of Tension


How long had you known the individuals in this ensemble?

I'd known Jacki [Weaver] for 20 years, Sullivan [Stapleton] 10 years, Luke Ford no years, and James Frecheville no years. So they were the two I was the most brutal with.

How so?

Well, I just didn't want [James] anywhere near me, basically. Obviously at some point or another it's going to move on from that phase, but to set it up, I just didn't want him anywhere near me. For his sake and for mine. He doesn't matter. He doesn't matter. And I wanted him to be very aware that he was on my turf. He can bounce back from lots of stuff, James. And look, I like James a lot. We get along quite well. But it was just important to keep a distance. He ended up catching on because my girlfriend at the time sort of said to him, "Oh, you're the one Ben doesn't want anywhere near him." And he said, "Oh, so that's what's going on." But I just wouldn't call him by his right name. I think I called him "John." And "The Kid." He does a pretty good impersonation of it, actually. But that was for him.

And for Luke Ford, who plays Darren, I took one look at him, and I kind of knew that we were similar actors. And I said, "Luke, you and I..." They both do very good impersonations of me. The younger actors in Australia do impressions of varying competency because I've been around there forever. But all I said to him was, "You and me have got this going on in a similar way; we'll figure it out." And then I proceeded to just harangue him. I sent him a copy of Fassbinder's Querelle and I said, "You're the central character; that's what you are." He didn't understand it. In fact, he didn't even watch it, the cheeky little bastard, until I told him, "Watch it." And when he was confused, I said, "You don't get it? You're gay, and I'm going to f*ck you, basically." That's it.

Did Pope really think Darren was gay? Did he really want to know?

What do you think? Huh? I love the spaces here!

I truly believe Darren could have told Pope. I don't know if he was, but I think he could have talked to him.

Yeah. I think there's a few things going on there, and I think you might be right. I think this part of the resonance of it, and this is part of the reason it's able to stay with people: There are enough quality imaginative and emotional spaces for the viewer to enter the picture and become part of it. I think that's what's greatly affecting and good about the film. But it was more to set a template initially between him and I to say, "This is how it's going to be." And he... Oh, f*ck, he was so infuriating. He was infuriating. And he and I created an incredible amount of tension together. A horrible amount of tension. Horrendous, to the point where other people would go off and start punching each other at the end of the day because it had been such a horrible day. They wouldn't fight with me.

When you're on a set -- in an environment -- like that, does it feel like things are going wrong? Or does it feel like, "Hey, we're on to something?"

It's just confusing and exhausting. And horrible. Really awful. It just feels like the worst.

Was that unique to this film, or those relationships you build with your colleagues in other roles?

It's happened before, but not like this. With this film, we knew what we were doing, kind of like people walking around with their eyes shut, almost sleepwalking, knowing what they're doing, yet at the same time being almost lost in it. And that being quite effortless. That's what was f*cking great about it. It means you don't have to work hard. You just go and do it. That's why you get such strong changes in mood and that kind of stuff.

Had you seen the film before Sundance?


That was electric. What was your first impression?

Well, I tell a lie. I saw quite a bit when we were doing ADR. That's when I really saw it. But, you know, ah... [Pause] Look, I was just so happy. I was very happy on a personal level with how uncontactable he was. I was f*cking thrilled. Because I saw it and I went, "Yes, good. You can't tell a f*cking thing that's going on inside there." It's just a human shell kind of scooped out except when the discords come along. There's this other strange sort of melody, and it's like, "What the f*ck is that?"

I've asked everyone about the "All Out of Love" scene, which is just... nuts. What were your thoughts about that shot, both when you were approached and watching it for the first time?

We talked about it, and then we talked about a few of the things that might have been going on. Look, I mean, I know what it's like to get lost inside a mood and inside a song and for it to go off into something else. So we talked about the types of things it would be going off into -- the types of things he would be feeling and something like that. When you see someone in a situation, and you can see they're blown away in some way, that's scary. That's scary. You don't know what's going on inside that person. I'll give you another horror analogy: the little boy and Scatman Crothers in The Shining. You can see there's something going on -- there's something there that's kind of disturbing. And then we go into doors opening and blood pouring, and that's where it falls. But it's that experience of transportation -- when you aren't sure why someone's transported? If you can get that across genuinely, then you're dealing in strong suits.

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  • Chip Rosenthal says:

    I'd love to know if anyone else understood a freakin' word that was just written in the interview above? I think I need an analyst just to help me through it. And don't give me the "that's what he was going for" routine, because an interview should, by definition, tell you something concrete. That was what sounds like 1970's acid conversation with a poppy seed.

  • Anthony says:

    Agreed Chip. Ben sounds like he has disorganized schizophrenia or something, which would explain why he was so good in the movie. Here I was thinking he was acting.

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    That's definitely not what he was going for, though it should be noted that if you haven't seen the film, this interview will make far less sense than it should.
    If you have seen it, and it still doesn't make sense, I just don't know what to tell you.

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