I recently got the opportunity to talk to Jason Benjamin about his role in ‘Quarantine 2: Terminal’. Here, Jason talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set, and about his life as a stuntman…
Hey Jason. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me – ‘Quarantine 2: Terminal’ has just had it’s DVD premiere in the UK on 15th August 2011.
You’re very welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play the leader of the CDC team that comes in to get the passengers after they have been quarantined at the airport terminal. A lot of really crazy things have been happening to them up to that point, so they are relieved to hear someone is coming to save them.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I had to do it the old-fashioned way, I auditioned along with several other actors. I got a callback and had the opportunity to read for the writer/director, John Pogue. During our meeting I told him I realized how important it was for the CDC team to believably operate like a real Haz-Mat team, as well as a SWAT or military-type unit. He agreed and then he said he was happy I understood that. I asked him if he’d read my resume and if he knew I had been in the military and had been a police officer for seven years – (five of those years as a SWAT officer) and that I was a certified Haz-Mat technician. Truthfully, I assumed he had no idea what my background was, I just needed a way to let him know so I could (hopefully) separate myself from the other actors. His eyes opened real wide and he picked up my headshot, flipped it over and looked at my resume. After a few seconds, he jokingly said if he hired me he’d be getting a two-for-one deal… an actor and a technical advisor. I told him that’s exactly what he’d be getting. I had a pretty good feeling about where his head was when he took me to meet Marc Bienstock, the producer. My gamble paid off and I booked the role and they hired me as a technical advisor.
I’ve seen the trailer – how would you say this film is different to other horror films? Obviously, it’s set on a plane….
That’s a great question. Obviously, it’s not the first film to deal with this type of outbreak or the first horror film to be set on an airplane. In my opinion, what really makes this film different is that, although it’s a sequel to a remake (‘Rec’), John doesn’t try to copy ‘Rec 2’ or try to cash in on its success. He came up with a really cool story that gets as far away as possible from the “found footage” storyline of ‘Rec’, ‘Rec 2’ and ‘Quarantine’. This film picks up where ‘Quarantine’ left off and takes place later the same night. It’s a completely different storyline and I think it opens up so many possibilities by taking the virus away from the original location in the first film and flies it across the country. The whole idea behind the other films is that the government is trying to quarantine this virus so it can be eradicated. In ‘Quarantine 2’, the virus is literally being spread across the country and who knows where it will end up and how many people will be infected by it?
The film stars Mercedes Masohn, Josh Cooke, Mattie Liptak and Bre Blair – with John Pogue onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew? I imagine it must have been pretty confined in places…
Let me start with John, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some really great directors over the years. Without a doubt, John is one of the best. His ability to tell a story has been proven by looking at the scripts he’s written in the past. What really impressed me most about him was his ability to connect with the actors and bring out the best possible performances from each of us. Any time you work on a film that tells a story this intense and is this action-packed, it’s exhausting both physically and emotionally. Add that to the long days on set and it can take a heavy toll on any actor. Having a director that can keep all the personalities and physical limitations of the actors in mind and give them the encouragement to press on when they’re just about ready to drop is of the utmost importance. John is definitely someone I hope to work with again on any project.
As for the cast and crew, every single person on this project was a true professional, in every sense of the word. From the producer down to the PA’s, everyone was absolutely fantastic to work with. It’s one of the few times I’ve been on a set where everyone genuinely liked each other. We were shooting in a small town in Georgia and there really wasn’t a lot to do at night when we got off work. There was a small bar in town that everyone (cast and crew) would hang out in. We ate, drank, sang karaoke and just had a great time being together. What makes that really impressive to me is we’d spend long days in cramped, hot sets screaming at the top of our lungs and then spend the evenings in a cramped, hot bar screaming at the top of our lungs to relax.
I’ve heard rumour of a ‘needle’ scene in the film – what can you tell us about that?
Wow, that scene is crazy! I’m not going to spoil it by saying what it is, but rest assured it’s one of the craziest scenes in the film. I will say the actor in the scene, Josh Cooke, is a real trooper. He’s an awesome actor and a great guy. That scene was hard to watch. It’s one of those scenes people always talk about when anyone mentions the movie.
Let’s talk a bit about you Jason. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
When I was kid, around 13 years old, my grandfather took me to see the musical “Hello Dolly”. As a teenager, I had no desire to go see a musical, but I was really close to my grandfather so I didn’t complain out loud. I was completely amazed by what I saw on stage. Although I knew nothing about acting, I knew they had to spend many hours practicing to be able to get up there and do that. I literally sat on the edge of my seat during the entire show. When we left the theatre, I told my grandfather I wanted to do that. It wasn’t until I got into high school that I actually got a chance to do it. I can remember how anxious I was right before the curtain opened on my first show. I wasn’t nervous, at all. I couldn’t wait for the show to start.
We should mention you’re also a stunt-guy as well – how did you get involved in this part of the industry?
My introduction to that side of the industry happened almost by accident. It actually started while I was still doing theatre. I took a break from acting for a while to pursue a career as a professional wrestler. I was experiencing a lot of success as a wrestler and had just been offered a developmental contract with the World Wrestling Federation (before it became known as WWE) when a broken leg ended my career. It took me eleven months, but after I recovered from that injury, I went back to acting. In a play I was performing in, my character got shot while standing at the top of a set of stairs. I then fell down the entire flight of stairs and landed on the floor below. During the first rehearsal, the director was trying to explain to me how to fall down without hurting myself. Rather than tell him I had been a wrestler and knew how to fall, I let him finish explaining. On the first try, I pretended to get shot then launched myself down the 9 or 10 steps and landed on my face at the bottom. The director freaked out. He thought I had broken my neck and came running up to me and yelled for someone to call for an ambulance. When I rolled over and told him I was fine, he almost passed out. One of the cast members knew I had been a wrestler and told the director I knew how to fall without getting hurt. He ended up having me choreograph the fight scenes for that show. It wasn’t long before other directors heard about the “big actor that could do stunts” and I found myself staying booked.
When I made the transition from the stage to film and television projects, my reputation preceded me. From the beginning, I was being asked to do some small stunts or choreograph fight scenes. I realized I was getting booked on a lot of the jobs because of my ability to do some small stunts and fight scenes. I decided that I needed to learn the proper way to do more and sought out a school where I could learn from a true stunt professional. I went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and trained with a legend in the stunt community, Michael Long. He taught me how to do high falls, air rams, ratchets, car hits and many other stunts. Having the ability to work as an actor, stuntman, fight choreographer and technical advisor has opened so many more doors for me.
What’s the worst injury you‘ve got as a result?
I’ve been pretty lucky so far. The stunts are really planned out to minimize injuries, as much as possible. However, accidents happen. I fractured my ankle once, but was able to keep working. It wasn’t broken too badly so I wrapped it real tight with a bandage so I could stand on it and never told the director I was hurt. A few weeks ago I was working on a film where I played a soldier and I had a big fight scene. Part of my wardrobe was a pistol in a thigh holster. During the fight, I get thrown across the room and crash into a large tank then fall to the floor. I had been landing on my stomach after crashing into the tank and had no problems with that. During one of the takes, I slipped just before I was thrown and couldn’t get my body turned all the way around. I landed on my side and the pistol strapped to my right thigh caused a deep bruise on my leg. I limped around for over a week after that.
If you could have a dinner with three historical guests, living or dead – who would they be and why?
First, I’d dine with Alexander the Great. Anyone that could conquer the Persian Empire by the age of 25 would have some good stories to tell. By the time he died, his empire stretched over three continents and he successfully linked together an international network of trade and commerce. The second would be Aristotle. His writings covered just about everything: science, poetry, theatre, music, logic, politics and more. The list is astounding. Plus, he was Alexander the Great’s teacher. Obviously, he knew a thing or two. Then I would like to meet Marie Curie. She may not have conquered the Persian Empire or tutored the man who one day would, but she did have a pretty huge impact on the world. Aside from the Nobel Prizes and being the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne, her research was crucial in the development of x-rays in surgery. Not only did she help to equip x-rays on ambulances during World War I, she drove them to the front lines. She literally gave her life for her research.
What is currently on your I-Pod right now?
I have a rather eclectic taste in music. Lately, I’ve been on a country music kick, though. There’s an American country artist named James Wesley that I really like.
What is coming up for you both in 2011?
I’ve been really fortunate the past couple years, booking projects like “Quarantine 2”, a recurring role on the TV show “Drop Dead Diva”, a role on the TV show “Single Ladies” and several other projects. My goal is to continue working hard and never take any of it for granted. I have my own TV show in development and I’ve had some interest in it from a few people so I intend to put as much energy as I can into that. In the Spring of 2012 I plan to produce and star in another film with my brother, also. However, my top priority is to always be the best husband I can be to my wife and never forget the people who helped me get to where I am now. I believe in karma. The world is round and everything always comes back to you.
Thanks for the interview!