I recently got the chance to talk to Shaun Benson about his role in French film, ‘Populaire’. Here, Shaun talks about how he got involved in the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
It’s my absolute pleasure Matt.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
The film takes place in 1959 in a small town in France. Louis needs a new secretary and of all the applicants he is most taken by Rose – not only due to her ridiculous ability to type crazy fast with a child-like two finger typing style but her ballsy charm. He sees her potential – and coaches her to become world typing champion, all the while not knowing how to feel what he actually feels for her!! I play Bob, his American ex-pat best friend who is married to his childhood sweetheart Marie. Louis grew up only knowing trying to be the best and Marie and I provide him a model for the possibility of love for love’s sake.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play and adore Bob Taylor. He is an American who met Marie (Berenice Bejo) during World War II in Normandie and stayed in France for love. He is an utter bon vivant and as I like to think about him – -he’s Post-Crash, in that his major life “who am I” drama happened years ago and now he gets to reap the simple pleasures of a life with its priorities in order – love first, all else after.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I feel terribly lucky about this since I got a call to audition for it – through a self-tape, which would be on-lined to the casting office. I had assumed it was an indie thing that would shoot for a weekend in Montreal. When I got the part I still didn’t have the details and called my girlfriend suggesting that if I’d be in Montreal for more than a day she might visit. Turns out it was France for the better part of four months!! I also almost didn’t send my audition. I thought it was weak and was in a funk over a few parts I’d almost booked but hadn’t in Canada. When my agent got my audition he said it was the best he’d seen from me – seems out I don’t know what my best work is. Luckily my job is just to do my work – not evaluate it.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Well that is both easy and difficult for me to answer since I hadn’t had much exposure to French film before heading over there. And I did notice when I started to educate myself, by going to the cinema each day, that it’s not a huge pool of actors. Somewhat incestuous. But then I realized that I was working with film stars. I say that because the idea that Romain or Berenice would be ‘different’ from their other work just to be different would be to negate the charms and behaviours of there’s that we adore. So the film includes much of that esprit that the leads and all the actors seem to have in their other work. But the difference for me between this and most films I’ve seen – especially recently – is the sheer non-cynical heart of it all and the almost Godfather-esque attention to set and costume and style detail. It’s this phenomenal open-hearted love story set in the most lush Mad Men era’d epoch but, again, without the sort of revisionist gloom and “we know better now”-ness of many period pieces.
The film stars Romain Duris, Deborah Francois, Berenice Bejo, your good self, Melanie Bernier, Nicolas Bedos, Miou-Miou, Eddy Mitchell, Frederic Pierrot and Feodor Atkine – with Regis Roinsard onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
I have been blessed in my work to cross paths with so many talents. And share the stage and screen with some of my childhood favourite actors and so on. But hands down this was the best group of people I’ve ever worked with. The warmth and professionalism and f*ckin fun of it all was something I will take to my grave. I would love to share some kind of witty anecdote about it all but for me it was the glue of the moments that is the real story of my time: the dumb jokes that aren’t funny to anyone else, that bummed smoke shooting under the Eiffel Tower at night, becoming friends not just colleagues with many of the gang, watching the scenes of Deborah’s and Romain’s that I wasn’t even in because I couldn’t believe how amazing and simple they both were, being lonely in Paris cause I miss my lady, kissing said lady on the balcony of our room while the New Year’s fireworks crack and the Rue is flooded with joy and promise below. It was one thing after another with that kind of deep resonance for me. And it was all heightened by me being a fish out of water.
Let’s talk a bit about you Shaun. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
I had begun dancing ballet when I was 9. Not professionally or even well but I took it very seriously. And this led to music as well. Same thing – not a real good singer or guitarist but both those things drew me very deeply in to the love of being on stage. Dance shows and music and the odd school play led to more straight theatre and ultimately, while completing a Bio Chemistry degree at university, I decided to move to Toronto, our acting capital in Canada, and make a go of it. It hasn’t always been an easy thing but it’s never not been the right thing.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
I’m not a huge fan of advice only because I don’t know what anyone else’s potential or actual thing is – but from my own experience I can say that the only real obstacles I ever encountered were ones I created. Ego, drugs, fear, entitlement – these were things I used to get a hit off of in a moment but they always led to ruin, either small or great. But now when I just do the work, meet people who are hiring and do my dance fully and completely, and show up as a worker among workers – it all grows and feels right. And maybe there are slower or fuller times but when I work like this the throughline and the consistency of both a single performance and a career seem to happen
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV series – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with and why? Any good stories?
My favourite is Richard Thomas. We shot a series as leads together called ‘Just Cause’. It was our 3rd week shooting together and we did our first outdoor work in Vancouver. Now I didn’t know who he was professionally – just that I adored his work and him as a guy. When we wrapped there was a line of about 200 women, 45 or older, waiting and Richard quietly walked over and I’ve never seen a happier group after he’d hugged them and signed their stuff. I didn’t grow up watching ‘The Waltons’ but John-Boy is iconic and only after I looked at him and went “you are somewhat famous it seems?” did he genuinely deflect and shrug but also own it. And aside from his crazy talent – his humility and generosity are ridiculous. And much like with ‘Populaire’ – that would all be just okay if he weren’t so damn fun to be with. He’s the closest I have to a mentor in that the 9 months we shot together taught me things I’m still realizing when I walk on sets. Plus he grew up in the Ballet in NYC so we danced some pretty sweet pas de deux more than once between takes.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
I’m getting all rootsy with Mumford and The Lumineers. Some Warren Zevon, B.B King at the Regal, Beach Boys, Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Neil Diamond, Swell Season, Velvet Underground, Wynton Marsalis and Clapton and my gal and I have a project called ‘Emmy Rouge’ so I am deep into those demos as I drive.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
I’d have David Gilmour, as long as he’d jam with me a little après diner! I’d love for Roger Ebert to be there and perhaps a seat for two that fits Anita Ekberg and my girlfriend. Especially cause if I jammed with David Gilmour it’d be frustrating to explain to my lady for the rest of my life how it sounded if she wasn’t there to hear it. But Anita Ekberg, right?! Yeah, definitely they could share a seat.
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘The Grey’ a close second. Nolan and Bale and all the other actors just know how to make those flicks the best of it all – action, drama, mood, etc etc etc. I wish it hadn’t ended and just began it again once the credits rolled. And Tom Hardy – forget it. One of the best actors period.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
I’m currently shooting a few episodes of ‘Heartland’, a really gorgeous family show in its 7th season. And as I type this I’m between rehearsals for a play I’m directing in Toronto called ‘Stop Kiss’. It’s my first full-scale directing project and has led to talks about some short film directing work. Also I’m completing the demos for ‘Emmy Rouge’ and playing with that band to see where that music can go. And of course I’m super excited for the North American ‘Populaire’ release. No-one can release foreign cinema here like the Weinstein Co. and I’m stoked to be a part of all that.
Thanks for the interview!