This week ev­ery­body’s talk­ing about... BEN MENDELSOHN

Aussie ac­tor was happy to sit in a room with his di­rect­ing hero let alone star in his next block­buster, writes James Wigney

Herald Sun - Hit - - THE HIT LIST -

BEN Mendelsohn is still try­ing to get his head around the fact that Steven Spiel­berg knew who the hell he was.

Ar­guably the great­est di­rec­tor of his gen­er­a­tion, Spiel­berg had seen the Aussie ac­tor in his ac­claimed Net­flix drama Blood­line, for which he won an Emmy, and thought Mendelsohn would be the per­fect vil­lain for his new sci-fi block­buster, Ready Player One.

When the two met to dis­cuss the film, based on the best­selling novel of the same name, Mendelsohn, a child of the ’70s and ’80s, had al­ready ticked off one of his life goals, re­gard­less of whether or not he landed the part.

The Mel­bourne-born ac­tor, who turns 49 next week, had been brought up on a sta­ple diet of Spiel­berg, nam­ing Jaws (“I re­mem­ber be­ing taken to see that at the drive-in and I couldn’t get up over the seat”) and Poltergeist (“An un­usual one, I dis­cov­ered, for peo­ple to get fix­ated on”) as the two that made the big­gest im­pres­sion.

“I went and met with him and he laid it out,” says Mendelsohn. “I mean, he didn’t lay it out for me straight there, but it looked pretty good.

And I said:

‘Look, you give me the job, you don’t give me the job, this is good enough for me. I got to sit in a room with you’. It was all jam, mate.”

Since break­ing through in­ter­na­tion­ally thanks to his role in Aussie crime drama An­i­mal King­dom,

Mendelsohn’s ca­reer has soared to heights he’d never dared dream about when he was child ac­tor along­side Kylie Minogue in The Hen­der­son Kids and Neigh­bours.

He has be­come Hol­ly­wood’s go-to vil­lain, break­ing bad in Christo­pher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Ri­d­ley Scott’s Ex­o­dus: Gods and Kings and, most fa­mously, the hit Star Wars spinoff, Rogue One.

With such suc­cess be­hind him — and fur­ther bad-guy roles com­ing up in yet an­other big screen ver­sion of Robin Hood and the su­per­hero block­buster Cap­tain Marvel

— surely he’s ac­cus­tomed to rub­bing shoul­ders with the big­gest names in the busi­ness?

Ac­tu­ally, no. “I am just not used to it,” he says, an air of bewil­der­ment in his voice. “It’s re­ally weird and re­ally nice, but I am just not used to it. I smile some­times when I am driv­ing around when I think about it. Some­one was just ask­ing why there are so many of us — why do we kick up so many Aus­tralians do­ing well over here? You can’t think like that too much where we come from, it’s a dif­fer­ent vibe.” Mendelsohn’s sta­tus as one of the most in­de­mand ac­tors around is all the more ex­tra­or­di­nary given that at one point he thought it could have been all over. Af­ter burn­ing bright in lo­cal films such as The Year My Voice Broke, The Big Steal, Spotswood and Mul­let, the roles had largely dried up in the early 2000s. He in­dulged in what he has cryp­ti­cally termed “ex­ces­sive he­do­nism”, and at var­i­ous points took jobs in a Mel­bourne bak­ery and wash­ing dishes in a fancy Syd­ney res­tau­rant. He’s philo­soph­i­cal about those tough times now, just as he is about his cur­rent pur­ple patch.

“I wasn’t work­ing a lot — but I had some pretty happy times not work­ing a lot,” he re­flects. “I mean, if you have to not work a lot, Aus­tralia is pretty kind to you. Just get­ting older, mate, you just know. You get a sense that life’s re­ally good, smile, en­joy it.”

In Ready Player One Mendelsohn plays Nolan Sor­rento, the head of a ra­pa­cious tech cor­po­ra­tion that wants to seize con­trol of the vir­tual re­al­ity world known as The OASIS to use for its own ne­far­i­ous and money-grub­bing ends. Mendelsohn doesn’t hold back on his as­sess­ment of his char­ac­ter. “He’s a guy with wounded van­ity who ended up fi­nagling his way into be­com­ing a mas­ter of the uni­verse and wants ev­ery­one else to pay for it, ba­si­cally,” he says with a laugh. “Just some punk who’s try­ing to suck up to the guy who made the in­ter­net, got re­buffed, got an­gry and has ma­noeu­vred his way up a chain in­side this cor­po­ra­tion and took it over.”

Much of the ac­tion in Ready Player One takes place in­side the fan­tas­ti­cal vir­tual world of The OASIS, where Mendelsohn’s char­ac­ter takes on the form of a hugely mus­cled, square-jawed ver­sion of him­self. Where the film cau­tions against the ad­dic­tively im­mer­sive na­ture of such worlds over real hu­man con­tact, Mendelsohn is re­laxed about the emer­gence of tech­nol­ogy. “I tend to re­flect on the idea that any time new tech­nolo­gies come up there is a great deal of anx­i­ety about them as well as an over­es­ti­ma­tion of hope about what they are go­ing to do for us,” he says. “But I think we are a lit­tle bit bet­ter than we some­times worry we are.” De­spite work­ing on some big films in re­cent years — Ready Player One had a bud­get more than 200 times that of his ac­claimed 2001 Aus­tralian drama Mul­let — Mendelsohn says he’s fun­da­men­tally the same ac­tor.

“It’s more in­ti­mate on Mul­let, it’s cosier, but the job is the same,” he says. “You have to try to not get spooked by the scale. I more or less carry on with the same kind of palaver and make my­self feel com­fort­able there.”

“I MEAN, IF YOU HAVE TO NOT WORK A LOT, AUS­TRALIA IS PRETTY KIND TO YOU”

AUSSIE BEN MENDELSOHN, AND TOP, AS NOLAN SOR­RENTO IN THE VIR­TUAL WORLD OF READY PLAYER ONE.

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