Ben is Back featured

Interview: Courtney B. Vance on the Necessity of Telling Stories Like ‘Ben is Back’

December 21, 2018Ben MK

Addiction — especially drug addiction — isn't an easy topic to broach. But for director Peter Hedges and the cast of his new film, Ben is Back, it's an important one that deserves to be brought to the forefront.

In Ben is Back, Julia Roberts plays Holly Burns, the mother 19-year-old Ben (Lucas Hedges), whom she thinks is in rehab to treat his opioid addiction. But when Holly returns home from church on Christmas morning to unexpectedly find Ben waiting on her doorstep, it sends the lives of her and her family — children Ivy (Kathryn Newton), Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser) and husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) — for a tailspin.

I sat down with actor Courtney B. Vance to talk about the film, including his approach when it comes to choosing projects and the depth he brought to his role.

Your career has been quite varied. What do you look for in a role, and what made you choose this role?

Vance: I call it "the heat" — I look for the heat. And for a role that may not be the lead or second lead, but just a role [where] the character propels the action forward. And in this one, the topic is very important. [Director] Peter [Hedges] was very impassioned, and passionate about the subject matter. And I love Julia Roberts, and I have for a number of years.

Peter, when he called me about the role, was very emotional about the subject matter. So I knew that he would create an environment — and we had to work relatively quickly — where we would all become a family immediately. And that's what happened. So what you see on the screen is just the result of his setting us up for this success.

The film relies less on its narrative and more on its characters and their relationships with one another. What did you bring to your character that was more than just what was written on the page?

Vance: I always tend to look deeper, as an actor, and make choices that impact the story. But if I feel I can fill out this particular character as much as I can, then the piece gets bigger. And if everybody does the same thing — if all the actors are doing the same thing, and the director and the production designer, [if] everybody's giving their best — then the piece, if it's written well, just blows up. That's when something becomes, as Peter Hedges says, much more than expected.

And so that's the element that you have to always allow for. And Peter did, he set up this environment, let us know what it meant to him, and how personal it was for him. So because we saw how important this was to him, everyone wanted to help his vision become as big as it could be. And that's exciting when you see that.

Ben is Back is now in theatres.

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