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Ben Mendelsohn took on ‘The New Look’ at the drop of a (designer) hat

Luaine Lee – Tribune News Service (TNS)

When Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn was a kid his family was constantly on the move. All that uprooting reverberated his whole life. The performer in shows like “Bloodline,” Captain Marvel,” Animal Kingdom” and the latest, “The New Look,” says he became hopelessly shy because of it.

“You have to learn how to fit in and because I went to a couple of different countries, I had that shock of, ‘Oh, my, HOW do we do it?’ Because it felt like survival back then. It really feels terrifying. Everyone’s thrown together … and I do feel perennially like I’ve got to move on. That’s never stopped. I’ve never stopped moving for very long. Normal life feels blissful when you have it.”

A blissful life hasn’t been in the cards for Mendelsohn. When he was a toddler he suffered a severe reaction to a vaccine and was hospitalized for a month. He remembers it vividly, “They gave me these awfully painful injections that I can remember, in my throat there’s a screaming kind of thing that I would do where you would scream yourself hoarse and get these terrible headaches. So I remember that …

“I was a little 2-year-old or whatever I was, so I was in a cot waiting for mom and dad to come, and they would come, and then they would go. I think that probably formed me more than anything else. Somewhere around there, I had these (Penicillin) injections and it went on to like an eternity to that little chap.”

Life didn’t get much better after that. Though he won’t reveal too much, he does admit that his childhood was erratic. He was sent to boarding school in the states. “Six or nine months at the boarding school I got kicked out — which is one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he says.

“I was kicked out because I was just being a young idiot. I was not a good student; things weren’t going well, and they required my withdrawal. I was being a naughty little fellow and you guys have a much better sense of limits than Australia does. Then I lived with my grandmother after that, which is where I started acting.”

Though that was the beginning of his passion, he recalls, “That was the saddest point in my life at that time. It was an incredibly difficult period because I couldn’t live with either of my parents because they couldn’t deal. As a kid, we were that kind of moment of time in thinking where it was very unbounded. I think what they mistook as freedom we thought was giving us an edge. We weren’t well protected.”

At his grandmother’s he flourished and began performing at school. “To become accepted and liked by a group of people that don’t think much of you means a lot,” he says. “I still get that feeling.”

That feeling pursues him in the dizzying variety of roles he’s played. In “The New Look,” which premieres Thursday on Apple TV+, Mendelsohn plays the world-famous French couturier Christian Dior.

Casting a skinny Aussie as a chic and sophisticated Frenchman seems a bit odd, but Mendelsohn shrugs it off. (“The executive producer) was upstairs cooking pizza and said he’d read Dior’s biography and was interested in it for a while, and he told me essentially a little bit about Dior.

“And I said, ‘Well, when do we start?’ I wouldn’t have thought of me, but I think it’s the advantage of having people that know you and can see different aspects of your character that they feel they can bring to life.” Mendelsohn had worked with “The New Look” creators before on “Bloodline.”

At the beginning of Mendelsohn’s career he had had no trouble bringing characters to life. In fact, he was a sought-after celeb in his early 20s. But then the bottom fell out. “I had a very dry period in my 30s,” he recalls.

“It just dwindled to nothing. And I figured, ‘OK, 95% of the people or more that have a part of the arts and stay for a certain amount of time, and then they move on. You came to that period.’ And I kept telling myself, ‘I’ll give it another two years or whatever.’ And I did one of those and I think it I did another one.”

He managed by holding a glossary of jobs. He worked in a slaughter house, in a bakery, in nightclubs, as a building laborer and as a dishwasher. “The slaughter house was tough,” he muses, “but it was formative.”

Mendelsohn, 54, married and divorced and is the father of a 10-year-old daughter with his ex. He’s also the dad of a grown daughter from an earlier relationship.

About his younger daughter he says, “Having her, it made me feel like, ‘OK, I’ve done it. I’ve done the job of life, I’ve done the basic procreation thing.’ But I think it really made me want to be successful in an enduring way. It made me want to build something that would protect her, and I just wanted to be safe and careful,” he says.

He would like to marry again, he confesses reluctantly. “To me, the greatest risks are still to be met, which is basically how to have a life and a family and do this. At the end of the day, that’s what I really want to do. I just really want to have a family and just be in the world.”

‘This Is Us’ star tracks new show

Folks who loved Justin Hartley in “This is Us” will be happy to know that CBS has corralled him with his own new series, “Tracker.” It was a bit of a journey for director Ken Olin and Hartley, who had worked together on “This is Us.” “I think both Justin and I, after six years of babies and dogs, we wanted to do something that would be fun for us to do,” says Olin.

“Probably we were looking for something that was a little more story-driven, plot-driven. Justin wanted to carry a gun and get in fights. So I always was in the mood to try to find something that maybe harkened back to the old P.I. shows that I grew up with; shows like ‘The Rockford Files’ and ‘Mannix’ and things like that,” he says.

“But I didn’t want to re-boot a show. I wanted to find something that was based on a character who had a more contemporary psychological background. And then I read ‘The Never Game’ by Jeffrey Deaver, whose work I always have loved, and I mean the character is described, it’s like Justin. It’s a character who I mean — this is a stretch — but looks like a movie star and is tall and is underestimated.”

Olin took the book to Hartley. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I think this would be fun to do. I think we can do a real contemporary version of a P.I. show and let’s do it together.’ And Justin read it and said, ‘Good, I’m in. Let’s do it.’”

Eugene Levy back on the road

Eugene Levy, who hates to travel, will be back for a second season with “The Reluctant Traveler with Eugene Levy” on March 8 via Apple TV+. The show has taken him to some romantic and historic places, but one of his quasi-favorites this season was an island off Germany, bordering Denmark.

The scenery was gorgeous, the hotel — not so much. Levy says he didn’t know what he was getting into there. “It was not the most pleasant hotel to stay at because of its wellness program,” he says.

“You couldn’t get a cup of coffee there. You couldn’t get a glass of wine. You have to fast for three days, and it’s kind of a detox thing where people go and torture themselves and walk out of there feeling better. So that kind of put a damper on the trip for me a little bit,” he continues.

“I knew it was a facility, a wellness facility, and you may be asked to go through some things with the doctor. But I didn’t know about the clear broth for breakfast and those shots of wheat grass. And that’s it. And for dinner, a bowl of broth and a piece of very stale bread, and that was it. And I’m not kidding. I actually had to cheat and go over to the hotel where the crew was staying to get an occasional cheeseburger.”

‘The Walking Dead’ rise again

The “Walking Dead” will be striding again as the series returns on Feb. 25 on AMC and AMC+. This version, “The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live,” stars Danai Gurira as Michonne, Andrew Lincoln as Rick and newcomer Matthew August Jeffers as Nat. This time around it’s a love story, says Scott Gimple, executive producer of the series.

It was the stage version of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” in New York where Gurira first met Jeffers. Jeffers says Gurira turned out to be a true friend when he sought her advice. “I went to Danai the day that I was informed that I didn’t get this show that I really wanted,” he says.

“I went to Danai. It was two hours before I had to perform Shakespeare. I went, I said, ‘Danai, I’m really, I’m really kind of devastated. I WANTED this one. And in your experience, what did you do when you had those jobs that you really could taste, but let slip away?’ And she gave me that pep talk that allowed me to put on my costume and go and perform.

“And, as she was walking away, she said, ‘But something’s coming. I know it. Something’s coming.’ And I thought that she was just being supportive, like, yeah, ‘Just keep going, something will come.’ I had no idea that in a couple of months’ time I would get the call from my agent inviting me to audition for this, for this world, a world that I grew up admiring and loving.”


(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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