Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn finds his niche in Hollywood

Ben Mendelsohn in a scene from the TV series Bloodline. Supplied by Netflix Australia.
Ben Mendelsohn in a scene from the TV series Bloodline. Supplied by Netflix Australia.

BEN Mendelsohn is the Aussie actor who has done good by going bad.

Ringing me right on time from Los Angeles, the 45-year-old Melbourne native is as friendly and warm as the California afternoon he describes to me.

Background: Netflix to launch in Australia and New Zealand in March 2015

While fellow Australian exports Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman have been playing hammer-wielding demi-gods and metal-clawed action heroes, Ben has been steadily building up an enviable profile as a character actor.

Critics have described him as "Hollywood's go-to sleaze ball" and an actor who has cornered the market of playing psychopaths.

His latest character is no psychopath but could arguably fall into the sleaze ball category.

Ben Mendelsohn and Sissy Spacek in a scene from the TV series Bloodline. Supplied by Netflix Australia. Please credit photo to Saeed Adyani.
Ben Mendelsohn and Sissy Spacek in a scene from the TV series Bloodline. Supplied by Netflix Australia. Please credit photo to Saeed Adyani.

In the new Netflix original drama Bloodline, he plays the black sheep of the respected Rayburn clan who comes home for a family reunion.

The eldest of four children, Danny's chequered past has been a regular source of disappointment for his family.

Buoyed by fond childhood memories, his younger brother John (Kyle Chandler) holds the most hope for a fresh start.

But Danny's homecoming quickly ignites old arguments and deep-running scars.

"I look at Danny a lot more sympathetically than a lot of his family members do," Ben tells Weekend.

"He's the only member of that family, aside from their dad, who had really been out in the world.

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"Danny's been around; Danny's sort of lived; he tried to strike out and has done stuff in his life.

"But sometimes Danny's judgment can be off… things can get away from him at times."

The tense family thriller is set against the salty, humid backdrop of the Florida Keys. The coral-reef fringed island chain fans out from the southern tip of the peninsula state into the Caribbean.

"It's a picture-perfect environment, but clearly the situation that's gone on (with the family) is not picture perfect," he said.

"It's like Port Douglas if Port Douglas was the start of a chain of islands.

"It's got the one road (in and out), so it is its own world. It is such a beautiful place but there are other things going on in that community.

"It is a place where people run off to, to get away and to disappear, but there are also families who just live there and raise their kids."

Kyle Chandler, left, and Ben Mendelsohn in a scene from the original Netflix TV series Bloodline. Supplied by Pulse Communications. Please credit image to Saeed Adyani.
Kyle Chandler, left, and Ben Mendelsohn in a scene from the original Netflix TV series Bloodline. Supplied by Pulse Communications. Please credit image to Saeed Adyani. Saeed Adyani

Sissy Spacek plays Danny's soft-hearted mum Sally and Sam Shepard plays his unforgiving father Robert in the series, written by the creators of the legal thriller Damages.

Ben describes starring opposite the two screen legends as "actor heaven".

"You know how they put your names on the back of a seat on set? There was a day we were doing a scene - the three of us - and I had to take a sneaky picture of the backs of our seats," he said.

"Particularly in memory of just having started where I started, I had to do it."

Ben is referring to his acting education, as such, on the sets of The Henderson Kids and Neighbours.

Like many of his high-profile contemporaries, Ben cut his teeth on the long-running Aussie soap, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this week.

He then had a string of supporting and guest roles before starring in the hit TV series The Secret Life of Us and Love My Way.

His award-winning turn in Foxtel's acclaimed family drama Tangle was his last Australian TV role before rising to international fame five years ago in the Oscar-nominated Animal Kingdom.

His subsequent trans-Pacific move has seen him star opposite Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly, in Christopher Nolan's global blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises and Ridley Scott's biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Ben is in Sydney this week for the launch of Netflix and to promote Bloodline.

The murky drama is being heralded as the same "dark" viewing as Netflix's acclaimed drama House of Cards.

"I think the strength of the Kessler/Zelman guys (Bloodline writers Glenn and Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman) is that they are experts and masters at taking people on a journey that's suspenseful, that plays on and confounds your expectations of a situation," he said.

"When you go to visit the Rayburn family, you'll need to strap the seatbelt on but you won't be disappointed you popped around."

I am surprised when Ben confirms he hasn't seen any of his own films for the past 10 years.

"I can't remember how or where it exactly started," he says.

"I just felt like I was able to concentrate better if I didn't have one eye looking back over my shoulder, worrying and trying to fix stuff I'd already done and couldn't do anything about.

"A movie is supposed to be seen where you don't know what is going to happen, more or less. It's a different thing when you're making them. I just try to keep it clear for the next one really."

He has indulged in binge-viewing of other shows though, and says he is excited for all 13 episodes of Bloodline to go live on Tuesday.

"It's fantastic; the same day we come out the service comes online there in Australia," he said.

"I did the final season of Breaking Bad with Netflix and it's excellent. If you want you just sit down and the next episode will come straight up. It's like having a box set immediately.

"Particularly with a show like ours, which has a lot of 'what happens next', it's very good with that."

Netflix launches in Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday.

Topics:  acting hollywood

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