Paris Benjamin is a working actor in Hollywood, a long way from her acting roots in France and the UK. Her recent experiences on the sets of TV series and films shine a spotlight on the US and European entertainment industry.
Acting Is a Perennially Difficult Job
Perhaps not surprising to fans of the director, Eastwood on the J. Edgar set knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and how to go about getting the job done right. For new-to-Hollywood Benjamin, he was the ideal director. “Everyone on a Clint Eastwood set is genuinely excited and happy to be there. He makes you feel very welcome. He also makes everything look effortless. He is very quiet. He will say a couple of words for you to know what you have to do, and before you know it, it’s a wrap. He will take two or maybe three takes, and you know it’s going to be pretty much perfect.”
As if working with such Hollywood royalty weren’t enough, Benjamin also found herself wearing a beautiful period costume. Especially on a film like J. Edgar, set nearly a century ago, costumes help establish the film’s mood and tone, but they also can help an actor approach a role. “Costumes are very important if not essential to create your character. Period costumes have a tendency to give you a better feel of who your character is right away because they are more likely to make your posture, your walk, your attitude, and your movements change. All those elements have an instant impact on how your character thinks.”
The life of a working actor requires the ability to shift mental gears quickly. Benjamin has worked on the set of TV series and had offers for feature films. From an Eastwood-directed drama to The Muppets with Amy Adams and Jason Segel is quite a leap, but one that Benjamin was eager to make, in part because her inner child has never grown up. Another favorite memory from this spring’s filming involved “watching my favorite Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, on their balcony,” an experience that made one of her childhood dreams come true. Plus, “it was a riot watching Miss Piggy get her hair and makeup retouched between takes and seeing Kermit rehearse his guitar moves for his next scene!”
Benjamin enjoys working in live theatre, where anything can happen during a performance, but she prefers the variety that film roles offer her. “I like to keep things fresh and move on quickly to the next project, and making films is perfect for that. You work hard on a character, and even if the shoot is stretching over a few months, you are still playing different scenes, so it feels like it’s always new. The major problem with films, though, is that they are rarely filmed chronologically, so it’s not always easy to know where your character is at emotionally.”
Between films, Benjamin recently worked in two ABC television series, Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family. Like the theatre or film, television provides its own unique challenges. The actor explains that “TV is very fast compared to films. An episode usually needs to be wrapped in one week. If you don’t finish what you were supposed to film during the day, it could have a serious impact on the rest of the production.”
In that respect, the US and British television industries share a common fixation on time. Benjamin’s experience on US sets reminds her of friends’ comments about making a BBC serial. The actors sometimes received that day’s script while they were in makeup in the morning. Having the ability to memorize lines quickly is a skill Benjamin learned during her first play, and it’s a handy ability to have when she is hired for a single TV episode.
Even with the speed of television, Benjamin had plenty of time to observe cast members in front of the camera and between takes. From her observations behind the scenes, Benjamin understands why Modern Family is a hit. She dishes that the cast is “absolutely hilarious, between and during takes. Eric Stonestreet, who plays Cameron Tucker, is a performer at heart. He was very entertaining between takes. I am sure that it helps knowing that your show is a hit and has been picked up again by the network for a new season, but I really felt like what you see [behind the scenes] is what you get [on TV], and that even if the cast did not already have the reassurance of being picked up, it would not change their enthusiasm.”
Paris on the set of Grey's Anatomy
Now that she’s made the big move to L.A., Benjamin looks toward the future. “It is a difficult career, and you have to be sure that you are ready to accept and embrace all the challenges and the frustration along the way, but so far, acting has been the most exciting medium I have found to express myself and keep my life exciting. It’s a bumpy ride, but the rewards are priceless.”
To keep her focus firmly on her career, Benjamin created a list of actors and directors in the US with whom she wants to work. Where does she envision her career in five years? True to Paris’ burning ambition, she doesn’t hesitate to reply: “I will have ticked a few names off that list.”