20 Questions: Paul Ben-Victor

Paul Ben-Victor (Invisible Man, Daredevil, True Romance) — has been acting for over 20 years in television and film, but has recently had a surge of projects over the last year. Paul is HBO’s “go-to” guy when it comes to creating interesting characters as he’s had arcs in four of their series including Curb Your Enthusiasm, John from Cincinnati, The Wire and Entourage. He currently stars on Everybody Hates Chris and In Plain Sight — additionally has upcoming films Venus & Vegas and the indie drama Anytown.

“In Plain Sight” premiers Sunday, April 19 on USA Network. But first, we learn at PopMatters 20 Questions that in addition to his acting skills, Ben-Victor has a knack for doing wild makeup designs and body art.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I cried the other night from The Notebook. What a great flick! But then again, I’m a pushover. I’ll cry at a life insurance commercial even if it’s absolutely ridiculous.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character comes to mind. I remember my folks had a box of old Charlie Chaplin shorts and an old 8mm movie projector and I’d pull that old thing out of the closet, set it up and I’d watch these old movies.

Now as an adult, so often, I find myself doing these funny little silent bits and realize how much I’m mimicking the Tramp and have been since I was a boy. His quirky, whimsical expressions – the things he was able to express with a roll of the eyes, a sweet smile, or a devilish grin, a shrug, a smirk – I think maybe a tiny bit of that character has rubbed off on me.

3. The greatest album, ever?

For me, it would have to be Van Morrison’s His Band and the Street Choir album. I don’t know that I believe it to be the “greatest album ever”, but I can tell you that growing up, the grooves in that record were worn down to the bone. I probably went through two or three needles on the turntable with that album alone. Today, it still remains my favorite “road trip” music on my way out of town.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I’m not really a Trekie or a Warsie (I know, I live under a big fat boulder!), but I have to say Star Trek because the show has given countless years of Captain Kirk imitations which are always good for a laugh. And Leonard Nimoy’s ‘Spock’ is legendary.

5. Your ideal brain food?

When I think of food it just isn’t for stimulating the brain. I love it too much! I could live on New York City pizza , and shell fish — oysters, little neck clams, king crab, and lobster — I get all charged up just thinking about it. And top it off with a delicious Italian canoli from little Italy and I’m in heaven!

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Finally getting all the leaks fixed in my home after 10 years. I have to say that I have become a leak expert. If there was a trophy for leak finding and fixing, I would have to give one to myself.

I have invented my own technique (using a water hose) that has proven to be better than any of the methods these knuckle-head contractors have been telling me for years. Contractors will tell you “ Oh you’re gonna have to rip out this wall here or tear up this much roof here to find that leak blah blah blah.” Knuckle-heads! I got it down to a science.

7. You want to be remembered for ..?

I can throw a memorable bash! I’ve been lucky enough to have the most amazing group of friends and family to be with and to celebrate so many good times with over the years.

Dinner parties, soirees, dancing all night long to old school funk, disco and classic R&B … laughing and loving life with the whole crew at my home. That is what I want to be remembered for.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Brando, Van Gogh, Chaplin and The Beatles (and many others) have all been incredibly inspirational to me. I was drawn to these brilliant artists and performers early on in my life.

Watching Brando as a boy … walking around the house for days as Terry Malloy or Don Corleone …Chaplin’s movies … running down to the sporting goods store in Brooklyn to get the latest Beatle 45 the second it hit the shelf … going to the Van Gogh exhibit at the Met with my mom — all of those experiences and memories continue to evoke powerful feelings in me and have had a tremendous impact on my creative life.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Okay, I’ll admit that there have been several nights at home where I’m playing my “guitar” (aka tennis racket) singing to a crowd of half a million actually imagining I was Bruce or James Taylor or Paul McCartney. Singing let’s say, “Thunder Road”, and believing it was my creation.

10. Your hidden talents …?

This one is a long story that I will have to get into some other time but the short version is … I can do wild makeup designs and body art. I used to do this in the clubs of New York and all throughout Europe. My best friend Marc Bennett and I did this together and we even marketed a specialty make-up kit that was sold nationwide and abroad.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

I once had a casting director that got on my case because I wasn’t as prepared as I should have or could have been at an audition. I took that verbal abuse to heart because it really hasn’t happened since; although these days I’m fortunate to not have to audition quite as much as I used to, thank god. It was exciting and great training for many years but it does begin to wear you down after a while.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I just got new FLOW bindings for my snowboard and they have changed my life. You jump off the lift and pop right into those suckers and off you go! It’s exactly what I needed. I’m not as flexible these days (although I still think I’m 16 sometimes) and I can use all the help I can get.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or …?

While a fancy label always makes me feel dapper, I have to say that I feel my best when I’m in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I used to be a Levi’s 501 kind of a guy, but now The Gap makes these new low rise jeans that seem to fit just right. (I feel like I’m doing commercials again.)

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I’d have to say Paul McCartney. He (and John of course) has written some of the greatest songs ever heard and I would love to hear from the horse’s mouth what it was like to have been able to do what he did at such a young age … to have these magnificently, beautiful melodies just channeling through you. What it feels like to wake up and jot down an incredible masterpiece just because you’ve been hearing it in your head as you sleep or whatever.

To hear about the miracle of his genius would be fascinating to me. I would hang on every word. I read somewhere that he was walking around with this song in his head for days and he couldn’t remember where he’d heard it and it was driving him crazy trying to remember where he had heard this beautiful song. It was “Let It Be”. Aside from his talent, he seems to be a warm-hearted, friendly and funny guy.

Paul Ben-Victor as Chief Stan McQueen, In Plain Sight

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I think I would go into the future about 50 or 100 years. Being able to take some of the guess work out of life’s big questions would be a big relief.

Then again, there are a couple of girls in the 9th and 10th grade that I would love to go back and have a date with. I was shy with girls back then.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

A spa vacation. The smell of eucalyptus, apricot scrubs and massage oils gives me a “zen-like” feeling just thinking about them. The tranquil environments that are produced in a spa are unlike any other. You can slip into such a peaceful state that there is no stress in the world that can penetrate it.

Add a little soothing classical guitar in the background … damn … I think I just talked myself into booking one.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or …?

Unfortunately, chocolate is essential to my life. And while it may be a better vice than many others out there, I just went through an entire bag of Rolos (those little chocolate nuggets filled with caramel) in the airport yesterday. I was a bad boy … but it was absolutely worth it.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I live in Santa Monica and I love the vibe there; it feels like a getaway sometimes. The beach is nearby but there’s a lot of city life in its charming little streets so I’m very happy living there.

I must say I do love the idea of living in New York City again. I still think it’s the greatest city in the world. A fabulous brownstone in the West Village would be ideal; I lived there back in the day and it’s still home to me.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Don’t fuck up!

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Currently, I’m very excited to be back as ‘Chief Stan McQueen’ in USA Network’s In Plain Sight. We are filming our second season in New Mexico which premieres Sunday, 19 April at 10/9c.

Also check out the indie drama feature, Anytown, which is hitting the film festival circuit for release later this year.