Ben Mendelsohn talks to AwardsDaily TV about his second Bloodline Emmy nomination.
One of the most recognizable faces in film and on TV, Ben Mendelsohn came to many viewers’ attention late through the success of the powerful Australian film Animal Kingdom. The 2010 Australian crime thriller also catapulted Joel Edgerton and Jacki Weaver (Oscar nominee) career-wise. With Bloodline Season 2, Mendelsohn returns to the role that garnered his first Emmy nomination and won a second Emmy nomination. That’s no small feat given that his character, Danny Rayburn, died in the Season 1 pilot.
I know a little bit about your career and will hit Bloodline in a second. But going back, when and how was the acting bug first discovered for you? When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
It was pretty much after I got my first real job, which was The Henderson Kids. I did [some acting] at school and stuff, and liked that, but it was when I actually got my first job. After I had an experience of it, that’s when I wanted to keep going.
And what for you are the highlights in Australian TV looking back?
I think The Henderson Kids is the highlight of the television stuff. There were shows that were failures that I really enjoyed and got to learn, I guess, a bit more about how to do it. After that, the highlight for me was the My Voice Broke which once was a television thing then became a film. Then after that I started doing a lot of films.
Yeah, I know a lot of people won’t have heard of your old films. I know My Voice Broke and The Big Steal.
They were forever ago now, decades ago. And people would not have been familiar with me until recently.
You were making it quite big then though, scoring quite high. What were your aspirations then? Where you wanting to do American films, or where you happy where you were?
I wanted to be able to keep going. I was a little bit concerned what I see happening a bit, people would be everywhere for like a year, and then be completely gone. That things were going very well and just hoping they would last, that was my main concern. It was not until much later that I started thinking about getting work in America or in the U.K. I would come and try to get work there. But without actually moving there and being there, it was tougher than I expected it was going to be. I did a film in that period called Spotswood with Tony Hopkins. So it didn’t feel like it would necessarily be a great distance to be going forward or upwards.
We have to talk about Animal Kingdom, then. I don’t know if you are sick of talking about it.
No, no, I am not at all. There is no doubt without Animal Kingdom it is very hard to see anything that has come up happening. Animal Kingdom was one of the most important things I have ever done. None of the other stuff happens without Animal Kingdom. Bloodline doesn’t happen without Animal Kingdom. And a lot of other stuff as well, so it was incredibly important. I did not have any expectations in anything really, but it [Animal Kingdom] really grabbed people’s attention.
It was a great performance. And you made that yourself with that performance, the character as well. I remember watching it and as soon as your character entered the film you knew there was going to be a lot of trouble. It was such a good performance. I know Jacki Weaver got a lot of the plaudits and the Oscar nomination. Not sure where your Oscar nomination was.
Well, thank you very much. Look, it is well and right that Jacki got the attention and the love for what she did. That film has been pretty awesome for anyone that did it, and they have done incredibly well. It has been awesome for me. I felt pretty good about it. I was very fortunate that I got the opportunity. David Michôd’s fantastic characterizations were really vivid. And really fucking scary at times. He is a terrifying person. You get those films, there are plenty of them in the U.K., and certainly a lot of them in Australia. I had a lot of unsupervised time around some pretty dodgy Melbourne suburban jail types, so I have seen those people in my life. They make a real impression on you.
So that transition from Animal Kingdom opened a lot of doors. Did it play any part on your personal life, not just your career, what with moving back and forth, family, and stuff like that?
It did good things all around. You move around a lot doing this game generally. You are very lucky if you are. Means you are working. It is something you get used to very early on. It has been only good.
Let’s move on to Bloodline, the Netflix original show. Do you feel you were born to play Danny Rayburn? Is it a role you looked for or did someone approach you?
No, the creators came to me when they were getting it together. They spoke to me pretty early on in the proceedings. I did not know who was going to be in it at this stage, who those guys were. Then I was delighted when I heard Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepherd were in it. That was a pretty big day.
Yeah, that’s a bonus. What I like about you, [Danny] is quite menacing. He is a bit of a bad guy. What I like is you can almost tell you are enjoying playing the role without giving that away – if that makes sense. You really fit the character.
Oh thank you. I think he is enjoyable to play. Most characters are fun to play, but Danny is pretty special. You perhaps only get one shot at someone like him in your life. I am glad it has happened.
How did you approach the second season of Bloodline differently given that you were playing your brother’s guilty conscience on one hand plus the flashbacks with your son. You must have had to approach that differently.
You do think about it, you try a few spins on things. I did not have a concrete idea about them, the idea you are playing someone that is part of someone else in terms of John. He was kind of his guilty conscience, someone else’s feeling of that guy. I think you just try stuff. It was freer to try different things, but you do that anyway. It added more of a kind of dream-like quality. It was quite disconnected. And the backstory stuff was kind of a hopeful time, the beginnings of Danny’s real struggle with the things that are going to come home to roost for him. In that sense it is more familiar territory as the first season. It was a variation on the same thing.
When you read the first season script, what happened? Did you read it and think, “Oh well that’s me. Done?” or did you know what would happen?
No, I knew from the first time I met those guys. It would be weird going into a series like that, not knowing they were going to kill the brother. Season 1 is really just the prologue for Bloodline. What they open up next season is when you will really see what they are intending. Danny is just a prologue for what is going to come. Season 2 is really just starting to take off, hitting speed now. By the time you get to, touch wood, Season 3 and 4, they will be up where they have been planning to be. So you have only just got the start of it, and I knew the whole time.
So two Emmy nominations now, so congratulations for both.
Well deserved, I think. Last year, I honestly thought, and I am not just saying this, that you might win it. It was between you and Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), and neither of you won. The Emmy voters are a fickle bunch.
So do you pay much attention to awards buzz?
You are always aware of them. You do what you do on a set, and it is all very nice to be acknowledged. But it does not affect what you do. It is not like the FA Cup. You are not doing it for silverware. It is nice, but it is not what you do it for.
What is next for you then? A feel-good family drama? A superhero movie? What do you want to do next?
I think I will be doing a [Steven] Spielberg film. Which should be very much your big summer movie type affair. And that looks pretty exciting. And perhaps something a little closer to home in the U.K. that is. We will see. The ball is rolling fine.
Since Animal Kingdom I am a fan. Congratulations on the Emmys and the career. Look forward to seeing what you do next. Just keep us watching. That is all I ask.
Thank you mate. Thank you very, very much. That is the game, just try to be interesting in whatever it is. So thank you, I appreciate that.
Ben Mendelsohn is joined by co-star Kyle Chandler as acting nominees in this year’s Emmys. Bloodline is available to stream on Netflix.