instagram envelope_alt facebook twitter search youtube_play whatsapp remove external_link loop2 arrow-down2

Sixty Seconds with Ben Mendelsohn

The actor, 51, on returning to his native Australia for Babyteeth, the perfect pinball machine and wild wrap parties

As love stories go, Babyteeth’s dying teenager meets small-time drug dealer is somewhat off-piste…

I just thought it had an enormous amount of virtues. It’s a beautiful, f***ed-up contemporary love story and it’s a story about family. It’s about being messed up and still being acceptable.

Is there much to enjoy about playing the father of Eliza Scanlen’s terminally ill character?

I liked the fact that he’s a guy who has a seemingly impenetrable take on the world — and it’s thoroughly wrong. He’s a seemingly benign mansplainer but he’s quite a f***-up himself.

Screen daughter: Eliza Scanlen

Have people reacted positively to the film?

A lot of people have been taken aback by how moving it is, quite how it sneaks up and grabs you. I like it when a little film punches above its weight.

It’s been a while since you’ve done an indie flick. Has Hollywood softened you up?

Yeah, it’s been about a decade since I’ve done a film at home. This was not a pleasant shoot, by any means, and I had to run off and do The Outsider after, so everything was compressed. It was a blistering hot summer, I was sitting on a milk crate in 42C Australian heat waiting for the next shot. It’s not unusual for you to pick up bits of equipment and move them here and there, which you would never do on the bigger films. It’s a different vibe.

When people come up to you in the street, can you tell which film they’re going to reference?

I used to be able to tell pretty easily but it’s a bit harder now. Sometimes people that I think are going to talk to me about Star Wars talk about Babyteeth.

You’re often cast as the bad guy. Does that bother you?

No. I think it would have but in the last couple of years I’ve had more good guy characters — in Captain Marvel, The Outsider. But nah, I’ve always thought it was a compliment and I still do.

What do you do if you have a few hours to spare?

I just play video games or pinball.

Have you got a lot of pinball machines?

No, I don’t have one pinball machine.

OK, so where do you play it?

There was a place in Chiswick I used to play at, a great little spot near Turnham Green station, it was a very good sort of café pinball arcade. That guy had about six or so machines. This is going back four or five years now. That was probably the last great little pinball place I played at. There were a couple in New York but they have more video games, less pinball. Your man in Chiswick, he’s got some good ones. He has a very good Wizard Of Oz pinball machine — I was very impressed.

Been up to much in lockdown?

Nothing. Lockdown’s changed everything. There’s much less work going on. I think there are things starting to emerge now. I may hear about something shortly after we speak. I don’t want to jinx anything. It’s been a quiet time for all, a very weird time.

Pinball wizard: Ben enjoys playing PICTURE: WIREIMAGE/GETTY/ALAMY

Any ambitions left to fulfil?

There’s a lot. I’d like to work with people from different cultures. I’d like to work on German films, French films, South Korean films, Mongolian, anywhere.

You moved around a lot as a child. Did that serve you well as an actor?

Yeah, I was in Germany, England, the States. I think it encourages you to adapt to the mores of wherever you are to fit in and that was part of the pre-training, if you like. I had no intention of becoming an actor. But all the travelling held me in good stead.

Did you feel like you had to change your accent to fit in?

You might say the one I really had to learn was Australian. I came back there when I was about six. England, I don’t remember it being a problem, but certainly Munich in 1973 and Australia in 1975, you had to learn to fit in.

What’s your favourite accent to do on screen?

I’d say English but it’s too narrow. I liked playing His Majesty [Henry IV in The King]. I think the blue blood English accent is a beautiful accent.

What’s the craziest wrap party you’ve been to? You’ve been in some big Hollywood movies…

Ha ha. No, it was definitely the early ones. There was actually a wrap party for something that never even got made into a series, in north-west Australia, that was really full-on because a lot of fellas that were working as graziers and cowboys turned up. That became pretty unhinged. The Henderson Kids parties were the best ones, when we were 14 or 15. They were pretty full-on. We were all babies back then — but that was the ’80s.

Babyteeth is in cinemas from August 14