In ABC’s drama series DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, whenever Ben Lawson appears on screen one is never quite sure what his character is really up to. Is he the hero or the villain? Ben’s performance is nuanced to such a degree that one never knows. But it is sure fun watching and wondering. In an exclusive interview, Ben talks about the appeal of portraying super-spy Damian Rennett in DESIGNATED SURVIVOR and shares a bit of reflection on his life as a working actor.
What was the initial appeal for you about portraying Damian Rennett and working on ABC’s DESIGNATED SURVIVOR?
BEN: The guy’s an English spy who speaks a bunch of languages, gets shot at repeatedly, helps save the day and gets the girl. Literally all of it appealed to me.
What do you most admire about him?
BEN: Damian, pardon the pun, is a survivor. He’s juggling alliances to three different governments to attain a greater good. While it does seem to be catching up with him, I think out of all the characters, he’d be most likely to win (the show) Survivor and that’s admirable to me.
What was it like working alongside the talented ensemble on DESIGNATED SURVIVOR?
BEN: There really is a lot of talent within the cast. Because I work primarily with Maggie in the field, I am hardly ever in the White House. It took me a while to get to know some of the other actors but now I love them all!
What is your proudest achievement working on DESIGNATED SURVIVOR?
BEN: There was one scene we shot where I had to crawl my way out of a river. We shot it in Toronto at the end of November. I tend to like wild location stuff as I’d much rather be out in the elements than on a sound stage day after day. That was the coldest I think I’ve ever been in my life. Also, the river water was unclean so they had to plug my ears up so it didn’t get infected. I couldn’t even hear the director call action! It was a crazy night, but I smiled when I watched that scene back.
Any favorite scenes that you can share from working on the series?
BEN: Any scene I had with Adan Canto. He laughs in the middle of takes all the time and that makes me laugh which in turn makes him laugh even more and the next thing you know we’re all working Saturday.
How would you describe the Hannah and Damian dynamic through the series?
BEN: Ever changing. I think that’s the safest way I can put that without spoiling it for anyone who isn’t caught up!
How does Damian view Hannah?
BEN: Well, this is an interesting question. Does he see her strictly as something he can use to his advantage or does he have genuine feelings for her? That, more or less, is the arc of the whole character and you’ll have to keep watching to find out.
What is the best part about working with Maggie Q?
BEN: Her sense of humor is dark, like mine. There’s nothing I could say that would offend her. One time we were shooting outside a restaurant and the chef recognized Maggie from something and they brought her out a container of crab cakes. Maggie doesn’t eat meat so she gave them to me.
As an actor, what has been the one thing you haven taken away from the experience of working on DESIGNATED SURVIVOR?
BEN: Well, I learned how to hold a gun! That might sound silly but I’ve never worked with one before. Tactical training — holding it, shooting it, holstering it, clearing a room, etc – is important for playing a whole range of characters. You also working on the new season of Netflix’s 13 REASONS WHY.
What can you share about your character for the show?
BEN: It’s baseball season at Liberty High and I play the coach. Because of the success of the first season they’re being very tight lipped about Season 2, but I can say that he is very protective of his players and is dedicated to leading them to a championship.
What have you taken away from that acting experience on Netflix’s 13 REASONS WHY so far?
BEN: I have worked with some really terrific actors in 13 Reasons Why. Derek Luke is one of them, I was such a fan of his work from the first season. He approaches the craft so differently from me and it’s been a trip to be on set with him and see how he works.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
BEN: I came to L.A. to try out Pilot Season in 2008. I was so sure I’d be back in Melbourne after a few months that I put my things into storage. A few years later, I accepted the fact that I was now a resident of the USA and sold all that stuff. I’m always surprised at my career. Like most actors, it swings between ecstasy and heartbreak but never boredom.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
BEN: Every single project you throw yourself into teaches you something about the craft of acting and hopefully even about who you are as a person. I couldn’t begin to enumerate the lessons I have learned from being an actor but I try to look at each project as an opportunity to get better as an actor and as a man.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
BEN: I have done a lot of pilots that never got picked up. I’ve also done a lot of short lived shows that died after half a season. You can survive on both for a while but it can be hard living. But joining these two shows that both have an inbuilt audience does make things a lot easier for you. To be a part of a show that people are talking about — for want of a better analogy — it boosts your market value.
If there were one previous role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
BEN: When I was at drama school, I played Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s one of the great romantic roles and I’d like to have another bite of the cherry one day.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
BEN: Work really hard. (I learned it the hard way and it’s ok if you do too, as long as you learn it).
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
BEN: I would say that initially you will probably work very hard and a lot of people are not going to want to buy what you’re selling. It might make you feel like you were foolish to have dreamt this dream and perhaps you would do better to give it away. Just remember that the fun part of dreaming is achieving of them and though it may be something that takes a lifetime, what is a more honorable way to spend one’s life than in pursuit of a dream.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
BEN: I am working on a project for ABC called FALSE PROFITS. It’s in the early stages, but I think it’s going to be great!
To see what next layer is peeled back in the Damian and Hannah relationship, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of DESIGNATED SURVIVOR on Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on ABC and to find out more about the show, you can also follow it on Twitter @ABCDesignated. Then to follow what else Ben is up to as his career grows, you can follow him on Twitter @imbenlawson. Finally, to see what is upcoming on Season 2 of Netflix’s 13 REASONS WHY, keep an eye on the show’s Twitter @13ReasonsWhy account. Big things are coming!
DESIGNATED SURVIVOR clip featuring Ben Lawson: