BRIDGING TV & THEATRE: Ben Feldman & DROP DEAD DIVA
Today we have the penultimate entry in our twelve-part series dedicated to Lifetime's hit dramedy DROP DEAD DIVA with an all-encompassing chat with the show's heavenly agent himself, Fred, portrayed by stage and screen star Ben Feldman! In this illuminating conversation we talk all about his three years on DROP DEAD DIVA and what the future holds for Fred, Jane, Stacey and company, as well as his favorite guest stars and memories so far. Additionally, Ben and I discuss his training for the stage and his work on Broadway, opposite Kathleen Turner in THE GRADUATE, as well as his performances in the recent remake of FRIDAY THE 13th and shooting the avant garde thriller CLOVERFIELD, in addition to his thoughts on various pilots with the likes of Christine Ebersole, Fran Drescher, Marc Blucas, Amy Smart and more!
Over the course of the last several weeks, we have been taking an extensive look at the sights and sounds both onscreen and onset of the hit TV dramedy series DROP DEAD DIVA - new episodes airing Sunday nights at 9 PM on Lifetime - featuring exclusive interviews with the leading lady divas and stalwart supporting men on the LA-based supernatural legal series. Featuring a memorable collection of musical performances and Broadway guest stars over the years - Paula Abdul, Rosie O'Donnell, Delta Burke and many more included - DROP DEAD DIVA is the quintessential TV series for Broadway babies looking for some laughs and levity - the latter available in many more ways than one, given the show's heavenly aspirations. DROP DEAD DIVA centers on a legal eagle named Jane whose body acts as the means for the indomitable spirit of a model, Deb, who loses her life, to make a second chance and how the girl inside must learn to adjust to looking like the woman on the outside that she is now. In other words, a model finds out what it means to look like everybody else in a delightfully quirky twist of fate - and learns to be a lawyer along the way, as well. Season Three picked up with the cliffhanger car crash that closed last season in a dark and shocking way. Questions and posed and answered so far: What will Grayson remember of the conversation he had with Jane pre-crash? What will Jane do to save him? What about his engagement (to somebody else)? What will happen back at the office with Teri, Kim and Parker? What about Stacy and Fred? Indeed, all of these questions and many more will most assuredly be answered come the next two Sunday nights! Plus, as always, there's always a musical number or two not too far off if you stay tuned - such as last month's BroadwayWorld exclusive world premiere of "Lean On Me"! Will there be a musical grand finale after all? We shall soon see!
Also, don't forget to check out the past interviews in this BRIDGING TV & THEATRE series - Margaret Cho, Kate Levering, April Bowlby, Sharon Lawrence, Faith Prince, Jackson Hurst and Josh Stamberg included! There are only two episodes of Season Three left - airing Sundays at 9 PM on Lifetime, as always, until the finale on September 25 - so be sure to check back here next week for our exclusive all-access conversation with the titular diva herself, Brooke Elliott!
Driving, Piloting & Acting
PC: Kathleen Turner has done this column and to call her merely a class act would be doing a disservice to her awesomeness. What is your fondest memory of working with her on THE GRADUATE? What's the greatest advice she offered?
BF: Oh, well, with Kathleen, it's all about the accent! We were in this bar one night and she pulled me aside and she goes, [Kathleen Turner Voice.] "You know, Ben, acting is like a car crash," - and she has that accent that says, "I've been everywhere!"
PC: Brazil to Britain and beyond.
BF: Right. She's part-Spanish, part-British, part-everything - and, so, she goes, [Kathleen Turner Voice.] "Acting is like a car crash and you've all these decisions that you have to make. Do I go left? Do I go right? Do I speed up? Do I slow down? Then, you have to say: Who is in the car with me? Who is in the backseat? Do they have children? Are they someone's grandchildren? And, no offense, Ben, but I am the lead, so I am driving this car and you have to sit in this car while I make these decisions and which way we will go." That's the memory I have of her. [Laughs.]
PC: That was unbelievably entertaining - and enlightening! Was it an enthralling experience to act with her?
BF: Yeah. It really was.
PC: As Benjamin to her Mrs. Robinson, no less.
BF: Yeah, that was really cool. But, the coolest - nothing really will ever be as cool as the final audition for that show. I was studying theatre in Ithaca, NY and I came to NY for that audition.
PC: Ithaca is an amazing town.
BF: Oh, yeah, man. I love it there - Wegmans! Buttermilk Falls! I have many not-so-clear memories of the Falls. [Laughs.]
PC: I bet you do! Had the producers seen you in something before?
BF: No, I had done this showcase and I was about three months from graduating. I got an agent and she called me and she said, "Hey, do you wanna drive down to New York for this GRADUATE thing?" And, so, I said, "Yeah, sure!" And, I didn't think anything of it so I just came.
PC: Little did you know...
BF: Right! That was my first experience seeing a bunch of other people like me in the room - but, that was just for casting. So, then I went back. When I went back again, my agent called and said, "This time you are going in a bus!" And, I was like, "Wow! A bus!" So, I went back and I read with Kathleen's understudy. I was like, "This is like A real BROADWAY actress!" So, then, after that, I just went home and tried to put it out of my head.
PC: What happened next?
BF: Then, a while later, I get a call, "They want to fly you to New York and you are reading with Kathleen and Alicia [Silverstone] onstage." That's - when you asked what it was - to this day, that is still probably the most exciting moment of my career; showing up and walking to the backstage of the Plymouth - I forgot what it is called now.
PC: The same theater where your co-star Kate Levering did THOU SHALT NOT, as well.
BF: Oh, really? She did that show there? I didn't know that!
PC: Small world!
BF: You know, Kate did 42nd ST. there, with Christine Ebersole, who played my mother on my first television show.
PC: Yes, of course! She has done this column, as well. Two-time Tony-winner and what a doll.
BF: Yeah, I love her. She is so great. Harry Groener played my father, too, on that show.
PC: What can you tell me about the pilot?
BF: It was a show called THE MAYOR and Adam Sandler was the main producer. The guy who wrote DEATH TO SMOOCHY, Adam Resnik, wrote it.
PC: That movie was very misunderstood.
BF: It was very strange. People didn't get it.
PC: What was THE MAYOR about?
BF: Well, he wrote this show called THE MAYOR about a kid who was mayor of his own hometown. Happy Madison was producing it for the WB and I auditioned for it in New York. There are so many GRADUATE connections - I did the pilot and I tested with another guy from THE GRADUATE and Rider Strong.
PC: Rider was fantastic in CABIN FEVER.
BF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was great.
PC: Eli Roth reintroduced the horror movie wave to our generation with that, pretty much.
BF: Oh, I so wanted to be in the second one he did - HOSTEL. I talked to Eli Roth about it. I would have killed to do it.
PC: You would have been great. Was it the Jay Hernandez part you wanted?
BF: I don't even remember now. I never ended up seeing it. Oh, well. I think I've filled my horror movie quota anyway! [Laughs.]
PC: Did you like doing the FRIDAY THE 13th remake?
BF: FRIDAY was fun.
PC: I liked it quite a lot. The original is no great shakes - it's basically regurgitated Mario Bava - so I liked the remake better, actually.
BF: Did you? That's great to hear. It ripped off the first three of the series, actually, so I was happy about that. And, isn't everything ripped off from something anyway?
PC: There was a lot of story packed into it. That's a big reason why I liked it. Some twists on the genre, too.
BF: That's what we were most excited about - that real fans actually dug that movie. We were the most nervous about that.
PC: A world of difference compared to the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
BF: Oh, you didn't like that?
PC: No. Not at all. Did you?
BF: I didn't see it yet. It's the same guys - Platinum Dunes. TEXAS CHAINSAW was good, I thought. FRIDAY was great. We had an incredible time when we shot it in Austin.
PC: What was your experience like working on CLOVERFIELD?
BF: CLOVERFIELD, I just did a little bit - just like a day or two on it.
PC: What was it like with the unique filming technique and everything that goes with it, especially as a stage actor?
BF: It was crazy. It was the most interesting set I've ever seen or ever been on, solely because you have to get everything right in one take - there is no coverage. It's all one long take.
PC: What was the camera choreography comprised of? Was it really a flip cam?
BF: No, it was a real camera. There was TJ - the actor TJ Miller - he was pretending to do it. Sometimes he would actually shoot, but, for the most part, he would do the talking next to a cameraman who was wearing TJ's pants and shoes.
PC: How interesting.
BF: They'd have to get these long, long shots and everything would have to be perfect. So, you do like forty takes of something.
PC: Like a play.
BF: Yeah! That's the thing, because on this, you know: you do something, they change the lighting and you sit down; you do something, they change the lighting and you sit down, you know? There, you are on your feet the entire time and you are constantly acting with the way that it was done. It's more exciting, in a way. So, yeah, it was really like theatre, too.
BF: So, that, combined with the fact that none of us knew what was going on and we weren't allowed to know anything...
PC: So, you never got to read the script?
BF: No, we weren't allowed to!
PC: That's insane.
BF: We were given the pages and we handed them back at the end of the day. That must have been strange for some of the other actors. I didn't know Mike [Vogel] very well, but Lizzy Caplan was a friend of mine - she played my girlfriend on that series I was just telling you about.
PC: She's fantastic. I think she has a new series coming out.
BF: Well, as I'm sure you know, our producers - Craig and Neil - have a new pilot, too: SMASH!
PC: Yes, I know! It's the best pilot I've ever seen, actually. Beyond fantastic.
BF: You know the assistant character who is sort of a scheming as*hole? I really wanted that part! [Laughs.]
PC: The cast is so phenomenal. It will prove its namesake, no question.
BF: That's so cool and Neil and Craig are really great guys. I really love working for them.
PC: Tell me about working with another of the great stage actors, who also did a guest spot on DROP DEAD DIVA and has done this column: Liza Minnelli.
BF: Oh, Liza! She's so old-school Broadway - Old Hollywood, too. Just to see her - I mean, every other guest star, they just go to their trailer and they show up and act and go back to their trailer or whatever; but Liza? No way! Liza is the only one, like, sitting in the black director's chair, smoking a cigarette - onset in 2010 - with just a Diet Coke. When I walked on the set, I was like, "Wow, this feels like 1954!" [Laughs.]
PC: Tell me about working with Fran Drescher.
BF: You know, I tried to get her on this show and we had an awesome part for her. I'm sure she could have done it. But, the whole time she was like, [Fran Drescher Voice.] "You know, I'm sorry, doll, but I've got my own show that I'm doing, but you should come and do my show!"
PC: That's a spot-on imitation.
BF: Yeah, I was like, "Come and do this, we have a great part for you!" And, she was like, "Maybe I'll see you on my set." [Laughs.]
PC: Too funny.
BF: She's really cool, though. She's a lot of fun.
PC: What happened with the show you two did together a few years ago? It got lost in the shuffle.
BF: Yeah, it was on the WB. It was a good concept, but it was completely different from what it started as originally. Jamie Kennedy called me and that show was pitched to me when I was between doing that show and a Jennifer Love Hewitt pilot. The producers from each knew I was between the two - and, by the way, I am not a big hotshot, but I just happened to be in demand that week. It sounds like such a brag, but it is not a brag because it doesn't happen to me everyday! [Laughs.]
PC: When you're hot, you're hot!
BF: Right. So, Jamie called me because he was doing the second MASK in Australia and he called me and said, [Jamie Kennedy Voice.], "Hey, man, you gotta do this show. It's really funny." It was based on his life and he had written it. The son was the main character and it was about him - it was called SHACKING UP. They were like, "You're the star of the show and we just have to cast the mom." So, I agreed. Then, they were like, "We got Fran Drescher!" And, I'm like, "That's awesome!" But, that means two things: A, we are going to get picked up and, B, the show is going to be all about Fran - and, rightfully so. I mean, it's Fran.
PC: THE NANNY herself. TV royalty. So, how did it change?
BF: It was no longer about a guy with his mother and her younger boyfriend, it was about a woman who has got a sexy young boyfriend and her son comes home and moves in.
PC: Did you have any issues in the second season on DIVA? You went away for a few episodes.
BF: Well, that was just contract stuff. It had nothing to do with this show.
PC: Was it so you could do a pilot?
PC: Marc being someone else who has also done this column.
BF: Right. Right! He is right around the corner here with NECESSARY ROUGHNESS. Of course.
PC: It's too bad that show didn't end up getting picked up.
BF: Yeah, it was a great cast. Usually, though, it's if someone goes and does a pilot or a movie or something like that when that happens [they leave for a few episodes].
PC: How would you define collaboration in terms of your experiences on DROP DEAD DIVA?
BF: It's an interesting thing when you do a show that's away from home. In LA, this would just be a job - there would be no collaboration, there wouldn't be anything; we'd be people who go to their jobs and then go home to their real lives. When you come here, it's camp - it's summer camp; it's a family. And, I have the same feelings here that I had at camp in Maine when I was nine.
PC: How wonderful.
BF: Yeah. You know, you develop relationships and sometimes you love people and sometimes you hate them. [Laughs.]
BF: Yeah! And, Brooke and Kate! It's theatre, theatre everywhere! [Laughs.]
PC: It comes through on the show, too.
BF: Everybody here has a love for each other in a family way - we're like Brothers and Sisters. So, by Season Three, everyone has kind of figured out their rhythms and we sort of know when to talk to each other and when to not, you know? So, that's great. The main collaboration that we miss being out here, though, is the one with the writers.
PC: Of course - they are in LA.
BF: Yeah. That part sucks.
PC: So, do you think Fred will ultimately end up with April?
BF: I don't know! [Pause.] I would say, without giving away too many things, that there are things that happen this season that may put that in jeopardy. I am not ruling it out; I am not saying they are breaking up or that they will be together forever.
PC: There's more than just kissing this season, at least.
BF: They kissed last year, but there is more than kissing this season for sure! My buddy from New York actually called me and said, "Hey, man, I just saw a preview for your show and you've got your shirt off?" And, I'm like, "Joe, why are you watching Lifetime?" [Laughs.]
PC: That's so funny. What's next for you during hiatus?
BF: Well, we are all putting each other on tape and stuff and looking for things for the hiatus. Who knows? Maybe I'll be working at PF Changs. [Laughs.]
PC: Would you ideally like to do a stage part?
BF: I would kill to do a stage part! I'd love to do theatre.
PC: You famously sang on DIVA, so would you consider a musical?
BF: No one's gonna buy a house seat to hear me sing for $120! [Laughs.] I do have an iTunes song - "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" - that I sang on DIVA. But, I really want to do a straight play, though!
PC: I can't wait for that to happen. This was so great. Thank you so much, Ben.
BF: Thank you, Pat! This was really fun. Bye for now.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro