views from the edge: 'alien covenant' actor ben rigby on the brink of fame
We talk to the actor and filmmaker about the strange reality of almost being famous.
Actors live their whole lives waiting for a big break, a project to take them from a name on a call list to a name. Australian actor Ben Rigby's is really close. He's on that precipice, toes pressed right against the edge, waiting to tumble into a new life. An established performer and theatre-maker in Melbourne, last year Ben appeared in two huge movies: the unstoppable indie Lion and Ridley Scott much hyped blockbuster Alien Covenant.
Lion is out, and he's got love for his small part. But Alien Covenant's release is still months away. So presently he's at home, enjoying these strange final moments as a regular, non-cinema-epic-starring person, before a very big movie probably changes his life forever. We caught up with him to share one of these final ordinary hours and talk about being on the edge of something huge.
I know you can't really talk about your new Alien film, but can you tell me about the audition process? Was it intense?
Surprisingly, the process was quite straightforward. My US managers got me an audition and I approached it just like the rest: Learn the lines, do the scenes, walk away, and try not to stress about if you have a chance or not. I'd been doing so many auditions at that point, that it seemed like the logical way to think about the industry. When I got a phone call two months later it was completely unexpected, and completely spectacular.
Still, it would have been a crazy learning curve. Did you learn much from the other actors?
The best thing to see from the more seasoned actors, was how clear their characters were to them. They took big risks and jumped straight into the scenes, and if scenes weren't working, they would talk about them openly until they did. This allowed us much less seasoned actors to follow suite and also take direct risks with our choices. Working with actors Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Carmen Ejogo was just mind-blowing. I wanted to be Billy Crudup when I was 10, so to watch him work in the flesh was quite the treat.
Was it a steep learning curve?
Working on a blockbuster film set was insanely eye opening. I've spent so many years producing indie theatre or acting in student or low budget short film projects, that I'm so used to creating or entering the character's world on a shoestring budget. Every aspect of Covenant was intricately detailed, from the props, to the make up, to the set or location. I was super impressed with how little green screen was used and how much was actually created for the life of the film. I could just do my job as an actor and not have to worry about anything else which was a massive change from anything I've ever known. I guess the biggest learning curve was letting my inner producer/micro manager go and allowing myself to be the actor on set.
It must be a rollercoaster doing something amazing like that, then going back to real life. Have you found that difficult?
One day you're being picked up for work, drinking expensive Scandinavian water by the bottle in your trailer and being directed by Ridley himself. The next, you're tramming to work, filling up your plastic water bottle in the staff toilets, and directing patrons to cinema 13 at your casual job. It's all part of the experience, and you never know if it will happen again so you've got to appreciate the moment while it while it lasts.
Do you think about how your life is going to change when it comes out?
Oh God, I'm not too sure how to answer that. I plan on moving to LA this year when the film is released to keep the ball rolling, so I guess that's quite a drastic change if and when it comes to fruition. Saying this, to expect anything at all in this industry is so so unrealistic — anything can happen.
You have a lot of other stuff going on though, your short film Bridge was shown at Palm Springs Film Festival. Tell me a little about that.
Bridge was one of those projects that just came out of the woodwork for me. When I am trying to produce or create things, I am always drawn to themes of sex, death, family and secrecy. The ideas in Bridge are centred around sexual secrecy within a family cohort.
You're also a great photographer. Do you find your process as an actor informs how you work as a photographer?
One process definitely informs the other. Watching films and acting in films over the years has only improved the way I look at light and matter within photography, it goes both ways too. Taking photographs improved the way I approach screen-craft. The energies are the same, there's still a camera there, it's just pointing in a different direction depending on the job. I am a strong believer of the belief that if I can dish it out with a camera, I should be able to take it as well.
Text and photography Amelia Dowd