Talk Nerdy With Us had the chance to talk with Brad Benedict, who is one of the stars of TLC’s first scripted drama “Too Close to Home.” Brad talks about how he got into acting, his character JB, and his love of international travel.
Tell me about how you got into acting?
As a kid, I always loved to the center of attention, the showboat. I was the youngest of four siblings, so I think that was kind of born into me. My first acting job or acting experience was in high school. I was more of a jock, and I had an older sister who was in the high school musical and they did Grease. I was just so fascinated with her work and so inspired by her as my older sister that I tried out for Bye Bye Birdie, the spring musical, the next year. I ended up getting the leading role in that. I had to sing four songs and do dances and all of that. (laughs) That was the first time I really ever acted officially.
From there, growing up in Georgia, I didn’t think the Hollywood life was something you could truly get to. It [was] kind of a fantasy world. I just had a chance encounter with the person who worked out here in casting when I was in college. So I decided even though I was studying as a finance major, I was going to come out [to LA] after college, after I had a degree, and give the business my best shot. My studying as an actor, happened after I moved out to LA. I tried to get different acting teachers and other actors and really learn more about the craft.
After you moved to LA, what was your first professional acting job?
I believe it was a movie called Letters to God. It was a Christian film, and I was able to nab a small role as a young kids’ soccer coach. The story was about a boy who had cancer, and the family uses their faith to get through it, and I was the young boy’s soccer coach. I got to fly to Orlando for that, and I just had one scene. I put on an Australian; I think it was supposed to be English, accent but it turned out everyone was like, “Dude! I loved your Australian accent.” (laughs) I was like, “Yeah. Great. I was totally trying to be Australian.”
That was my first time getting a speaking role in either a movie or a TV show. It’s so funny to think back. I was terrified. You over think every single word that comes out of your mouth. It’s just funny to think about how different it feels when I’m on the set.
When did you move out to LA? How long ago was that?
I moved to LA at the very end of January 2008. I graduated college a semester early, in three and a half years and I had a job offer from a big Wall Street banking firm. But, I wanted to have a shot at experiencing Hollywood for a little bit. So I graduated school early, came out to LA, and the day before I was supposed to report to that job, I called them up and said, “I’m sorry guys. I’m going to try to be an actor.” (laughs) I’ve been here, in January, it will be nine years, and it’s been a very interesting, tumultuous at times, ride. But, I don’t regret the decision ever, even a little bit. I’m always encouraging friends to make the scary, challenging decisions in life because I feel rewarded for doing that.
What would you say is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A very simple one: activity breeds activity. It’s easy sometimes as an actor to sit and wait for things to come to you. I think being proactive instead of reactive, simply I guess [in terms of] that’s the business mindset of it, you got to go out there and make things happen. You have to go out there and create your own projects, be in classes, meet other actors, say yes to as much as you can.
As far as the creative side of acting goes, I’ve been lucky to meet Kevin Spacey, we play tennis together, and I asked him what his number one piece of advice would be for me. He told me that your only job as an actor is to service the writer and never to think or worry about your appearance or how you might look on camera or how people perceive you. You can only service the writer and try to tell the story that they put on the page. I think that that has been a precious piece of advice that I’ve tried to implement more and more.
If you had to give advice to anyone aspiring to be an actor, would that be the advice you would give them or would you tell them something else? What would you tell them if you would tell them something else?
Well, from a business perspective, absolutely I would try to make them remember that you have to go and be a go-getter and that it’s not going to come easy and that if it does, it’s an anomaly. You have to put in the work, and the energy and work that you put into your career and craft will inevitably have to come out the other end someway. I would encourage people to stay positive and work hard and remember that they are doing something that they have chosen, that they love.
From a more creative perspective, I still feel as if I’m a baby actor in the sense that I personally want to continue to develop so much more. I would tell that to a young actor: get around people who you trust, try to spend as much time acting as you possibly can, and hone in on the craft. You have to let the art happen. People call acting and film making an “art,” which I think there is an aspect of art to it, but I think first you have to learn the craft of it and then you can let the art happen once you get on the set and in the rehearsal space.
Let’s briefly talk about you are as a person. What are you doing when you’re not acting?
Oh heck (laughs). There is a lot of things but I’ve always had a huge interest in music, so I do some songwriting and jamming and things like that. Nothing professionally yet but someday I hope to get an opportunity to play some sort of musician as an acting role, but it’s definitely a big hobby. I’ve always been big into fitness. After college, after I lost my competitive outlet as a collegiate tennis player, I tried to put my energy into other things that I can now challenge myself instead of competing with others. Just two weeks ago, I joined a yoga studio, and I’ve been trying that out, and I’ve definitely been humbled by that experience, but it’s been fun. I love scuba-diving whenever I get the chance. It’s not always the easiest when you don’t get to travel, but I got certified a couple of years ago, and I’ve always been fascinated with the oceans and those ecosystems in general.
A lot of time you spend you’re just trying to get the next job. I’m currently working on a cartoon, so a big portion of my off time when I’m not acting is developing my own projects. My most recent one is finishing up a web series that I’ve been creating for several years now, and it’s called The Hollywood Box. It’s set in the world of competitive fitness, and that’ll be hopefully out to the world in the next couple of months here. I’m also now developing a comedic cartoon series that’ll be short-form and be released on Instagram and the social-media outlets and things like that.
Going back for a second, you said you played tennis competitively. Talk a little bit about that.
I played tennis at the University of Georgia. I went there and I actually walked on the team so I tried out when I got to school and got on the team. In 2007, we won the NCAA championship on a team that went 32-0 so we had an undefeated season.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought about this in a while, but that whole experience helped me big time as an actor. A lot of times you’ll hear athletes do well in this arena because there is a lot of competition. But for me, a big part of it was [that] I was humbled through college tennis. Our team was great, but I was at the end of the bench, trying to fight my way into the lineup and keep my spot on the team. We had a lot of international players, and John Isner was on my team, who is top 20 professionally in the world now. So, just kind of always having to be the guy fighting for his life and trying to get an opportunity and finding his way to inspire the team has helped me as an up-and-coming actor in this town because you have so many defeats, you hear now so many times, there are so many people who shut the door in your face so having, in a similar way, gone through that on a team that didn’t have a lot of opportunities to play but still having to challenge myself to give it my best every day was really helpful when I came here and knew nobody and had no friends. One day at a time, I found ways to weave myself into the community and get some opportunities.
That’s so interesting. But, moving on to talk about your current series. For people who don’t know about it, how would you describe Too Close to Home?
Straight off; it’s a juicy drama, and it has a lot of complex, intertwined relationships. It’s set primarily in the fictitious town of Happy, Alabama. It’s a bit of a trailer park town. It focuses on a girl who had gotten out of town, Anna, who moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the White House to try to get away from where she grew up and the challenges of that life. After she has a sex scandal with the President, she ends up racing back home for the protection of her family and friends and all of the drama kind of goes from there.
I just think what is cool about it is that it explores family loyalty and things like that and forgiveness and just how the love of a family can be a blessing and a curse. I think it’s interesting how in our show you can see; it’s really beautiful to see how certain people with long-lasting family and other hometown relationships stick by each other’s side and also draw innocent people into dangerous situations. You see that as the series progresses. It also touches on a lot of seemingly, sometimes when you watch it seems like it might not be realistic when you look at some of the situations [the characters] might be in, but love, family, sexuality, drug addiction, abuse, violence, all of these big themes, especially now, we see are a huge part of our community and our society. I think that sometimes [people] tiptoe around those issues in television shows and I feel like we just kind of take them head on and then, at the same time, try to make it and entertaining part of the story.
This season is really exciting. We introduce new characters and we have some of our older characters returning like Heather Locklear. That was really exciting because she’s an awesome character. I finally got to meet her this time because I didn’t get to meet her the first time we shot and she was just so supportive and fun and excited to be there so it was a really cool thing to have her back.
“Too Close to Home” is TLC’s first ever scripted series. What is it like being a part of something like that?
First off, it’s just exciting. I think it’s cool to ever have an opportunity to be the first to do anything, so that was exciting for me when I first booked the show. Then you realize there is some responsibility and pressure that goes along with that because we want to speak to an audience that doesn’t normally watch this genre of show or this type of entertainment. Also, as a new show, just trying to hit the ground running and bring a high-quality product from the very beginning that we can entertain the fans. So yeah, I think it’s very fun to break some ground with the network but also just really pushes you to put in even more work and make sure you are doing your job as a part of the cast to make it the best it can be.
That’s what’s cool getting to work on a show like this is that you can see just how many moving parts there are and how many people are so influential to the show and its success. If one little piece breaks down, if one guy that might be setting the lights doesn’t do his job right then it can affect everyone for the entire day. I just think to be a part of a team again has been a very happy experience for me.
What was the audition process like for the role of JB?
I have representation in Atlanta, so my agent sent me the audition, and you have a description of the character. Things can get crazy when you’re living in LA, and things come up quickly so I think I got it in the morning and I needed to send a tape back to the east coast by that evening. I saw the breakdown for JB, my character, and it was a rugged trucker and I did not feel as if I fit the bill at all. (laughs) I have a little bit more of the all-American, boy next door type of thing. But at the same time, I did grow up in the South so I did feel connected to the material in a lot of certain ways.
At first, I considered it, I was like, “man. I have another audition tomorrow, so should I just focus on that? Maybe I shouldn’t even try out.” But, I said “it’s my job and I’m just grateful for the opportunity.” Anyway, I ended up texting with my girlfriend and decided that it was actually pretty solid and when I started working with the material, it just felt right and flowed out of my mouth and I was able to connect to the thoughts of this character. I passed along my tape to my reps out here in LA as well, trying to get casted on both sides of the country. About four days later, I got a call that Tyler [Perry] really liked my tape and he wanted to fly me out to Atlanta. So he flew a bunch of actors for every role to Atlanta and we all basically mix-and-matched as part of the audition process in front of the producers, the network, and Tyler. We read our scenes and they kind of put it together from there. Kind of like a huge chemistry read, I guess. I had never really experienced that.
One fun thing about that, I was really relieved, Dax, the actor who plays Nick Ballard, I just happened to see him, he got on the bus, and they were shuttling us from the hotel to the studio and he was probably the first person I had ever met in LA while working on a job. We did a modeling job together about eight years ago. So having him there, we were just catching up on eight years worth of time basically because we’ve stayed in contact very loosely and I think having a friend like that there just kept me so loose and may have contributed to having a successful audition. Ir has been cool because he booked the role too, and so we both get to have our first series lead in the same show. It’s crazy how it all comes back around.
Talk a little bit about JB. How would you describe him?
It’s an interesting question because as an actor I feel like I’m trying to go deep into JB’s past and his thoughts and connect with the decisions he makes and empathize with him because if you watch, JB is pretty rough around the edges. He makes some violent choices towards a guy because he’s gay, he puts his hands on women; he’s doing drugs. From the outside looking in, I can see why he’s very much the bad guy, and people just want to jump to hating him, which I think is great. I love that the audience detests him because that’s just a lot of fun.
For me, I just try to empathize with the character because, you know, if I don’t understand him then I don’t think it can go very deep. So I believe he feels remorse and regret for some of his actions but deep down I think he has to believe in his motivations. JB is definitely somewhat tricky because he’s impulsive and is often under the influence of some substance. His actions don’t always reflect his true colors or are those just his true colors? I guess that’s for the fans to decide and keep on watching. (laughs)
I’m curious because he’s a very different kind of character, did you find any similarities and yourself?
Yeah. First of all, just having a brother is important, while his is a half-brother. I think it’s nice to be a sibling. I have four siblings and just understanding those relationships. A lot of times you are trying to do the right thing, or you’re trying to help those around you, the people who are close to you, and somehow, someway it gets turned around, and you end up looking like you were … trying to be the good guy and end up the bad guy. That’s something I can really connect with him on because people are so complicated and so impossible to always understand what their true intentions and thoughts are that you can kind of get caught up in the tricky personal situations.
You kind of touched on it a little bit but what can fans expect from the new episodes? Obviously, the last episode ended on quite the cliffhanger.
(laughs) All I can say is that these next episodes up the ante even higher and I’m excited for the audience to meet new characters, new power struggles, and possibly some new love triangles. You definitely start to get more information on these characters so I’m really excited to share with the audience the inner-cloth of everybody. It’s going to be one heck of a ride. I really think Tyler pushed the limits and is going with a bang with the writing on these next eight episodes.
Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, so what brings out your inner nerd? What do you “nerd out” over?
Oh my lord (laughs). Let me think about that. I’m definitely a nerd so that shouldn’t be tough … well what do you nerd out over?
The thing that I’ve nerded out most over lately is international travel. I thought the first time I traveled overseas a couple of years ago, I thought I was just going for vacation but when I was exposed to these incredibly different cultures than the ones that I had grown up with, I think that just put a crazy travel bug in my system because you come back and you literally feel like, “Oh my gosh, after two weeks time I’m a new human being. I have an entirely new element to my soul and my psyche and my thoughts.” Not only for seeing the beauties of the world but then just to discover new cultures and to get to know about them, I have definitely been nerding out over that.
What’s the coolest place that you’ve traveled internationally?
I just went over to Asia; I was in Thailand and Bali earlier this year, and that was just, I think going to Bangkok [Thailand], that was the first time I had traveled to a more third-world country and just seeing the different ways people live. Even just driving in the streets alone is crazy. Immediately as you get off the plane, you are immersed in the different smells, the different languages; people look different, there are different rules for society, different laws. So just going to Thailand made me, as cliché as it might sound (laughs), you start to realize how small you are and it almost gave me a peace of mind knowing that all of my problems that I stress over are not such a big deal. It helps me approach life with a more happy-go-lucky attitude. Just saying that reminds me that I need to get out and into another world, because people really come back full after that.