With a career that spans over three decades, Ben Mendelsohn has gone from smashing headlights and planning bank robberies in David Caesar’s Idiot Box, to keeping dark family secrets in Netflix’s Bloodline, to building the Death Star and getting choked out by Darth Vader in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One. In his latest role, the Australian actor will be donning VR goggles as Nolan Sorrento, the antagonist of Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated Ready Player One, based on the novel by Ernest Cline.
Speaking with a press pack in LA, Mendelsohn seems quite content with perpetually playing the bad guy.
“It’s more fun to play the bad guy,” he gleefully laughs. “You get to behave in ways you might want to behave in normal life, but can’t.”
Within the context of Ready Player One, where most of the denizens of a dystopian Earth play a VR simulator, the OASIS, to get a reprieve from their lives, Nolan is the Head of Operations for a corporation that provides the ISP for them and seeks to take control of the OASIS.
“Well, he comes across as a bit of a sook,” Mendelsohn jokes. “He’s just a corporate arsehole, you know? He’s just some guy with wounded vanity who wants everyone to tell him how good he looks.”
If you’ve read Ready Player One, or have been keeping up with the trailers, you’ll know the storyline gives Spielberg a chance to play with a fair number of toys from other franchises, and Mendelsohn mentions that the director aka ‘the boss’ also got his hands on ‘a great deal of tech’ to make the film. But what about Mendelsohn himself? Is he a bit of a tech head?
“I grew up right in the sweet spot for this film,” he admits. “I had a TRS-80, I had a Commodore 64. I have the current versions of hardware, but, you know, I’m not a tech guy. I’ve been a gamer geek, I’ve been a pinball aficionado back in the ‘70s, so I know the turf. But no, I’m not a tech guy.”
Mendelson’s most recent role was in the Oscar nominated The Darkest Hour, where he played King George VI alongside Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill. It was likely a surprise to a lot of people when his part was cast, and, from what Mendelsohn tells us, it was a surprise to him too.
“I thought that was really ballsy of Joe (Wright, director of The Darkest Hour),” he explains. “I didn’t expect it. I had done a British prison film called Starred Up and that was in Gary’s more native accent, where he comes from. So, had I not done that then I don’t think the other would have happened. But Gaz heard that one and he went, ‘okay.’ So, yeah, I was very surprised. I was delighted.”
The conversation turns to the rest of Mendelsohn’s career and, with so many Hollywood movies under his belt, if the LA based actor is actively pursuing any projects that would bring him back to Australia. Acknowledging that it’s ‘coming up to ten years’ since he’s done a home-grown feature, Mendelsohn appears content with his lot in life and where he currently is in his career.
Still, we’re interested to know how he compares himself to other Aussies – we mention, for example, Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush and Russell Crowe (‘The New Zealander?’ he quips) – who have heeded the call to move to LA, only to find themselves being offered roles back at home. The actor’s response is frank and suggests he’d like to move on with the questioning.
“Look, you know, I did live at home for a very, very long time. And I dare say I did a lot more at home than any of them,” he says. “In fact, you could probably add a bunch of them together and I’ve done more at home than them. So, that’s good, they can stay and do more at home. When they get to my numbers, then we can talk about why they don’t live here.”
Moving back to Ready Player One, the film’s aesthetic is drenched in pop culture references, a number of which stem directly from the ‘80s. When asked what his favourite ‘80s film is, Mendelsohn is quick to say the Spielberg produced Poltergeist, citing a combination of things that he loves about the classic film. “You know, it’s the woman, the voice, the kid, the television. It’s a lot of things,” he enthuses. Keeping the topic retro, what would Mendelsohn’s ‘80s playlist be like when zooming around the OASIS?
“I would put a lot of the roller disco stuff up,” he says smiling. “It’s very hard to go past Back in Black for ‘80s stuff. I think you’d want to have a lot of the early hip hop stuff. That would be a lot of it. And there’d be the end of Funk. There’d be some Casio keyboard, reggae sounds in there. There’d be a lot, don’t get me started. You’d have to have the Charlie Daniels Band, Devil Went Down to Georgia. I mean, there’s so many masterpieces. I told you, don’t get me started on this shit.”
Technology is making leaps and bounds; a long time ago, the idea of VR gaming was nothing but a sparkle in a gamer’s eye. Could we reach a point in society like that echoed in Ready Player One? With Mendelsohn’s character’s desire to monetise the OASIS, comparisons to the US’s loss of net neutrality are being made. Whilst, the actor admits to not knowing too much about that Government push, he does agree the film is relevant to today’s issues and as we wrap up, he shares his thoughts on the future of VR.
“I do think we tend to be anxious about what’s around the corner. New technologies are welcomed with great awe and significant fear. I remember the concern about watching TV, the movies, cursing on records etc, etc. I think a lot of the same tendencies we have, a lot of the same anxieties, get turned into this. I don’t know how it’ll end up, but we’re resilient.”
Ready Player One is in cinemas from March 29, 2018