Australian actor Ben Lawson is intense. But, not in a way that makes you uncomfortable. It’s more of a presence that makes you stop and listen. He’s thoughtful when he speaks, holding himself to a high standard and is incredibly passionate about the world around him — yet he has a softer side that became more and more evident during our phone interview.
“It feels like a fight that I didn’t think we’d still be having at this point.”
Our phone interview took place while I was sitting in TheLatch—‘s Sydney office as thick smoke took over its famous skyline. Lawson (who recently turned 40) was 12,500 km away in his kitchen in Canada, the very same one he recorded his powerful poem with his dog Mochi at his feet.
We teetered between serious and playful — casually making fun of one another and joking about conspiracy theorists, in particular climate change conspiracy theorists. I recalled a time I almost dated one.
“I’m sure you guys are very happy,” he joked, before adding that he seriously “can’t believe” how people turn a blind eye to climate change.
“Like, ‘How does it behoove you…’, and then another thought I’m at is, okay, let’s assume that there is a chance that this whole thing is made up. Wouldn’t we rather err on the side of caution and do what we can just to create clean energy anyway?
“Reduce the carbon footprint we make, even if it’s not as bad as they’re saying? This weird attitude of, “It’s a fucking hoax.” It’s like, “Okay, well, even if you believe that how does it hurt you just to change the fucking light bulbs in your house out, or just get an electric car?”
Most of our conversation was like this. A back-and-forth about the effects of climate change. Of course, an important conversation to have — but I was also curious to know more about him — the former Neighbours star who had been steadily working in the US for the last decade.
“I was always an attention-seeking kid,” Lawson told explained. The middle child of five brothers.
“I went to a private boys’ school. It wasn’t really a performing arts school in any sense. It was very much a school built around sport and scholars and when I was 12 I asked my mum to find an agency for me.”
At the time, Lawson asked his younger brother Josh Lawson (a successful actor in his own right) if he wanted to be an actor too. Turns out he did.
“So, we went and got this woman who was operating out of her house in the suburbs of Brisbane to represent us. I’ve sort of been doing it more or less since then.”
His first “gig” was on the popular TV series, Skippy.
“They might as well have said that I just got the lead role in the Godfather remake,” he joked. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be on television.’ My dream come true.
“As a kid, it was amazing. But then also the worst thing about it is when you’re in, you’re in and then you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ve finally got a spot’ and it’s just gets harder, and harder, and harder.”
Once he finished high school, Lawson enrolled at a performing arts school in Toowoomba, before being unceremoniously kicked out.
“They just failed me at the end of the year,” he said. “I didn’t really do enough work, I guess, and they failed me. So, I went back to Brisbane with my tail between my legs.”
Not one to be deterred, Lawson later scored a coveted spot at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) in Sydney, which led him to his big break in Australia. Playing Frazer Yeats on Neighbours.
“I loved my time on Neighbours,” Lawson said. “I loved the crew and I’m still in touch with a lot of them. People like Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy) and Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) were really great at taking in new actors. It’s a revolving door, we’re coming in at any time and they were really great at taking in these younger actors and nurturing them and helping them. I think those guys are the heart and soul of that whole operation.”
Having gone through NIDA, Lawson didn’t have much screen training under his belt.
“When I was offered the gig I thought cockily that it was an easy banana to grab, but when I got into it, I didn’t realise just how much I didn’t know about acting and being around a camera. And it was like a crash course. You’re just doing it every day, non-stop.”
Lawson credits his work ethic to his time on the Australian soap’s set which gave him a “good attitude”.
“There’s no real kind of actor hierarchy,” he said. “Not to the extent that I’ve seen it overseas because we don’t tolerate that sort of stuff in Australia. You’ll be put in your place pretty quickly if you do that, so, I think that sort of teaches you a good attitude towards your work.”
In 2008, Lawson arrived in Los Angeles, and says that for an actor coming from Australia, it was “difficult”.
“It was before the ‘Hemsworth effect’,” he revealed. “Before those guys blew up and every young Aussie actor went, ‘Wow. If they can do it, I can do it.’ There was really only Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman.”
At the time, he didn’t really care much for LA because it was “hard to see what was good about it immediately”.
“There’s a lot of… a lot of what it’s famous for. A lot of bright lights essentially. That’s not a new take. But I think after a few years in LA you sort of grow a love for it. It’s been good to me.”
Los Angeles certainly has been good for the actor who has scored roles in Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, Doubt, Dollface, Netflix series Heartstrings with Dolly Parton, and also the role of Coach Rick in teen drama, 13 Reasons Why (to name a few).
But it was his turn as Larry Hemsworth (the fourth Hemsworth brother) in NBC’s hit show The Good Place with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, that he described as a “dream role”.
“I’d met Kristin Bell previously,” he recalled. “So it was sort of nice having a friend I knew there. Everyone in that cast or crew was so great. Like, a really great bunch of people. Ted Danson, was such a nice man.
“It was a dream job. I did perhaps five episodes. It wasn’t a lot, but I was sad to leave. I was like, ‘Damn, you guys are on a golden ticket here.’ People love it, and it’s fun. I’m very grateful for my brief time on that show because it didn’t feel like work. When that’s the case, you know it’s something good.”
In 2019, Lawson played opposite his brother, Josh, 39, as Rupert Murdoch’s sons Lachlan and James respectively, in Oscar-nominated film, Bombshell.
“We haven’t really worked together that much but it’s cool to be brothers playing brothers,” he admitted. “It’s kind of like bringing part of your life into a film.”
But it hasn’t always been a positive having a younger brother in the same field.
“I think when we were young and we were just starting out at school there was a rivalry and every job felt so important.
“I remember when he got Blue Heelers (2006) I was crushed,” he admitted. “I was like, ‘why can’t I get that’. But as you go on, and you or he gets a win, you’re really happy for him. You don’t want to see your friends struggle, you want them to succeed. But there’s a lot of love and support for each other.”
Lawson has just completed filming the Netflix original series, Firefly Lane in Canada opposite Sarah Chalke and Katherine Heigl due out in 2020. So we can expect to see a lot more of him this year.
So, with such an impressive resume under his belt, does he have any advice for his younger self?
“So many things,” he told me. “I’d work harder earlier. I wish when I’d got to LA, I would’ve taken advantage of all the classes and all the amazing things on offer.”
But judging by his past and future acting credits, I think he’s doing just fine.