As gentle as a Ben Lamb: Prince Charming talks Jhansi stunts, drama schools and mentors.
✨ LUCY EATON
Lucy: Happy New Year! You must be even more exhausted than the rest of us after spending the lead-up to Christmas on press tours...
Lucy: What was LA in December like?
Ben: Unusually rainy and cold. It was my first December visit and I was SHOCKED AND DISAPPOINTED at the paucity of Christmas decorations!
Lucy: How dare they! What with this being your third Christmas Prince film, what’s it like having to record something so festive presumably in spring or summer for 3 years now?? You must be in perpetual Christmastime!
Ben: We usually film in the spring, and April/May can end up pretty warm in Romania, where we film. Sometimes a 'snow unit' is used to film establishing shots in the mountains in winter, before the main unit begins filming and the snow starts to melt… that wouldn’t look particularly festive. I’ve done a double Christmas the last three years—it’ll be hard to go back to doing just one!
Lucy: Much as I love Christmas I don't think I could manage more than 1 per year. Talk to us about The Warrior Queen of Jhansi. Any cool stunts or fights?
Ben: My character, Major Robert Ellis, did get involved in the fighting, but was more of a political agent for the East India Company than he was a soldier. He did fight, as his rank implies, but he is better known for the very close—how close is a matter of contention—relationship with Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. When the Company began imposing the Doctrine of Lapse, which effectively requisitioned to Company control any Indian province with no legitimate heir, he was a go-between for the Indians and English. The negotiations were complex and eventually escalated to military intervention, so yes, thankfully I got to spend my fair share of time on horseback in both Rajasthan and Morocco while filming.
Lucy: That sounds complex. And amazing. Which was your favourite location?
Ben: Nothing will beat the first day of filming turning up to the looming Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, a hulking mass carved out of stone, but to be honest, the locations almost end up being a character in the movie because all of them were so splendid.
Lucy: You look very dapper in the promo shots and I feel like you’ve had some great luck with period costumes during your career. Have you got a favourite?
Ben: I love a suit of armour! We had those on The White Queen (BBC/Starz). Also I had a customised cycling outfit in Midsomer Murders once which I wish I’d kept!
Lucy: Now let’s rewind. What brought you to acting in the first place?
Ben: I was a shy kid—I’d moved around a fair bit as a child—and it was probably, now that I think about it, a way of developing a voice without having to say “this is me feeling angry or sad or trying to work things out" - I could say "it’s just the character”. And then I discovered that I wasn’t completely rubbish at it, and you could be paid to do it!
Lucy: What was your favourite childhood role?
Ben: I was first cast in the Benjamin Britten opera The Turn of the Screw, playing Miles—one of two children possessed by two ghosts.
Lucy: I can't believe you didn't say Henry Higgins... (Ben played opposite my Eliza Doolittle when we were at school. It was spell-binding I'm sure.)
Ben: The Turn of the Screw was actually outside school. Someone overheard me having a singing lesson and asked if I wanted to do an opera for New College, Oxford. I told him “I don’t talk to strangers” but when my mum turned up he convinced her it was legit! And then someone came to that and cast me in the same role in their production for the Britten Pears Festival at the Snape Matings in Aldeburgh, which was a flattering vote of confidence. Since then I transitioned from loving the singing part, to really wanting to get inside the skin of the character, and sometimes bursting into song hampers that for me.
Lucy: So opera was dismissed and straight theatre beckoned. As somebody who has been to RADA, one of the most famous drama schools on earth, what advice would you offer to anyone thinking of applying?
Ben: Go to university first. Or do anything else for at least a couple of years before you go to drama school. It’s so important to have a strong idea of who you are as an individual—your strengths and weaknesses etc—before you enter an environment where you’re poked, prodded and moulded for three years. And remember what a drama school is: less something that will improve your craft, more an induction into this bizarre business alongside a ready-to-rock support group!
Lucy: That is such valid advice. I went to LAMDA and am immensely grateful for my training but it's an odd thing and certainly not for everyone.
Ben: I watched as many good actors being destroyed at RADA as I saw being allowed to flourish. There was great enjoyment in there, but it’s like therapy: you can break people as well as build them and there were a great many broken people by the end of my time there. I remember one person from my year whom the powers-that-be didn’t rate at all. She was given, I think almost exclusively, tiny roles in our third year. She’s now an international film star. So they don’t always know best.
Lucy: Couldn't agree more. So after you survived treading the RADA boards, what was your first professional job?
Ben: I played Fortinbras in John Simm’s Hamlet at the Sheffield Crucible directed by Paul Miller. Michelle Dockery was playing Ophelia, and it was just as Downton came out. I remember us all watching it and saying how good we all thought it was—little did we know the success it would become!
Lucy: You definitely seem to be more of a screen actor than a theatre on now? Where do you feel most at home?
Ben: Well a mixture of both is ideal. I’ll always feel more comfortable in theatre because it's what I grew up in, but it’s exciting to play with the naturalism you can achieve on screen. I’m also inspired by the extraordinary skills of the crew on film sets. Much more impressive than the actors! They’re two very different media, and require different skillsets.
Lucy: Do you want to return to theatre at any point?
Ben: Absolutely, but it’s about waiting for the right role
Lucy: What roles do you still want to play?
Lucy: Ooh Charlotte Jones and Penelope Skinner are great picks! I'm afraid I'm not a Pinter fan at all. Heathen, I know, but I can't stand him.
Ben: He was a student at RADA before he quit or was expelled, I forget which, and so we would talk about him and his work from time to time. You see “pause” in the stage directions in a play and you can—especially with Pinter—tend to assume that it means it's serious and laboured, but actually, like good Chekhov, it's often very very funny. I’d just like to give it a go!
Lucy: Have you had anyone particularly guide you through the industry or mentor you?
Ben: Thankfully I have a strong support network and a few key people whose advice I trust, which is important to cope with both the ups and the downs of the industry. Number one would be my agent, Deborah Willey at Independent, and my manager Christopher Highland at Industry Entertainment in the States. I’ve been lucky to have reps whose judgement I trust and who I really get on with. My drama teacher from secondary school, Simon Dormandy, is a great inspiration and supportive voice. Other than that I have a few friends in production, casting & management to talk things through with when necessary. And of course, my long-suffering family who are lumped with the unenviable position of having to cope with the ups and downs of this ridiculous way of life by proxy.
Lucy: Before we hurl you off into the new year, is there anything else coming up that we should know of? What does 2020 have in store for Ben Lamb?
Ben: I’m waiting to hear on something, and if it doesn’t come off I’ll move on! That’s the life. I’m hopeful that 2020 will entail more writing as well as acting. I’ve started writing a novel. I passed my motorbike test in 2019 and am currently organising a bit of an excursion. I’m taking a course in psychotherapy because I find it fascinating. And learning German. I like to keep busy!
Lucy: Wow! That's Busy with a capital 'B'! Auf Wiedersehen!
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