WORDS BY DENISE J. MALLABO
If his face is familiar, it’s because Ben Feldman had already been on several TV shows prior to Superstore. The 38-year-old thespian was in Living with Fran, Mad Men, Medium, The Mindy Project, Drop Dead Diva, and A to Z.
It’s not always easy when shows get concluded or cancelled but it’s as if being on top shows has always been Ben’s calling.
Ben with his co-stars are ready to give you more laughs as the top-rated sitcom on NBC Superstore is already on its fourth season and recently got renewed for their fifth season!
A BOOK OF spent a day with Ben for a photoshoot and asked him about his directorial debut on the show, growing up in Potomac, and why he likes acting.
Hi Ben. What were you doing before this interview?
This morning I was carrying a screaming toddler for hours on end. Trying to get him to relax, sit down, eat, drink, to no avail.
How is it growing up in Potomac?
I had an easy childhood. I had divorced parents, so I had two different worlds that I bounce back and forth between every week. But I'm also left alone a lot so there was a lot of parties. My friends started calling me Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off because it was the character that would always say "no, no, no, don't touch that...that's gonna break," so that was basically me most of high school.
You started acting when you were six years old. What is it about acting that you like the most?
I like acting because I get bored easily, I think. It's a lot of fun to have an excuse to pretend to be other people and to get paid for it for a living, I feel like I scammed the system somehow. I shouldn't be getting paid to do that, but I do. It allows you the opportunity to see the world through a lot of different eyes and that's a fun way to go through life.
What made you decide to move from New York to Los Angeles?
I booked a TV show that's shot in LA about an 18-year-old kid who's the mayor of his own town. It was on WB. That's what moved me out here; it was great. The cast was Lizzy Caplan, she played my girlfriend, Anna Kendrick, played my little sister; it was a really cool group of people. And then it got cancelled after we shot two episodes.
You were part of the broadway play, The Graduate. What have you learned in theater that you have applied on tv?
Studying theater and being in theater in general taught me how to listen. Because when you're doing something live and you can't stop to do it again, and there's no editing, people can call bullshit on you if you're faking it, if you're just waiting for your opportunity to speak. Theater forces you to go out on a stage and really pay attention and lock in with the person that you're acting with. Ultimately, the difference between a good actor and a bad actor, a good actor listens.
Would you love to do theater again? What is it about theater work that you love the most?
Yes. I'm constantly begging my representatives to find me theater projects. It's hard because when you're doing a TV show you'd get a really tiny break, and everyone is trying to find that movie or whatever to fit in. And not everyone would just go to New York and do something for way less money in front of way less people. It's also hard to find a play that wants me to start the second a wrap and end the second I have to go back to Superstore.
What was it like working on Mad Men, and particularly with John Hamm?
Mad Men was a lot of fun and it was different than anything else that I've ever done. The cast was great; you've got both Johns (Hamm and Slaterry). True fans know that it was funny. When we'd do table reads, it read like a sitcom. People will laugh the whole time. The whole cast were really intelligent, intimidatingly smart, funny people.
You’ve been part of a good number of TV shows before landing the role as Jonah in Superstore. What was your first impression about the show when it was first described to you or when you first read your script?
I had just gotten done doing a show on NBC that got canceled called the A to Z and it was a comedy. It was about a guy and a girl and their relationship. The whole thing was basically about them. I promised myself when that got canceled, I said "no way I'm doing this again. I'm certainly not going to do another sitcom and on that same network." And then Superstore came along. My agent sent me the script and said "you're going to get mad because you're going to read this, you're going to love it, and you're going to want to do it. I'm so sorry." She was right. I say it all the time, it's like reading a delicious menu from a restaurant that just gave you food poisoning. It was the funniest script I read and most importantly it was an ensemble. It wasn't about a guy and a girl and their relationship. It was about a group of people, it was a community; a family. I wanted to be on a team.
The cast of Superstore is very diverse in terms of ethnicity. Do you think that aspect contributed to the show’s success?
I think it gets some attention because it reflects on a much more realistic way on what a regular, modern, common, working America looks like. Justin Sptizer, the creator of the show, and the producers never set out to create a diverse show. They wanted to create a group of people that look like what a group of people look like in a big store or anywhere else. The diversity itself is not the most compelling thing about the show, a wide range of people can watch Superstore and go "that's me" and recognize themselves, their friends, or the kind of people that they know, and they see on a day to day basis in our cast.
Superstore is on its 4th season. Did you ever expect the show to last this long? What’s special about doing this series?
I did not expect Superstore to last this long, but to be fair, I just did not expect any show to last this long. I was the most pessimistic, grumpy buzzkill in the entire cast. When we started shooting, everybody was convinced that it was going to be a hit show. Everybody was super optimistic, and I was the guy who had been on a bunch of show, who'd been burned already, and I was like "don't buy your yachts, we're not going to air." And then we did, we're top comedy. But I always knew that it's a great show that's why I wanted to be on it. It's the kind of show that a lot of people could get into. I was right, or everybody was right, or I'm the least right out of the cast. It's great, it's a special show. The cast is an incredible group of people that are the best, funniest people I know. Unless it's me, there's no one that everybody secretly hates, which is rare on a TV show or in any kind of work environment.
What was it like directing an episode for the show? Take us through the first production meeting.
It was intimidating to me because I've never directed before. But it's a well-oiled machine, everybody's great at their specific jobs; from the guy that makes eggs every morning to the guy in-charge of props, to the actors, producers, and everybody else. It makes your job as a director pretty easy. I don't love people talking to me all day long and that's what happens when you're a director. Somehow it was okay that particular week. I was more excited, and it was harder to go to sleep on nights where I was directed, exhausted, and doing stuff from the break of dawn all day long. I was more amped-up coming home from that than on a normal day wherein I just say eight sentences, put on some makeup while I sit in my trailer. It was exhilarating but it was a lot of talking, a lot of answering questions. Production meetings, when you start a show, it's just people literally being like "blue? Green? Which one?" And I'm like "green? I don't know?" And it's that but for a week.
What can we expect from the upcoming episodes of Superstore that you can already tell us?
In Mad Men, if I even suggested that I was even going to be in an episode, I was in trouble, so I'm always reluctant to say anything about what's coming up. With Superstore, there's not really much that I can spoil that spoils the show. There's some #MeToo-ish kind of stuff, some health care stuff, and some pay gap stuff, we're still covering a lot of issues, which is what's really fun about the show. We tackle a lot of issues that we talk about on a regular basis in America. But we don't cram any ideology on anybody's throats. A lot of important stuff done in really dumb, silly ways is what you can expect as usual.
If you were a book, what kind of book are you?
I want to say Goodnight, Moon because I feel like all I do is read a book to try and get my kid to go to sleep, therefore, I'm really sleepy and there's a lot of pretty colors and you get to go to bed fast. That's what kind of book I'll be—a short, colorful, bedtime book.
Check out the full interview below:
See Ben Feldman as the lovable Jonah on Superstore only on NBC!