Australia’s own Paul Benjamin Mendelsohn has been plying his thespian trade for the good part of three decades. As many local actors do, he began on local television shows including the stepping stone to many a big screen career appearing in beloved soap Neighbours.
Back as a young teen movie enthusiast, I first saw Ben in the now cult Australian coming-of-age classic, The Year My Voice Broke (1987). Up there as one of the local greats of the genre alongside Puberty Blues (1981) or underrated Secrets (1992), it’s a timeless portrayal of teen semantics. As a firebrand bad boy, Ben stood out.
The recent Emmy Awards ceremony just happened and Ben Mendelsohn was not only nominated for a role he plays in the series Bloodline, but unbelievably won up against the favoured likes of legendary Jon Voight (Ray Donovan) and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones). An amazing feat and a sign of things to come. Currently in London filming the new Steven Spielberg science-fiction epic Ready Player One, he is also now part of the Star Wars cannon appearing in the upcoming Death Star spin-off story Rogue One.
After an escalation of small screen appearances, cinematic productions flowed on with roles in New Zealand fantasy Map of the Human Heart (1992), the Norman Lindsay tale Sirens (1993), and Metal Skin (1994), a harsh street car tale and follow up film from the director of Romper Stomper.
Comedy flop at the time but now considered a hilarious romp Idiot Box (1996) paired Ben up with fellow journeyman, now accomplished director of Last Cab to Darwin (2015), Jeremy Sims. In one madcap scene, they rob a charity bucket holding a Koala mascot who proceeds to chase them down the street pushing people out of the way, simple but very funny.
Starring alongside national treasure Kylie Minogue in Sample People (2000), also featuring Joel Edgerton, disappeared from screens but can now be found on DVD and considered an Adelaide set new millennium oddity.
Next up appearing in Mullet (2001) as a regional rugby league star then displaying an acute portrayal of a young Rupert Murdoch in Back & White (2002), a film that opened the Sydney Film Festival to disparaged uttering within a critical crowd, highlighting only Ben as the redeeming grace to a complete bore.
Other than popping up in mountain climbing flop Vertical Limit (2000), branching out with international productions really began for this hard working actor in The New World (2005) – the reserved adventure live action traditional tale of Pocahontas from reclusive director Terrance Malick.
Award winning TV series Tangle and Love My Way were keeping him busy until Nicholas Cage filmed his supernatural drama Knowing (2009) down under enlisting Ben and fellow rising star Rose Byrne as co-stars.
Beautiful Kate (2009) and Animal Kingdom (2010) solidified not only pure dramatic authenticity to his craft but a sense of dread by playing remarkably believable evilness. The latter film drew global acclaim scoring an Oscar nomination for co-star Jackie Weaver while Ben was earmarked as standout (with Joel Edgerton) in an incredible ensemble.
Forgettable Australian films Needle (2010) and Killer Elite (2011) were already in the bag but released well after the Animal Kingdom success although it was being handpicked by Christopher Nolan to appear in his Batman blockbuster Dark Knight Rises (2012) that sent Mendelsohn stocks soaring.
Generation Y queen of the open mic, politically incorrect comment, acclaimed writer Lena Dunham put Ben in her hit HBO series Girls in a pivotal role, followed by Place Beyond the Pines (2012), an unforgettable mystery with Bradley Cooper. Although many have forgotten Exodus (2014) and Slow West (2015), he still makes a mark in both, sort of.
With the aforementioned Rogue One on the horizon and now the equivalent to an Oscar (for television) under his belt alongside numerous Australian acting awards, he has become yet another of our very own Hollywood success stories and much of that comes down to his creativity in unique character selections and talent ability.
Shane A. Bassett