Emma Forrest’s Untogether was released February 8th, and is available to purchase on DVD and stream on most streaming platforms including iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and more. Screencaps of Ben from Untogether were added to the gallery recently:
The Sydney Morning Herald caught up with Ben recently while he was in Australia filming Babyteeth, which is directed by Shannon Murphy and co-stars Essie Davis (The Babadook) and Eliza Scanlen (Sharp Objects).
It’s a baking hot afternoon on the edge of a suburban cricket oval. Wearing a baggy T-shirt, shorts and thongs – drinking a cordial with ice – Mendo is holding court on a plastic chair under a gum tree.
“It’s nice to be back,” he says, checking whether it’s OK if he smokes.
When a cockie squawks in a branch directly above – just to make the scene in Sydney’s leafy St Ives even more knockabout – one of the most in-demand Australian actors in Hollywood jokes about being shat on.
“You know what,” he says. “It would just be more luck.”
Luck has certainly gone Ben Mendelsohn’s way since the 2010 film Animal Kingdom alerted Hollywood to his talent for mercurial charm laced with dangerous malevolence.
After an exceptional run of movies, he is back to shoot his first Australian film for “eight or nine years”. And given Mendelsohn’s fame these days – and that of rising Australian co-star Eliza Scanlen after the hit American TV series Sharp Objects – it’s a low-key production to keep the paparazzi away from the set of Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth.
What’s described as a “bittersweet comedy” has Mendelsohn and Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) as protective parents who realise their seriously ill teenage daughter, played by Scanlen, has fallen in love with a drug dealer, Toby Wallace (Romper Stomper), in an adaptation of a hit play by Rita Kalnejais.
On that plastic chair, the actor widely known as just plain Mendo has more grey in his hair, though that could be for the role. But at 49, having won an AFI Award for The Year My Voice Broke at 17 then mixed a long film and television career with what he has previously called “excessive hedonism” off screen, he looks as fit as when he terrorised as “Pope” Cody in Animal Kingdom.
Since leaving, Mendo has worked with such leading directors as Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), Joe Wright (playing King George VI in Darkest Hour) and Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One).
He’s won an Emmy and had two other nominations for the TV series Bloodline, has been a dark force in a Star Wars instalment (Rogue One), played the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood and is another villain in the superhero movie Captain Marvel out next month.
Without a scrap of Hollywood affectation, Mendo recognises that’s a pretty decent run.
“You have a significant role in a Star Wars film, things are going very well,” he admits.
What drew him back from Hollywood was Kalnejais’ moving script for Babyteeth.
“It’s a delightfully bent love story, it’s beautifully Australian and it’s got a heart the size of the Simpson,” he says. “And it loves its people with all their weird messed-up bits.”
In his late thirties, there were three tough years of unemployment for Mendo before he finally jagged a role in the TV series Love My Way.
“A lot of people, including myself, thought it was over pretty much,” he says. “I’d had this good run as a young person and that was that. And that’s a pretty typical kind of arc for a person’s life in film and television.”
Mendo is bemused by his stellar Hollywood career.
“It’s weird,” he says.”I mean, well, it’s wonderful and I don’t know what to make of it really other than that I was lucky enough to just get enough one-two punches in there …
“And trust me, I’m very grateful for it. I drive around that city, LA, and I laugh to myself sometimes about how it’s turned out.”
Producer Alex White, who immediately saw the film potential of what she calls a “humorous profoundly moving” play on opening night at Belvoir St Theatre in 2012, says she feels lucky that Mendo loved the script.
“The work he’s been doing is just getting better and better,” fellow producer Jan Chapman says. “There’s a lot of people wanting to work with him but he’s come to do this and we’re thrilled.”
They both lavish just as much praise on Scanlen, a 20-year-old who auditioned for Sharp Objectswhen she was still in year 12 and has since shot Greta Gerwig’s Little Women alongside Meryl Streep, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Timothee Chalamet.
“She’s an amazingly brave young woman,” Chapman says. “We looked at quite a lot of people but we kept coming back to her.”
As Mendo sits by the oval on a lunch break, he is preparing to head back to Los Angeles to star in a new HBO series, The Outsider, based on a Stephen King novel, when he finishes his scenes.
“I’ve still got a fire in my belly,” he says, taking a swig of cordial. “I’ve still got a few punches to land. Touch plastic.”