Ben Mendelsohn excited about ‘Babyteeth’
Filed in Babyteeth Interviews

Ben Mendelsohn excited about ‘Babyteeth’

SF CHRONICLE | Jessica Zack | June 18, 2020

Some actors are clearly uncomfortable giving press interviews, but they put up with the questions — about their roles, their co-stars, their process — with a stiff smile because they know talking up their work to reporters is part of the job of selling a new movie.

Ben Mendelsohn, on the other hand, leaps from his chair when I enter the room at the Intercontinental Hotel, looking like there’s nowhere he’d rather be. He has a big, slightly goofy smile and a booming voice, and he exudes I’m-game-for-anything energy. (This was, of course, well before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and the entire country went into lockdown mode.)

“Come on in here,” he says, in the Australian accent he’s masterfully concealed in recent American roles — as a detective on HBO’s “The Outsider” or the wayward brother in a Florida Keys family in “Bloodlines” on Netflix, for which Mendelsohn won a 2016 Emmy Award.

Mendelsohn was in San Francisco in February to screen his latest movie, the Aussie indie “Babyteeth,” at the Mostly British Film Festival. The film is now set to open in select theaters and will be available to stream on Friday, June 19.

“I love this. I love all of this. It’s joie de vivre,” Mendelsohn, 51, says, stretching his arms out wide. A naturally garrulous talker, within minutes he has made it clear just how wide-ranging his enthusiasms are.

Mendelsohn says he loves playing villains as well as comedic misfits. He loves being in what he calls the “sweet spot” of a career that he once feared would flame out before Hollywood caught on to his talents. He loves America. He loves newspapers. He loves to drive. (Mendelsohn made a last-second decision the night before to drive up to San Francisco from Los Angeles instead of flying, jumping in the car with his publicist, Suzie, and her tiny dog.)

And, yes, he loves acting. And he loves talking about how much he loves acting — in everything from blockbusters (“Captain Marvel”) to small, offbeat dramas like “Babyteeth,” “a brutal little shoot I knocked out just before ‘The Outsider.’”

“It’s my favorite film of mine that I’ve seen. I can’t overstate how much I love this film and am proud of it. I think it’s the coolest film I’ve ever been in,” says Mendelsohn, right before his knee starts jangling and he says how badly he wants a cigarette.

But the smoke break can wait. He decides to keep gushing about “Babyteeth.”

“I just said one word to my agent when I read it: ‘Beautiful,’” Mendelsohn recalls.

The bittersweet family drama, which won raves at last year’s Venice Film Festival, has an unusually dreamy, humorous, unsentimental tone that’s rare for a film that tackles terminal illness, addiction and the varied ways people cope with trauma.

Mendelsohn plays Henry, the psychiatrist father of a very ill 16-year-old, Milla (played by Eliza Scanlen of “Little Women”). Her cancer treatments have been draining the life from her when Milla meets and instantly falls for a charismatic 23-year-old, Moses (played by a magnetic Toby Wallace), who knocks into her one day at the train station. Moses’ fearlessness and disregard for rules are a tonic for Milla. He’s just what she needs.

The catch: Moses is about the last person Milla’s parents (Mendelsohn and Essie Davis of “Game of Thrones”) want around their very sick daughter who plays violin and attends a preppy all-girls school. Moses is a small-time drug dealer addicted to heroin and pills. He breaks into their home looking for Milla’s cancer meds. He lives on the streets and has a rattail haircut and face tattoo.

Yet, despite Henry’s misgivings, he sees the pure joy Moses brings his daughter when nothing else does and asks him to come live with their family in the leafy Sydney suburbs.

“I think there’s something very Australian about this film,” says Mendelsohn. “There’s a certain sense of humor, maybe where you don’t expect it, and that real Australian virtue of, ‘We don’t mind if you’re a real mess, we can deal with you even if you’re a f—up.’ ”

“Babyteeth” is based on a 2012 play by Australian playwright and actress Rita Kalnejais, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s the first feature film directed by Shannon Murphy, known for her vibrant short films and theater work.

“It’s got a hard tone to get right, and Shannon far exceeded my expectations as a first-time director,” Mendelsohn says. “She smashed it out of the park.”

Mendelsohn says he loved the opportunity to work in Australia again, something he hadn’t done since “Animal Kingdom” (2010), the David Michôd-directed gangster film shot in his hometown, Melbourne, that finally got Mendelsohn noticed by Hollywood heavyweights. “That’s really what started the American experience for me,” he says.

Mendelsohn had had a thriving acting career in Australian television and film since he was a teen, but he didn’t break through in the U.S. until his early 40s. He describes the period of fruitless Los Angeles auditions as so intensely frustrating he thought of quitting acting.

“It was starting to look delusional,” he says. “I’d been knocking on the door for so long — we’re talking 15 years, something like that. After a while, you’ve got to get realistic. I was ready to give up.”

Good thing Mendelsohn stayed in the game. After “Animal Kingdom,” he started to be cast regularly in higher-profile projects. He was in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” and Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” and he played King George VI (opposite Gary Oldman’s Oscar turn as Churchill) in “Darkest Hour.”

And Mendelsohn earned not only Hollywood’s attention, but also a spot on its A-list. Especially in his indie roles, American audiences have now gotten a good look at what Australian fans have for years been calling the “Full Mendo” — short-hand to describe Mendelsohn’s menacing cool on screen, the way he reads as vulnerable but a bit broken, sometimes sleazy, with a trademark ability to hold a cigarette dangling impossibly from his lower lip throughout a scene.

Henry in “Babyteeth” is a great example of Mendelsohn’s multidimensionality. He’s calm, but seems ready to snap. His wife catches him shooting up morphine in his office. He runs out on a therapy session while a patient is on the couch, and he kisses his young pregnant neighbor.

“There’s something to be said for being complicated,” Mendelsohn says. “Also, undoubtedly there’s some of my own qualities in that.”

“Babyteeth” (Unrated) opens in select theaters and is available on video on demand starting Friday, June 19.

Check out the full size version of the interview photos in the gallery!

Untogether out now + Babyteeth update/interview
Filed in Babyteeth Untogether

Untogether out now + Babyteeth update/interview

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).

‘Delightfully bent’: Ben Mendelsohn shoots a new Australian film

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.”

Stills from Babyteeth:

Coming up next: Robin Hood HD screencaps and a Captain Marvel roundup post!