“Who is this Ben Foster guy? And where did he come from?” That’s how my search started.
Every once in a while an actor comes around and kind of stops you in your tracks. It happens when you’ve never seen them in a film before and they don’t even appear to be acting. To use a directors phrase, they are in the moment. They make you ask, “Where did this actor come from?” I’ve only experienced that a half-dozen times in my life. A few performances I can think of are Denzel Washington in Glory, Scott Glenn in Urban Cowboy, Brad Pitt in Thema & Lousie, and Edward Norton in Primal Fear. And it happened last week when I saw Ben Foster in The Messenger.
So I wanted to know where Ben Foster came from and I was surprised to find that he was raised in a Fairfield, Iowa. (A town Mother Earth in 2006 listed first of “great places you’ve never heard of.”) I was also surprised that, though Foster’s only 29, he’s been acting in films and TV for the past 14 years. I don’t recall ever seeing him before. Never saw him in Six Feet Under, 3:10 to Yuma, or Alpha Dog. And before he started acting in films and TV he was doing community theater in Iowa. And doing it well.
One article said he started doing theater when he was eight. According to IMBD he, “wrote, directed, and starred in his own play at the age of 12, a play that won second place in an international competition.” As an actor friend once told me the important thing for an actor to do is “get stage time.” Apparently, Foster got a lot of that in Fairfield, a small town of less than 10,000 people that had four community theaters in it.* Fairfield is an unusual small town that I’ve called the San Francisco of Iowa. There is no shortage of art galleries and vegetarian restaurants thanks in part to Maharishi University that is based there. (I saw David Lynch speak there a couple of years ago.) Interesting place.
Foster attended the Interlochen Theater Arts Summer program in Interlochen, Michigan when he was 14, and at 16 dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles and began working on TV and movies right away. But keep in mind, by that time he had already been acting for eight years. I imagine he had more stage time that most 16 year olds in L.A.
In 2003 he won a Daytime Emmy for his role in Bang Bang You’re Dead. And before that break through performance in The Messenger he had been in over 80 TV episodes or movies, and in total, acting for 2o years. It all kinda goes back to the 10,000 rule again, doesn’t it?
As a related side note, last week here in Iowa I happened to go a community theater performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was an entertaining and great performance by at the Waterloo Community Playhouse. I’ve been to theaters of all kinds all over this country and one thing that impressed me about this performance was the worked showed. I mean that in a good way. The work they did showed in the set and costume design, the blocking, the performances, the lighting, the music, everything.
At the dress rehearsal I saw the director, Chuck Stiwill, said before the show that there was a cast of just over 50 people and twice that working behind the scenes. (Who knew it sometimes takes 150 people to put on a show in community theater?) Some of the people had been working on the show for two months. Rehearsals were nightly, and yes, there were several children in the show. Perhaps future Ben Foster’s getting in their stage time.
Dream big, but always remember to be faithful in the small things that come your way. And keep in mind that there are also writing opportunites in community and regional theaters around the country as well as summer stock shows.
P.S. And if you know of an 8-12 year olds who are interested in learning filmmaking check out Apple Camp.
*Today Fairfield is home to the 522-seat Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.