“My mother would say, ‘Hell is living with regret,’ though I doubt she expected me to take it this far,” admitted Benjamin Waters, sitting outside Starbucks and taking in the sunlight. Plenty of people have fantasized about leaving their day jobs to chase their dream of Hollywood stardom, but while few people have taken the plunge, even fewer have actually reached their goal. But in a matter of months Ben Waters has been making the rounds of auditions and callbacks, booking like crazy and impressing casting directors around town. Standing a good six feet or so tall, he’s younger than his salt-and-pepper hair would suggest, but so far it has worked to his benefit and will probably add to his longevity in the business.
Though he was born in Phoenix, he grew up in Colorado. ”I grew up in a little farming town, Greeley. My parents moved closer to Denver while I was in College.” Having studied criminal justice, he worked as a police officer before going back to school, studying law, graduating early, and opening his own firm in the Tulsa area. If he was concerned about making money and having steady work, he was set for life. But after reaching the top of your field, what do you do for an encore? In a nutshell, he found himself working successfully as a defense attorney, making good money, and bored to tears. Having always wanted to take a stab at acting and taking to heart his mother’s advice concerning regrets, he made the decision to pack up, leave Oklahoma and move to the West Coast.
A cross-country move takes courage but it also takes strategic planning. ”I came out the weekend before my move with the goal of finding a place,” he told me. “I had an initial idea of where I would be looking, but that changed throughout the day. I found a great place on Saturday and signed the paperwork before going to the airport on Sunday. I am in Hollywood and love where I live.”
After a week or so in Los Angeles, Ben got his first audition for a student film. ”I was so fortunate,” he said. ”Several groups were doing their final projects and that one audition turned into three or four that night as word of mouth got around. I was so green but I had a good look. I ended up doing four student films, one right after the other, playing a cop, doctor, the President of the United States and a school superintendent, the latter of which was just awesome for me as my father was school superintendent for several years.”
Student films may not pay the rent but they’re good training for taking direction from filmmakers using different approaches, and they’re great practice for honing your audition skills. He recognized their value from the beginning. A mutual friend from Tulsa put us in touch during his first week in L.A. and even then he told me, ”I just got my first audition for Friday. I am pretty stoked…Even if I don’t book it I just want that ‘first one’ out of the way so I have a better feel on how it all works.”
That was my first hint this guy was serious. While there’s no shortage of actor wannabes populating the outdoor seating of various coffee houses across town, all waiting for the TMZ truck to drive by, Ben Waters was acknowledging the value of his first audition as a learning tool.
His background working in law filled in for acting classes. ”As a practicing lawyer,” he explained, “when you are in court you need to command the room. If you don’t believe your argument then no one will, it is helpful in auditions or on set, you have the ability to stand up in front of strangers and perform, which really is a lot like court, with different scripts.”
After the move West he quickly gained employment working a security job three days a week, but as the number of his auditions and bookings increased, his physical stamina waned and he left the job three or so months later. “I could not physically do that and shoot,” he confessed. “Far too many days with only three hours sleep. It was killing me.” Luckily, acting gigs picked up the slack and have paid the rent thus far.
His everyman looks have given him the kind of versatility that ensures a long career. Thus far Ben has been cast as everything from a police detective to a boxing trainer to the owner of a yacht. He’s played good guys and he’s played villains. One role of which he was particularly proud was that of a gay dad coming out to his teenage son in the pilot for a projected miniseries following the story of a jazz loving musician and his dysfunctional family.
“One of the earlier projects I booked was titled Blue. The relationship my character has with my son is a great one. I play a jazz musician who is pushing his son to be better than [he himself] had ever been. They have this great relationship but my character is not out to his son. There are so many great things about this project, how my character pushes his son but in a supportive healthy way, the ‘normalcy’ of it all and then the difficulty he has to come out to son, which is an area that has such depth. Coming out stories are not new but always powerful. Generally it is about a child coming out to their parents. The reverse of that is equally powerful and in such a different way. After shooting the coming out scene I felt like I could call myself an actor and artist. The inherent fear of being rejected, looked at differently, in the case of coming out to a child, there is a sense or an additional fear that your child will feel like you have been lying to them throughout their lives.”
Roles like this can stretch an actor’s abilities to mine the text for depth of emotion. It’s great training, and after all, working steadily as an actor requires real, solid acting talent. But sometimes acting talent is the least of your concerns, and you’re more likely to win an award if you can just remain calm but open to adventure while shooting a chaotic stunt sequence.
“This past week I shot a Mark Burnett show called Divine Intervention. Essentially a recreation show where people survive potentially deadly situations. In my segment my character is driving his three kids skiing when my car goes off an icy road into an icy frozen river. The river scenes were so much fun to shoot. I booked the gig primarily due to my experience in water. I was a lifeguard, state swimmer, swim coach, etcetera, all through high school and college. To do the scene where I get out of the car required a special effects team to build a car, put it in a pool, and flip it over. Then, with the help of a stunt team, I was positioned while on a scuba regulator, took off my mask and mouthpiece and had to do my thing. The lengths they took to ensure my safety were extraordinary. Being upside down in a car [was] a pretty disorienting position to be in the first time the stunt team helped me get into position. After that it was so much fun.”
The beginning of June marked his first six months in L.A. and he admits it has “been a wild ride so far, let’s keep it going.” Two weeks later he announced he had just joined SAG-AFTRA (“Oddly enough another Benjamin Waters is eligible but I beat him to it.”). His IMDB page is continually updated with a growing list of credits. A recent Facebook post revealed, “Shot two projects today, rocked an audition and feeling good.” He recently got new headshots and has even put together an “official” website showcasing not only the headshots but his actor’s reel.
In the meantime, the future looks bright for our Mr. Waters. “My five year plan would be taking the roles that George Clooney passes on,” he laughs, “but more realistically, it would be a series regular on TV. I love doing drama and have that ‘cop’ look, so maybe I can book NCIS Des Moines or general police procedural [roles]. I also love doing comedy and am pretty talented doing the ‘straight man’ type comedic character.”
Perhaps the actor he most resembles is Bryan Cranston, who for several years played for laughs as the hapless father on Malcolm in the Middle before garnering serious respect for his dramatic skills on Breaking Bad. Or Leslie Nielsen, whose authoritative demeanor gave him the gravitas of a serious actor during the first half of his career before his being cast in comedies like Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies played on and exploited his serious, sober persona.
“It is a huge compliment when I book comedy. I don’t really give off that comedic vibe at first glance, but that is why it works so well when I get the opportunity. The short answer to your question is, hopefully able to have acting pay the bills. My mantra is, ’just keep booking.’”