An Interview with ‘The White Queen’ & ‘Divergent’ star Ben Lamb

Ben Lamb
Actor Ben Lamb (Image Credit: Ben Lamb)

Ben Lamb kind of always knew that he was going to be an actor. While you were playing soccer, going to little league, doing karate, involved with Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts or participating in any other childhood activity, Ben Lamb was acting. The White Queen star started out performing in operas. Not bad, for a guy who has a futuristic dystopian sci-fi epic in the works. Mr. Lamb stars alongside Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet as Edward in Divergent, which is directed by Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones) and is set for release in 2014.

But let’s take a trip back to the past, as I was lucky enough to recently interview Mr. Lamb. Read on for the full interview where we discuss his character Anthony Rivers in The White Queen and how he prepared for his role, as well as working on what is sure to be the next big YA box-office blockbuster, Divergent.

The Daily Quirk: You graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, so I imagine you knew from an early age you were going to be an actor. When did you first really realize this?

Ben Lamb: Well, when I was very young…maybe, about ten years old. I had done the normal nativity plays and all that kind of stuff. And then I was having a singing lesson, one day and somebody heard. He came into the lesson and was like, ‘Do you want to be in this opera I am casting?’ So, I said, ‘Alright.’ And I ended up doing two operas. And I really kind of enjoyed the acting aspect of it. The music side of it wasn’t really my scene. But, yeah, it grew from that, kind of telling a story. So, I guess I was about ten and then I carried on acting all the way through school. I did youth groups and youth theatre and then I auditioned to the some major drama schools when I was at secondary school [the American equivalent to high school]. I got into RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts] while I was doing applications to universities and thought, ‘Well, I can’t really go to university and hope that I’ll get into RADA again, I’ve just got to go to RADA now. Seeing as how that’s what I want to do.’ So, I did.

TDQ: Very nice. So, coming from a musical background and then to the stage, did you always want to make the transition the film?

BL: I think that a lot of ‘real’ actors want to do a mix of media, because it just keeps things interesting and new. I was really enjoying doing theatre and think that theatre is incredibly important—I’m trying not to sound too pompous—but I think it is really important to do as much theatre as possible. And young as possible because it really gives you a grounding in the very basic techniques of acting. And once you’ve got that than you can go to the screen and it kind of feels…feels very different and there are different technical aspects. And it feels easier in a way. You don’t need to do the very basic thing in the theatre of projecting to an audience. You let the camera—which is the audience—come to you. It’s basically, to answer your question, it’s just nice to have variety. And I’ve done a lot of theatre before I did any screen work. So, just to keep it mixed up.

TDQ: Well, I guess it’s like my mother used to tell me, ‘Variety is the spice of life.

BL: [Laughing] That’s right.

Ben Lamb as Anthony Rivers in THE WHITE QUEEN (Image Credit: Company Pictures)
Ben Lamb as Anthony Rivers in THE WHITE QUEEN (Image Credit: Company Pictures)

TDQ: So, you just wrapped-up filming your first major television role, Anthony Rivers in The White Queen. How did that role come about?

BL: It was just a very usual audition process for me. I think, I went into the room originally and I felt like I did a good job. And I was recalled, and I was asked to meet the director and the producer—and it’s then, that you think, ‘Maybe, I have a chance at this.’ And I walked into the room and there was an actress in the room. So, I was like, ‘Oh. This is weird. I wonder, maybe, she is reading the other lines to me.’ So, yeah, she was like, ‘Oh, I’m auditioning.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I thought I’m auditioning.’ And then I saw the director and the director was like, ‘Oh, are you excited?’ and I was like, ‘Umm, excited for what?’ And he was like, ‘Excited about playing Anthony?’ and I was like, ‘What?!’ Because clearly they cast me and they were holding off telling me until, you know, I had met this girl or something. So, yeah, that was it really. And then began a whole kind of nerve-wracking day or two, while I was waiting for my agent to call and mention that I actually had the role, because I thought, ‘Maybe, like the director has made a mistake. Or maybe, the producer has other things in mind.’ You know what I mean?

TDQ: [Chuckling] Yeah, I understand.

BL: So, it was actually quite a nerve-wracking thing, but also a very exciting start for that job.

TDQ: I can imagine, that being pretty stressful…

BL: I have to say, it was very stressful. But it made, finally having confirmation all the sweeter.

TDQ: The White Queen is steeped in history, did you do any special research to prepare for the role?

BL: Yes, I think you can’t really approach a piece like that without doing the research. Particularly with a thing like The White Queen, which is actually very complicated and multi-layered. And I think there were so many layers as an actor trying to prepare for it. You know, if you blink while reading a script you will miss some vital information. Or, there will be things that your character says, which should mean something to the character and if you haven’t done the research you might just say it and there won’t be any kind of emotional connection to something important in the text. But, yeah, I think that I just did a lot of reading. I mean, when I was cast, there wasn’t that long until we started shooting. So, I think I was—as we all were—reading. We were all reading the book, as we were shooting. And [laughing] you would go past a scene—you would record a scene and you might like, catch up to that scene in the book. And you go, ‘Oh wow! Wow!’ and you like, hope you didn’t miss anything. Yeah, that was like one of the things I did.

There was one book I got in a second hand shop. Often, when I get a job like that, that’s historical. I go to second hand shops and see if there are any books on the history of that time. And I found one amazing book, I don’t remember what it was called. but it was published during the First World War. I think it was called, How They Lived. And it had in it, the prices of everything and they had the equivalent prices when the book was published, and then quotes from people’s diaries of the time. Some random priest from somewhere or other, writing about what the king had just done, and you get like, different individual views rather than a story in now. So, that was a very interesting resource for me. And yeah, you do as much research as you can, I guess.

TDQ: That’s really fascinating. It almost sets up a socioeconomic context for—

BL: It’s probably more fascinating to hear or say than to read in your interview, when it’s typed up [laughing].

TDQ: No, no. That was good. It is really interesting to hear about actors’ methodologies…So, for the shooting of The White Queen, you spent five months in Belgium. What was that like? 

BL: Cold. In fact, somebody tweeted me the other day and they asked if the mist coming out of your mouths was digitally recreated after shooting. And I think, I just said, ‘No, it was bloody cold.’ In fact, when we started we were like, ‘Oh, this is going to be amazing.’ When we were rehearsing before the shot—we were rehearsing in Belgium as well. And during breaks during rehearsing we would just chill out and have some food or whatever and it was like balmy amazing weather. Where as, it didn’t take long to get absolutely freezing cold. And wearing armor, you think, would make you warmer. But, in fact, the kind of costumes that we had…first of all, the material that we had was kind of porous; it was all like linens and that kind of material so that the wind would get right through. And also the armor would create a little bubble where the wind would just go round and around and around inside. So, yeah, I mean, cold is the answer to your question. But it was also amazing.

I think that the locations we had were absolutely stunning. And I think, particularly the historical places. The way the countryside is so…flat, and very similar to England, but also slightly different and fairy tale-like. It’s quite breathtaking, I think. It was certainly breathtaking when we first arrived. We were a bit blown-away by the scale of production and the beauty of the landscape.

TDQ: Did you eat a lot of Belgian chocolate..? I have to ask…

BL: [Laughing] I think I drank more beer than ate chocolate. Bruges is known for three things—well, no actually maybe, no, four things: beer, chocolate, waffles and chips [French fries]. And you can add mussels to that list as well. Just down from our apartment, there was a chip museum, The Museum of the French Fry. [Laughing] I didn’t actually go to that, Bob Hugh, who plays Baron Rivers, my dad, said it was very informative and you actually got free chips at the end [laughing].

Ben Lamb as Anthony Rivers in THE WHITE QUEEN (Image Credit: Company Pictures)
Ben Lamb as Anthony Rivers in THE WHITE QUEEN (Image Credit: Company Pictures)

TDQ: Did you have a favorite moment while filming?

BL: Well, I had one particularly scary moment. We were riding down the streets. It was just before Elizabeth’s coronation. The family is riding down the streets on horseback and people are waving and cheering and stuff. The horse that I was on, the horse trainer that put me on the horse, because one of the other actor’s had been on it and had been spooked—and they had assumed it was because he was a bad rider. Anyway, they put me on it because they were like, ‘Oh you’re very good. You’re very good.’ And so I was like, ’Yeah, yeah, I’m so great.’ [Laughing] And I got on it, and it got spooked by everyone waving in silence. Because, obviously for people’s dialogue the waving and cheering is all done in silence so that you can hear the dialogue through the microphone. They can put cheering sounds on later.  The horse was looking at the people just moving their hands in silence and was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ So, it got spooked and actually started running off. Then the trainers managed to hold it back and then one of the trainers got on it to calm it down. And that’s when it went completely mental. It trashed the track that the camera’s were running on. It almost completely destroyed a camera and it certainly destroyed some of the set.  And I was just very pleased not to be on the horse, because something terrible could have happened.

TDQ: Oh wow, that is really scary. You’ve mentioned previously that you were auditioning for your next big role, Edward in the movie adaption of Veronica Roth’s dystopian sci-fi thriller Divergent, while you were still filming The White Queen. Can you tell me what that was like?

BL: It was stressful. Very stressful. It was stressful, but it was also exciting. I think I wasn’t expecting my career…I knew that The White Queen was going to open doors for me, but I didn’t expect it so fast. And it was all very exciting, but it was also tiring because I was also shooting. I flew to LA twice to get that role. I was Skyping with the director [Neil Burger] while I was in Belgium and I was Skyping with the director on a really bad wi-fi, in Chicago and, you know, just trying to get the role. So, it was time consuming and stressful. And then I would come back jetlagged and keep filming, but it was all worth it in the end.

TDQ: I can’t imagine cycling between this period drama and science fiction.

BL: Well, that again is exactly what I’m talking about in terms of variety. It’s nice to go between film and theater or whatever. Film, theater, radio, TV. But it’s also nice to change completely, your character and not to get stuck.

TDQ: So, what attracted you to the role of Edward?

BL: I think that he is one of the most exciting character transformations in the [Divergent] novels. I think it’s very rare that you get the chance, as an actor, to be like a golden boy at the start, but at the end be this dark, grizzled, bitter [character] that lost his eye. It’s just a really exciting opportunity for me to explore throughout however many books or movies it’s going to be, to explore that character changing so much. And also, clearly, I am a guy, so I’m going to like running around rooftops with a gun.

TDQ: That’s always the dream. Had you ever read the book previously?

BL: No, I had never even heard of the book. But it was also very exciting to find that there was a dedicated and loyal and excited fanbase, for those novels. Because I think that a lot of my work has either been Shakespeare or based on novels. So, it was quite exciting to do another adaptation that has a large following.

TDQ: Like you said, Edward, has a, shall we say, an unfortunate accident with a butter knife. Can you tell me about shooting that scene?

BL: It’s actually the first time I crossed paths with prosthetics. Kevin Haley, who worked on, amongst other things Planet of the Apes, came up with the whole idea for how you could technically achieve the look of having a guy get stabbed in the eye. It was about two hours, as far as I can remember, getting that make-up on. And it was basically plastic surrounding the eye, covered with layers of fake skin. When I first got cast, I was driving around from place to place. getting tailored for the costumes, and getting a full head cast made up with Kevin and Brad [Brevet] the make-up designer. And he’d actually, Kevin, had made a fake closed-eye.  So, One eye that was closed and the other was very tightly clenched-closed and that was the eye he used for the stabbed eye. He stuck that on last and did the airbrushing for that. He put the make-up on and I went to set, obviously and there was a lot of blood applied at the set. And then it’s just a case of acting, but I think a lot of the hard work had been done for me, in terms of acting because the set is really amazing and atmospheric for that particular scene. And the make-up, I didn’t have to think very hard about how much actual pain I would actually be in, in that situation.

TDQ: Have you been able to see the finished scene?

BL: No, I haven’t. No, I have friends that were watching the monitors and they say it looked pretty gory. So, I think, that the gorier the better, because in the books, that incident incites a lot of emotional reflection from Tris [played by Shailene Woodley]. So hopefully that’s what we’ve achieved.

Ben Lamb (Image Credit: Ben Lamb / Twitter)
Ben Lamb (Image Credit: Ben Lamb / Twitter)

TDQ: What was it like working with Neil Burger, the director of Limitless, The Illusionist and now, Divergent?

BL: Really, really amazing. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work with Neil. When I was auditioning in LA, I used to leave the audition then call the manager and be like, ’This guy is amazing.’ It’s reasonably rare that you get a director where every single note that they give improves the performance. I think, normally, or often directors are groping for the right direction just as much as the actor is groping for the right interpretation. It doesn’t always come first time. But somehow, Neil has this amazing ability to come up with the exact note, without telling me how to do it. He comes up with the exact right note in every situation. And that’s something that I really admire and that’s something that’s really helpful to the film in general. I think, also, he has an incredible eye for the image or the overall look. And that’s another attribute in a director you don’t get very often, when you have somebody who is very visual, but also has a great eye for the emotional landscape of the movie. It was just really exciting.

TDQ: He definitely has a particular aesthetic to his movies.

BL: And also, it changes every time. It’s not like he is a one trick pony. He has a different look. You know, it’s not like he chooses the same visual language every time. It’s something that is also very cool.

TDQ: How about working with fellow cast members?

BL: I think everyone was great. It was really exciting to get the opportunity to work with Shailene [Woodley]. I mean, a lot of the actors I didn’t get to meet until after we shot. I met quite a few of them at [San Diego] Comic Con. It’s just the nature of the scene. Tris has her one-to-one scenes with several characters, like in the books. And they’re doing training together and that’s where the action happens. Working with everyone was a joy. All of the producers and Neil and everyone else’s involvement was pretty great. It was a great working with everyone.

TDQ: Any other projects, you would like to share with the readers?

BL: Nothing I can talk about at the moment, but there are some things looking quite exciting.

I hope that Mr. Lamb’s upcoming projects are as exciting as his last ones. It seems like they will be and at the very least, they won’t be the same. Because Mr. Lamb (like my Mom) believes variety is the spice of life…

Although, you can never really have too many eye-gouging scenes in a movie. But maybe that’s just the variety I like.

The Daily Quirk would like to thank Ben Lamb for taking the time to chat! To find out more about Ben, you can follow him on Twitter and watch him in The White Queen, currently airing in the US on Straz and available on bluray and DVD in the UK, and in the upcoming movie adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, set to hit theaters in March 2013!

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Austin is a student at the University of Brighton and an aspiring writer.

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