This is an interview that took place on July 16, 2014 with Benjamin Arthur from Working The Engels.
What was it about Working the Engels that made you want to be part of this show?
I go through a lot of scripts especially in pilot season and it's not often that you come across something that's so well-rounded, and all of the characters really jumped off the page. A lot of the things sort of blend into each other and there's a hard time to distinguish where the separation lies between, but they all had very, very different points of view and for me, Jimmy Engle, I found it such an interesting character because dad's gone, and now, it's his time to sort of step up and be the man of the family.
But what does the man of the family actually mean? I mean, for me I know what it means and for you, you probably know what it means, but for Jimmy Engle, it's a bit skewed, right? And I found that very interesting. It's a fun place to live in that character especially being the only male in a female ensemble. That was also a very interesting driving point.
What was the most challenging about making this series?
Being the only male. I'll be honest. Like, when I first got the job, I had just come off of Less than Kind with Mark McKinney from the Kids in the Hall, he's their show runner, and it was kind of like a boys club. I'm not going to lie. It was very sort of jokey-jokey on-set a lot of men jokes being thrown around and stuff like that. And then when I got this job, my manager, Perry, who also reps Andrea Martin as well, Perry Zimmel, he said, ???You know, just know your audience, you know? You're coming into a female's writer's room. It's a huge female cast. Just be really aware of what you're doing.???
I said, ???Oh, that's a really good point actually, like, thank you so much for bringing that up when the thought of that I just would've gone into actor mode on-set and kind of not thought about that stuff. So I get to set and turns out that the girls are even dirtier than the guys. I still watch what I was saying between takes and stuff like that, but yes, I mean, everyone kind of had the same sort of mentality on-set. And I think the hardest thing about the job was not laughing at Andrea. Every single take was totally different and she's so zany in the best way possible. I mean that with the utmost compliment.
Was there anything about Jimmy that you added that wasn't originally scripted for you?
When we first picked up the script, Jimmy was a really tough one because when you get the job, there's an idea of who the character is. You read the pilot and then we didn't have all of the scripts sort of laid out. So I couldn't really take a look at what the arch was going to be throughout the season or even at least for the first half of the season to be honest because we only had the first three scripts. And the pilot you're developing characters and sort of introing what the show's going to be about.
I felt like it was a very interesting part in the sense that he was the man of the house now and he kind of came back and at least mom forgave him for what he had done. He had embezzled money from the family for basically a pyramid scheme. We don't hear about it in the first season, but basically that's his back story is he didn't do it with any cruel intentions. He did it with the hope that he could help his family. He's, like, why is all of our money sitting in a bank when I can use the money and make us rich.
So he had the best of intentions, but he's not exactly the sharpest nut in the turd sometimes. So I wanted to sort of play with stepping up and being the man, being the man of the house, being the man of the family now and what that actually meant to Jimmy because I think we can all kind of attest to what that means in real life stepping up and being a man, but Jimmy, given his sort of toolbox doesn't have a lot to work with. So it was very fun concept to play with throughout the entire thing.
You have great comedic timing. Is it a natural ability of yours or have you worked at it?
Thank you. I think that my parents would attest to the fact that I was in the hallway a lot when I was a kid. I was the class clown. I didn't really care. I'm from a really small town where acting wasn't even a part of any sort of idea after high school or there was no concept of even making money or anything.
And I always sort of excelled at musical theatre, drama and improv. I don't even know why we had those classes because there was no use for them after high school. Yes, I was the class clown. And you know what? I feel like I was more concerned about getting last in the classroom than I was about my grades, you know?
I finally picked my socks up because I knew I wasn't going to graduate if I didn't. So I started studying and I made the honor roll, but yes, I was really focused on making people laugh my entire life. And then, of course, once you get into acting, everyone pushes you towards the serious craft and, like, studied Meisner and I went to film school and I got really deep into the dramatic side of things.
And then one day I kind of woke up and I was exhausted. I just felt exhausted. I was, like, I don't want to read another dramatic piece again. Not that I'm against doing it ever again. I got so sick of it at the time during all the scene study classes and doing these intense pieces and life is a little too short. How about a little fun along the way? I really focused on wanting to make people laugh, which was such a weird career move up in the Canada because there isn't a lot of choice. That's where I'm from. You don't really get to choose. You kind of just get whatever the Americans are working on at the time that comes through Vancouver.
So I said I just want to do comedy and my agent was, like, ???I don't know if that's a good idea. I feel like you're going to be sort of pigeon-holing yourself.??? And I'm, like, ???Let's just at least focus this summer on comedy??? and then sure enough, I got a show called, ???Less than Kind??? with Mark McKinney from Kids in the Hall. He was one of the head writers, producers and show runners, and things really took off for me there because he really helped me with allowing myself to just play and be my organic self on-set and bring it into the character. So I learned a lot on that show.
You have to pretty much be ready for anything with this show. Can you talk about preparing yourself?
It was kind of every time you pick up a script you'd go, OK. Really? OK. That's cool. I had just come from a show previous, ???Less than Kind??? where I spent a lot of time in my underwear. So I have no shame. I think as long as it makes somebody laugh, I have absolutely no shame in doing it. I think that's a ??? that's always been a part of me. I feel like I will put myself out there and I will do the most ridiculous thing. As long as it brings joy to someone, then I don't care. I'll be the idiot. I'll be the idiot for 22 minutes every week if it makes people laugh. But yes, I mean, the unexpected on this show.
There's an episode latter coming up where I have to basically make out with one of our neighbors, and she's been a long-time friend for years. Well, it turns out that she's the daughter of a prominent businessperson in town who's about to give the law firm a bunch of work and I have to make out with this ??? so anyway, this girl gets casted and she comes to the set. I really quickly did find out that I have to make out with Eugene Levy's daughter.
He's the guest star that week, but it's his actual daughter that has been cast as his daughter in the show. So when I'm making out behind Eugene Levy's back, I have to make out with Eugene Levy's actual daughter. You want to talk about awkward? That was probably one of the most awkward things I've ever had to do. Hi, Eugene. I'll be the guy who's making out with your daughter. OK. And action.
I was looking at the shows that are coming up and I noticed that Jason Priestly is directing a few of them and I was just wondering what it was like to work with him and do you think that the fact that he comes from an acting background, does that help in terms of directing actors for the TV series? And also I had to ask you were you a big fan of 90210?
I will say that I literally watched zero episodes of 90210. I do understand the stature of Jason Priestly and his work. We were previously on a network together, HBO Canada. He did a show called, ???Call Me Fitz??? and I was on a show called, ???Less than Kind.' So we saw each other quite often. Had never worked with him in a professional capacity, but he came onto this set and I have nothing by love for that man. He was exactly who you think he's going to be in person. He is hilarious. He's handsome as hell and he's charming and completely professional.
And it was one of my first experiences actually working with a director that is still an actor or was an actor and it helps. I mean, there's times when you get stuck when the ??? when you kind of go this made sense, this line really made sense before we shot the latter half of the arch and TV obviously you're not shooting everything chronologically. This scene maybe made a little more sense before we shot and results. So now, I'm having a tough time figuring out how I'm going to navigate myself through this dialogue based on we already know the end result.
So Jason got the script and he would kind of, like, go, OK. And he would ??? he's go, ???These aren't line readings. I'm just doing this for myself??? and he kind of walk himself through the scene and he would kind of figure out the pace and he's do the turns where you did the turn and he would come over and grab whatever you grabbed. And he's go, ???I really think this is where we should be focusing on. I think if you directed your attention into this area as opposed to hearing it,??? I was, like, ???Dude, I love you.???
When are you ever going to get this from a director, you know? Directing is already as hard as it can be on TV. I mean, it's such a challenge. You have to make sure you're coming in on-schedule, you've got to make sure you're getting all your coverage, but the fact that you can step away and take time to focus on not just the arch of the episode, but just an individual's character arch, you know? You can kind of put himself in your shoes for a second is worth it's weight in gold.
You have a who's who of Canadian comedians in this in addition to Eugene Levy. You also have Martin Short and Andrea Martin is the star of the show, but can you talk about working with these people who are just the top of their game?
I grew up in Canada and all we had was SCTV or the Kids in the Hall, you know? We didn't have a lot of channels, but those were the two comedy shows that would come in and SNL, of course. But those were kind of the people that I grew up watching. So to get a chance to work with like the SCTV alumni is still ??? it still blows my mind to this day. And what is it like on-set? I mean, when we have Martin Short and Andrea Martin together in a scene, you really have to shake yourself once in a while and kind of go, don't forget, you have a job to do. You really have to be acting in this scene.
Don't forget you have to take a side on this or issue that's happening and all the professional stuff that you need to do you need to focus because you cant just sit around and laugh your ass off, which is what you want to do. You really become an audience member. It's really tough. And when you have someone like Martin Short on-set, you really kind of take anything that you're deciding to do as far as quirky or maybe a little over the top and you kind of tone it down because you want Martin to go into that direction.
I haven's seen his episode yet, but if they used 10 percent of any of the improv that he brought, it's going to be hilarious. It's going to be hilarious because he was non-stop every single take. And seeing the two of them together was amazing. It was like rekindling an old fire. It was amazing.
Did you move to L.A. for this role?
I didn't. This role was shot up in Toronto actually. ???Working the Engels??? is one of the first Canadian sitcom to get sold to an American network. Now, there's been plenty of dramas that have obviously made the cross over the border, but there hasn't been a lot of comedy. So I believe that we are the first. So it's strictly a Canadian production that moved to NBC.
I have so many friends in the city who have been here for 10 years more than me and say, ???You'll be lucky to get a job that actually shoots in L.A.??? It's, like, mostly everything is outside of L.A. It's the epicenter. It's where you need to be to get the jobs, but you kind of always feel like you're going away.
But I think that was a really important thing for Andrea as well. It was a selling point because as much as Andrea isn't a born Canadian, she did marry a Canadian. So all of her children are Canadian. So she's dual. She spends most of her time obviously in New York, but she does also own a home in Toronto. And I think it was really important for her to go back up and she loves Toronto. She loves being there. She has a ton of friends up there. So for her, it was like going home. So she felt very comfortable with that city.
When you are in L.A., what do you think of the city?
I grew up in a town called, Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada. It's about two hours from the Alaskan border. It was an industry town, a pulp and paper mill, Alcan, which is an aluminum smelter, and if you basically didn't come out of high school with a trade, carpentry and mechanics, you really were nothing.
It's a town of 11,000 people. I came out of high school having no idea what I wanted to do. I played a little bit of hockey, snowboarded, was very avid in the like, drama, musical theatre programs at school, but I had no concept that you could make money doing any of that stuff in the future because it's not really laid out for you in our career days, you know? Your career days are, like you want to work on cars or boats for the rest of your life. Which one you want?
I went away to England. I spent nine months in England just kind of hanging out with one of my high school buddies and just kind of learning about working from 9:00 to 5:00 and about how you really need to love what you do and I kind of came back still not really computing how I could make what I wanted to do because even back then grade 12, I still didn't know that I wanted to be an actor because there was no idea. We had no guest speakers coming into our town telling us, yes, if you come to Vancouver, you can start auditioning and you can be an actor. This is a career. You can make money at it. I had no concept of it. I was totally lost.
I knew I was an entertainer, I just had no idea that I could make money doing it. And then I had one of my buddies who went to film school and he said, ???Yes, I just got accepted to this program. It's called, ???The Vancouver Film School??? and I said, ???Why the hell are you going? Like, I'm the guy who was in musical theatre and improv. I should be the one who's going.???
So I applied and I got in and I love big cities. Like, for me Vancouver was a big city when I moved from Kitimat, but it really quickly became a small town. I was there for about 10 years building my resume and there just came a point in my career where you feel like you've reached the ceiling and you feel like you need to leave and we have it really lucky up in Canada. It's very easy to start a career and build a resume up there because we have so many American productions that come up and they need actors to fill all these spots. The problem is once you've filled all those actor roles or those guest star roles, you really are looking for the next step and the next step you really do have to move across the border for.
It's tough because this is where they cast all the supporting roles or the lead roles. So walking into the room as opposed to sending a tape down from Vancouver just means so much more. So I love L.A. I love this city. I love everything about the city. You know, the traffic gets to me sometimes. Yesterday, I think I spent five hours in traffic just running errands around the city, but once you've lived here long enough, you just kind of navigate around traffic. You try to book your appointments so that they're not during rush hours.
I have nothing but love for this city. I had a really good intro to it though, you know? A lot of people I could see how this city would be really big, hard to meet people, but because Vancouver is basically a direct line to Los Angeles and it's on the West Coast, I have so many friends who have migrated south and started careers down here that it was very easy for me to come down and feel comfortable and accepted and have a core group of actors as a support system. I had it really lucky. I'm one of the lucky ones.
Return to Articles at Pazsaz Entertainment Network