12th April 2023
Interview: Chris Richmond
Photo Credit: Ori Jones
You, the hit series from Netflix, is back, and we were lucky enough to speak to one of its stars, Ben Wiggins about his role in the new series. He plays Roald - wealthy and stylish, and possibly in possession of a dark secret. We spoke to Ben about his role in the show, his performance in Shakespeare’s As You Like It in London, and his career goals and aspirations.
You've been cast in the new series of You as Roald - what can you tell us about the character? Who do you play and what appealed to you about the role?
My character is Roald Walker Burton, who is a multi-millionaire aristocrat, close friends with the group with whom Jonathan (Penn Badgeley) finds himself involved. Roald immediately dislikes Jonathan and sees him as an outsider and beneath him. He quite quickly accuses Jonathan of being behind the murders. Roald is incredibly privileged and genuinely believes that, because he was born into money, he really is far superior in every way to most other people. He is in love with Kate (Charlotte Ritchie) and would do anything to protect her, but that doesn’t stop him from being rather self-serving and calculated.
In the breakdown for this role, Roald was described as “wealthy, stylish, socially adept and attractive - Is he an asshole or something darker?” and my interest was obviously piqued (I thought “god what a confidence boost if I actually get the role!). The opportunity to pay a rich, arrogant twisted guy – yes please! There is something really fun about playing something so different from yourself (I hope my friends and family would agree with that!).
You've previously starred in William Shakespeare's As You Like It on the stage in London. What are the difficulties of tackling Shakespeare on stage? What are the differences from a performing perspective between Shakespeare and a Netflix television show?
I did! First and foremost, there is the huge difference between stage and screen - it’s massive! Being on set requires a specific kind of discipline. You need to arrive with all you character prep done, your character fully formed because you might not have more than a couple of takes to get the shot and you rarely have rehearsal time. There’s usually a lot of waiting around while you wait to shoot your scene which can become tiring, but you need to be able to deliver your performance well at the drop of hat, be it take 1 or take 30.
Theatre, on the other hand, has the intense and in-depth rehearsal period where you start discovering your character, their relationships with the other characters and their place within the story. You create the work collaboratively over the course of several weeks. When it comes to the shows, you have the real time audible (if not sometimes visible) reactions from the audience. You need to relive the text and the emotion every night and still find ways to keep the performance alive and fresh.
Shakespeare is its own kettle of fish. Unlike with modern scripts, it’s almost like your reading parts of it in a foreign language. A lot of time is spent up front translating the text before even beginning to interpret the emotion and intention. There are also many rules within Shakespeare that need to be adhered to (recognising the rhythym of the text or iambic pentamenter, the use of You vs Ye etc). There are also plenty of very specific old sayings in Shakespeare that simply aren’t in use today and people don’t get, so finding a way to help the audience understand you is important. As You Like It had surtitles on all sides of the stage so the audience could read along while the actors spoke the text, something that people said was incredibly helpful!
What do you look for in a role? What character traits appeal to you and what sort of people do you find interesting to play?
I think when you’re starting your career, it becomes less about what roles your attracted to, and more what roles come your way! It’s an incredibly competitive industry and being able to turn down roles is almost a luxury (not that anyone should ever feel they have to play a part or accept a job they really don’t want). That’s also quite an exciting thing though – instead of pigeon-holing yourself into “I only play romantic leads or troubled, angsty characters” you have the opportunity to challenge yourself and play all sorts.
Having said that, playing the bad guy is usually really fun, because it requires you to think in a way that maybe goes against your own natural instincts. Your given licence to be nasty!
Have you always been an actor? What was your path to becoming and actor and how did you get your big break?
I would certainly say I’ve always been creative – my right brain has dominated through my life! At school I loved English, Art, Drama and acting/performing was the thing that gave me the most fulfilment. I loved being in school plays and despite not studying drama at university (a long, tricky argument with my parents meant changing my accepted Drama course for a more “academic” subject) I knew it was the career path I wanted to take.
After graduating from Exeter, I was working in a local pub and happened to find myself chatting to a customer who knew a casting director, and (long story short) I was put in touch with an agent. They agreed to sign me for commercials but I needed to get my first acting job myself and only then would they consider representing me for acting. I then auditioned for a national tour of Lord of the Flies and was cast as the lead, Ralph. I guess that’s where the career started.
From there it’s been a pretty incredible but tough journey. Those parts you just miss out on, the side jobs, the shows you watch and cry “I could have nailed that part!”. But the hunger and the utter joy when you get that call saying “you got it!” is second to none.
In terms of the “big break”, I think I’m still waiting for it! I feel very lucky to have worked in the things I have done so far and can’t wait for what’s next!
Who were your acting inspirations growing up and what films or TV shows were your favourites?
I really didn’t know much about acting or films etc when I was young, I just loved performing at school (and home – my lucky family!). My dad is a huge Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood fan so there was lots of westerns and old films on the tv (can’t say the love of westerns is hereditary!) But I think learning that these people made a living from acting out stories for the entertainment of others was just so amazing to me and something that I wanted.
My childhood tv shows….I’m a 90s kid so definitely Buffy the Vampire Slayer (founded my love of horror and fantasy), Friends was a huge one (founded my love of comedy) and also loved Skins when it first came out – here were guys my age acting about teen life!
What else have you got coming up in the next year or so? What are your acting goals and aspirations for the next few years?
I have just wrapped shooting on a small part in a Tom Hanks film and now I’m in the slightly terrifying position of being back to the auditioning game, so getting creative with all the tapes the come my way. The work I’m now being submitted for is amazing with brilliant parts, directors and networks so it’s also a very exciting time.
I do have side hustles as well: I’m an instructor at Barrys Bootcamp and work for a corporate firm within the Finance Team so I’m sure I’ll be kept on my toes.
In terms of the goals, the dream really is to be able respond to the question “what do you do for a living?” with “I’m an actor!” and really mean it. I’m still at the point in my career where the next job is always a dream and never a given (which I’m sure even actors for more experienced in the industry than me say).
But essentially continuing to build the quality of the work and roles on my CV. Heading towards meatier parts in amazing projects. They’re still searching for the next Bond, right?