On the HBO series The Outsider, Ben Mendelsohn portrays police detective Ralph Anderson. In the adaptation of Stephen King’s 2018 novel, Mendelsohn plays the challenging role of a detective who is seemingly facing a supernatural culprit.
Regarding playing Anderson, Mendelsohn says that portraying the character was a “gift.” He explains, “Ralph Anderson is an absolute gift. The show has just blitzed all my expectations and hopes, and it is a delight. But culturally, for me, I knew that being a classical, you know, Gary Cooper-type – solid, American, good guy – was a really good thing, that it meant that I had a chance to continue to work in a variety of roles because I had some concern that with, you know, baddie after baddie after baddie, that’s going to run its course. So this has been a great gift.”
Like most full-time actors, Mendelsohn worked in a variety of jobs before his break. He reveals, “I did a lot of other jobs, too, because, you know, work isn’t constant for an actor almost for most of their working life. So I would, you know, quite happily do whatever jobs, you know, laboring, I worked at a slaughterhouse for a little while, this, that, the other, a bunch of stuff.”
In fact, Mendelsohn points out that “experiencing” humans is one way to improve an actor’s performance, and he believes that actors with working-class backgrounds may be better prepared for the craft. He explains, “It’s helpful to experience humans. I mean, I think one of the advantages that just ends up happening through British and Australian actors is that we do generally – you know, you do get a lot more of them that come from having had working-class experience, whether or not you class them as that or not. Whereas I feel like – and it may be a fantasy of mine – but that actors typically will, you know, study here and a little there and they don’t necessarily have those same experiences.”
With that said, Mendelsohn readily admits that growing up he was drawn to heroic roles that weren’t exactly “working class.” He admits, “The first thing I wanted to be was a spy after watching James Bond… Then I wanted to be a cop after watching Dirty Harry and then I thought maybe I’d go into some computer science thing.”
However, he was drawn to acting because of the reaction he received from his peers from his unorthodox method of memorizing his lines. He recalls, “I took drama as an easy subject, but I have a terrible memory except when it comes to lyrics and, you know, ridiculous facts and music stuff. So I memorized all the lines of all the people, and I would say them at 10 times the speed. The drama teacher was very impressed, made me do it in front of the whole school, and people that didn’t previously think much of me, they got a kick out of it. So I started to get – you know, people enjoyed me more, and that was important. You know, that felt really good.”