You have recently moved to California. Is there a different feeling in being a resident versus a visitor?
I was always a resident when I was student, the California lifestyle is much more laid back and around more people in similar industries and is different than lifestyles in London.
What have you found most surprising about Los Angeles and Los Angeleans?
Being a Londoner is very different; the weather has been conducive to a laid back lifestyle.
Did you have any emotional difficulty leaving England? Any fears?
Yes, leaving was one of the hardest decisions and I arrived at 25 for college (Stellar Adler for 2.5 years), created a whole new life, spent a lot time alone and learning who I was. And building a good support system.
You discovered acting after graduating from University. What was your area of study? What would your life look like today had the acting bug not arisen?
I studied business… I don’t know, I went into business as I didn’t have a goal established, but I always loved the idea of advertising, marketing via images at young age.
Had you ever tried your hand at acting before deciding to embark on a career in the field, at the ripe old age of 27?
Always interested in watching tv, always interested in sports psychology in College. A friend said he wanted to go New York City and try acting. Then I booked two flights and the next day we went to NYC to check out acting. We arrived in NYC without a place to stay and stayed for 2-3 months and caught the bug from there.
Did you face much discouragement?
From myself, “was this the right decision?” At 25, I questioned if it was a good idea; I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving for NYC to look into acting. It takes a lot of bravery to do something different, and America was better place for me to learn as it’s a more positive environment, rather than staying in London.
I notice quite a lot, on the resumes of established actors like you, the participation in short films. What is the draw? How do they come to your attention?
When trying to get an agent when starting out, short films were helpful to learn to be on camera and agents can see what you can do. And there is great talent producing and you do it for the love of the work. I would like to direct short films in the future.
Would you ever consider another occupation within or outside your current job? Do you have other interests work-wise, aside from acting?
I currently spend a lot of time writing, and would like get into directing.
You got to play a Viking, what an amazing adventure that must have been. Having last played that character from the very early centuries, and now playing a very modern Southern California Surfer circa now, does playing parts in such disparate eras require working differently, or is acting, acting… it feels the same, you’re just playing pretend?
Every role takes on a whole new understanding, no role is the same… two different timelines and lifestyles all bring their own challenges; I do research before hand. It’s more relatable to play a current day character versus a Viking and have to read books that are written about them as they didn’t record their history.
Are your characters real people, or based on such? How accurate of documentation is there on this time period, that you know of? What drives a man like your character “Kalf”?
Vikings were influenced by gods, they believed to live by the acknowledgement of gods… greatest honor. We treasure life now and Vikings didn’t; they believed in the next life. Imagine if you didn’t have fears, imagine what we would do. It’s very different as to how we live today, there was more spirituality on how Vikings lived. They lived at one with earth versus our now materialistic world, the destiny blinds us from great opportunities.
ANIMAL KINGDOM is based on the brilliant 2010 Australian film of the same name. It was a critical and award winning success, but it was a lesser known film then say FARGO or PARENTHOOD. What do you believe it was about this piece of work that broke through annuls of film libraries, and ample volumes of produced films, that called out to be adapted for television? In your words, how does the series utilize the original material?
Animal Kingdom, the movie, was one of my favorite films, and when I heard it was becoming a series I was interested. What I needed to move forward for TV adaptations… she instills a loyalty with her sons; in TV you can explore the character dynamics of the characters more than films… seeing the dynamics of the relationship unfold and shot in California was a great current day place due to proximity to Mexico.
Ellen Barkin! Ellen Barkin! Ellen Barkin! You play her son “Craig.” What is that like on your first day of work?
My first day on set was me being naked complaining about a non-working smoothie machine, incredible woman, very giving. A lot of fun.
What are some words or phrases that could describe “Craig”?
Craig is a middle child and he lives in the moment, acts before thinking, impulsive, adrenaline junkie: drugs, sex, parties, and gets himself in trouble. He’s the wild guy everyone is friends with, and everyone wants to be around. Everyone like to be around danger.
What was it like working in Oceanside?
Malibu, etc, has lost the authentic feel of California, Oceanside has a the authentic old school California vibe.
I saw something on your Twitter Feed about a documentary dealing with shark extinction. Could you tell us what this is? How are you involved?
That was a friend’s documentary and I like to support cool things that are beneficial to animals and the ocean.
TV’s most badass family is wrapping things up in the season finale tonight—but don’t worry: Smurf and her boys will be back next year for the recently-confirmed Season 2. Speaking of the boys, we got to sit down with Ben Robson who plays perhaps the roughest, toughest criminal/son in the bunch, Craig Cody. Turns out, Robson isn’t quite as fearless as Craig in real life, but he’s learned a few things about confidence from his character—that we’re definitely stealing for ourselves. We also talked fitness, extreme sports, and diet—and how he gets away with eating all those burgers and beer on the show.
Men’s Fitness: On the show, your character is known as a tough, fearless adrenaline junkie. What’s the toughest or most wild thing Craig has done on the show this far?
Ben Robson: God, there’s so many. It’s tough. I think the part where I was playing chicken with a truck … I was pulling a wheelie between Deran’s car and avoided the truck—that was crazy. Or, the fight when he’s skydiving and throwing his brother out before the right jump time is kind of amusing. I would probably still have to say that the wildest thing is the one all the brothers did together, in episode nine, when they head up to the naval base. [Watch here to find out what happens!]
MF: What about you in real life? Would you describe yourself as having a similar tough, fearless attitude?
BR: I’d love to think I was like that but I’m definitely nowhere near Craig’s level. I don’t think he ever feels there’s any consequences to his actions whereas the reality is … I find myself not getting away with it. I’ve always had an interest in pushing myself into positions that are uncomfortable, just because I feel that’s how you grow as a person. If you’re always challenging yourself, you tend to grow and find things out about yourself. It’s been fun to play a character like Craig, because he teaches you it’s okay to push yourself into places that you might not necessarily go—or challenge or dare yourself to a certain extent. Even when we’d been in the airplane, standing on the edge of the plane with a tiny cable as I was looking down 16,000 feet—I mean, that’s stuff I feel I’m learning from him.
MF: So, of all the stuff Craig has taught you, do you have any tips for us—how to be more fearless when we don’t feel super tough?
BR: Yeah, I think it’s like anything that’s scary or sort of difficult—like if you try to get into a relationship with someone, or a test, or just something that you know gets your adrenaline going to a certain extent. It’s always worth pushing yourself to see what’s possible and what you’re capable of. There’s always going to be something that’s instilled into me by my father. The more you try and the more you persevere with things, anything’s sort of possible. It just takes hard work and a certain mindset to achieve it. Craig’s very much loose, wild, and is up for that life to a certain extent. It’s exciting to see what you’re capable of doing. You only find out by challenging yourself.
MF: Craig’s a very strong—physically—character and you have to stay in great shape. What do you in the gym to maintain your physique that is often on full display on screen?
BR: Yeah, full display is the right word! I’ve always kind of stayed quite fit just because I get antsy if I’m not moving and running around. I definitely adapted my training for this. I knew it was very aggressive so I took up boxing and got myself a trainer. Boxing is something I’ve always enjoyed doing, but I’ve went into it a lot more and really learned how to do it. That’s obviously an incredible workout, and it’s totally addictive as well because you start getting better and better with the combos, the flow, and the routine. At the same time, I’m in the gym doing different routines. I manage to do some circuit training, then be out in about an hour. After the gym, you feel sort of strong and good about yourself, but it’s not something I enjoy doing for hours on end.
[When you’re in peak physical shape] you do start feeling a lot more confident in your own belief of what you’re capable of doing, which is something that each one of these Codys have. When they walk down the street, they have a certain swag about them. I think when you feel as if you’d be confident in a fight or be able to look after yourself, or strong, or in great shape, it definitely brings sort of a sense of confidence that I feel would be unrivaled.
As the season finale of Animal Kingdom kicks off, it’s been three days since the robbery — and three days since Catherine, as far as Baz knows, went missing. Baz is frantic, roaming around the house and trying to come up with a plan to find her. He even asks Lena to try and remember what happened that night, despite the fact that she was (mostly) sleeping. Smurf, who knows the truth about Catherine, tries to calm him down, reprimanding him for not accepting the “truth”: Catherine packed a bag, took her passport, and left him for a new life.
Smurf is basically in charge of keeping everyone cool right now. Since the robbery, one thing after another seems to be popping up and threatening to completely destroy the Cody family. There’s Craig and Deran, still waiting for the money to move, with the former passing the time by snorting coke off the GPS that tracks the cash. There’s J, whom Smurf orders to break up with his teacher because such a relationship could draw unwanted attention to the family. And, of course, there’s Pope, trying his best to keep it together after killing Catherine.
The thing is, explaining away Catherine’s absence to Baz isn’t so easy. He doesn’t believe she’d just up and leave without Lena. So, Smurf comes up with a plan that will hopefully benefit everyone. She shows Baz the money they used to pay off Vin, and plants the idea in his head that Vin came to the house to threaten everyone, including Catherine. Pope, seeing this, can only play along.
With J receiving his orders from Smurf, he heads to Alexa’s house and — you guessed it — has sex with her again, before confronting her with the idea that Yates asked Alexa to sleep with him. She tells him the truth, that Yates used Alexa’s drug charge to blackmail her into sleeping with him, but insists what they have is real.
Meanwhile, back at the Cody house, Smurf has another problem to deal with. Paul shows up at the door — Smurf can barely conceal her disdain for this man’s stupidity — and starts making demands. Apparently, his new life of crime has emboldened him. He tells Smurf he wants a larger cut ($150,000) because they couldn’t have done the job without him. He says the delay in moving the money is because of him, so if Smurf agrees to the bigger payday, the money will be released and everyone will be happy.
While Craig and Deran follow four trucks that could have the money, waiting to establish which one has the barrels in the back, Pope and Baz kidnap Vin and bring him to an abandoned warehouse. While Pope listens, Baz beats the hell out of Vin as he’s tied to a chair. He asks him over and over again what he did with Catherine, but of course, Vin has no answers. Eventually, Baz gives up and Pope tells him to go home, that he’ll “take care” of Vin, who’s on the verge of death at this point.
NEXT: A man should have a gun (read more at the source … )
Ben Robson apparently believes that what happens on the California set of Animal Kingdom stays on the set of Animal Kingdom.
“I’m not sure how much I’d like to say,” the English actor said, laughing, when asked about onset antics. “There were a lot of fun pranks. Everyone gets on. … It’s still a very tight group.”
Robson plays wild middle Cody child Craig in TNT’s summer hit inspired by the 2010 Australian film of the same name. Craig’s brothers include Pope (Shawn Hatosy), who was recently released from prison, and closeted Deran (Jake Weary, interview here). Baz (Scott Speedman) grew up with the boys and they consider him a brother. Throughout the season, they’ve been inducting their young nephew, J (Finn Cole), into the family business.
Despite all the boys, testosterone doesn’t rule in the Cody family. Their mother, Janine “Smurf” Cody (Ellen Barkin), runs the family and its criminal enterprises with emotional and psychological manipulation.
Yet even in his unpredictable family of criminals, Craig sets himself apart with his love of drugs, fast vehicles—and nudity.
I caught up with the former “Vikings” cast member to talk about Craig’s clashes with his mother, how he prepared to play an adrenaline junkie and what’s in store the rest of the first season. Robson revealed one story from set and talked about all the attention a certain part of his body has been getting.
“Animal Kingdom” airs at 8 p.m. CT Tuesdays on TNT. Already renewed for a second season, the show’s first season ends Aug. 9.
How does a lad from Newcastle, England, become so convincing as a drug-loving, criminally-minded surfer dude?
I’ve got my parents to thank for that really. They really took me to the dark side. I’m only kidding.
I think I was quite lucky in terms of [growing] up watching a lot of American TV. California is one of the most celebrated states in the world, so you see a lot of it. You definitely have a lot of interest in that. In terms of actually getting over here and becoming an actor in California I would agree with you; it’s been a long journey.
But I think with any character you just have to find the truth of their core. You start there and start building everything else around that. In terms of being a wild party boy like Craig is, I spent six, seven years working in night life. You definitely find elements of his mindset over the years of working in that industry.
What were you doing—bartending, bouncing?
I did everything. [Laughs.] I started off as handing out the flyers in nightclubs just to get them into the clubs. Living in Bristol, I used to run four or five clubs a week. I think they had something like 6,000 to 7,000 people a week came in the clubs. It was another life.
I bet. Tell me about playing such an adrenalin junkie. What has been the most challenging thing and the most fun part of that?
The challenge is definitely finding the freedoms that being a person like that brings, you know? I think that’s a constant chase needing the next rush, whether it’s sex, murder, bikes, whatever— the latest drug he can get. It’s all very much down to an instant, a moment.
In the fourth episode of TNT’s new drama series Animal Kingdom, Craig Cody finds his girlfriend lying unconscious on her bathroom floor. He checks her pulse, like a gentleman. Then he absconds with her money, jewelry, and drugs. “I don’t think that at their core, anyone feels that they’re a bad person. I don’t think Craig necessarily sees his behavior as bad,” explains British actor Ben Robson, who plays Craig on the show. “It’s only bad when he’s actually got himself in trouble and then looks himself in the mirror a bit,” he continues. “But once he’s gotten over it, he’s pretty much back to where he was. He’s someone who constantly lives in the moment.”
Led by matriarch Smurf (Ellen Barkin), the Cody family deals drugs, robs banks, and generally engages in criminal activities. There is Pope (Shawn Hatosy), the eldest of Smurf’s sons, fresh out of jail and mentally ill at ease; Baz (Scott Speedman), Smurf’s adoptive son and de facto second-in-command; Deran (Jake Weary), the baby of the group and Smurf’s favorite; and J (Finn Cole), Smurf’s estranged grandson and the newest addition to the family business. Wedged in between Baz and Deran is Craig. “Craig definitely is a middle child,” says Robson. “It’s probably why he’s as wild as he is, to some degree.”
Next week, Animal Kingdom will conclude its first season (a second is already in the works). While the show’s premise is based on David Michôd’s 2010 film of the same name, the characters are more malleable, and Robson was not given Craig’s arc in advance. “I knew he was a wild character. I knew he was going to get himself into a lot of trouble because he is so impulsive,” he says. “[But] you get the script a week before shooting while you’re shooting the previous episode. You kind of find out on a week-to-week basis,” he continues. “You have to be prepared for the unexpected because anything’s possible—not only with the Cody family, but with Craig to a further degree.”
HOMETOWN: Newcastle, England
FAMILY BACKGROUND: My father worked in manufacturing and was much more of a number cruncher. My younger brother works in wealth management. Most of my friends [work as] oil brokers and ship brokers and in the City. I have a younger sister who now works as an agent for directors and voice coaches. She was in casting for a while. A long time ago I actually had to go do an audition in front of my sister. It was quite a strange feeling. I did not get the part, but she assured me that it was a good audition all the same. She said it went well but I wasn’t right for the role—the old cliché.
I do feel quite like the black sheep between my family and friends to a certain extent. It makes it a lot more challenging because you don’t have that familiarity that you get when you grow up with a whole load of friends who are into the same things. I went to the movies with friends, but we never really discussed it.
STAGE DEBUT: I did a Nativity play when I was four. I think that was the last time I graced the stage. I can’t even remember [who I played]. I did have a strop in the middle of the play because someone had said my line or taken my mark or I didn’t want to do it. I stopped the middle of the performance. There’s a photo my mum has of me with my arm hiding my face having a big cry, not wanting to be on stage at the time. I think I knew right then and there that I needed to be an actor. [laughs]
SCHOOL DAYS: I wasn’t sure of who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be. I was always very creative; I wanted to get into photography but my school wouldn’t let me. I did design. I always enjoyed drawing. Some of the places I went were very rigid in terms of what they believed was a doss subject and what was a serious education. I wanted to do a lot more of the creative stuff and was stopped by teachers. They didn’t think they were the right things to be doing, but they were much more academic than I was.
THE TURNING POINT: I went to the University of the West of England, which is in Bristol. I was there studying business. A friend said he always wanted to get into acting, and I said I’d love to give it a shot. Within pretty much an hour, we’d booked two flights to go to New York. I didn’t tell any of my family or friends; didn’t let anything put me off in terms of how crazy it was to do in the first place. I got back, finished off my degree, and moved out to L.A. to study at Stella Adler in Hollywood. I had a lot of questions to answer to friends. I think my parents were pretty surprised to begin with because they didn’t know that I had decided to go on holiday. Then I told them I’d gone off to act and I think they were pretty stunned. My friends definitely were stunned. I got interrogated by them—”Do you really think you can do this? Where did this come from? Who do you think you are?”—which I can completely understand. I got into acting relatively late—I was 24, 25 when I really decided it was what I wanted to do.
FINDING CRAIG: I was coming off Vikings and I got sent the Animal Kingdom script. I fell in love with it immediately and really identified with Craig. I was just really drawn to who he was and the family dynamic—how they all fought for their mother’s love and attention. I sent in a tape and it went over to America. I got a phone call on a Sunday for a callback, went in on the Monday and the Tuesday, and got cleared from Vikings on Wednesday. Thursday, I was in the test read. I [found] out [about it] at nine o’clock in the morning and at ten o’clock I was at the Warner Brothers studio. I was pretty much shooting the next day. It was pretty wild.
BROTHERLY BONDING: Animal Kingdom was definitely a good vibe and everyone got on very quickly. When we would go on location to Oceanside and were all living there, it’s always a bonding experience. You definitely get to know each other a lot more on location. Even on set it’s a big bonding experience because you’re always up to mischief.
ANIMAL KINGDOM AIRS TUESDAY NIGHTS ON TNT.
After weeks of teasing a big job, it’s finally time for the Cody boys — along with the perpetually nervous Paul — to pull off their heist of the military base. The money is in place, the plan looks solid, and their cover is intact. Now, all they need to do is the hard part: actually accomplish the job.
The heist gets off to a good start, as the guys make it past the military checkpoint rather easily. Their fake IDs, story about heading to the paintball park, and good ol’ American country music seems to have worked in fooling everyone. They find their way into the paintball game and, from there, set out on their own and move through a tunnel to meet Paul.
He finds them on the other side, where the boys have changed into military uniforms. They snag a key from Paul, who rushes off as quickly as he can, and hop in a Hummer. They make their way to a ventilation shaft and Pope, Craig, and Baz snake their way into Building 15 while Deran waits with the truck outside, watching for anything suspicious. So far, so good.
Once the guys make it inside the lockup, they get to work. They grab the real money and swap it with the fake cash Pope ironed out. They replace a bunch of barcodes and tracking numbers, and after hiding from four officers who briefly come inside the building, move on to the next part of the plan. That means stashing the money inside barrels of diesel, and after Baz does some quick thinking and manages to get the levels of the barrels just right, he calls Deran for the pickup.
Deran pulls up and they take off, bringing the truck to get demolished before heading home, where Smurf is waiting for them with freshly baked apple pie. The guys are ecstatic about pulling off the job, even if it’s not officially done yet. Baz is charged with the first watch of the money, which is being tracked, so the boys can snag the barrels once they’re on the move. Still, so far it’s a job well done.
But this is the second-to-last episode of the season, and as Animal Kingdom has already been renewed for more, that simply can’t be the end of the robbery. See, there are threats to the Cody family lurking all around. Not only is Paul calling Baz and checking in with him (like a complete idiot), but Catherine is throwing a wrench into the whole operation.
She shows up at Smurf’s house while the guys are executing the job, doing her best to put on a faux-congenial attitude with the woman she hates. The visit isn’t about making amends with Lena’s grandmother, though. It’s about grabbing some money and skipping town. She sneaks out to the laundry area and snags $10,000 from behind the dryer before taking off with Lena, thinking she’s been truly sneaky.
However, Smurf’s smarter than that. After Lena spills the beans about her mom having a cop friend, Smurf is suspicious. Then, when she goes to finish her laundry, she realizes $10,000 is missing. She doesn’t know for sure it’s Catherine, but she can put two and two together. Something’s up.
NEXT: Reverberations (read more at the source … )
Last week we welcomed you with arms wide open into the magical, mystical world of the Cody brothers and their Godfather-esque matriarch Smurf (Ellen Barkin). Assuming the uninitiated are now fully on board, we’ll spare you the preamble on why you should be watching Animal Kingdom—a slick series about five pseudo-related smokeshows doing illegal stuff and showing off their indented side tushes—and just get you cheek to cheek with the fellas. Because we do frisky stuff like that here.
To see what makes them tick, we asked each of the guys the same five questions via email:
1. In real life I’m most like ______ Cody because:
2. The Most Cody-esque thing I’ve ever done was:
3. The Cody I’d least like to see in a darkened alley is:
4. The most Smurf-esque woman my life is:
5. A woman who ______ is sexy.
They all played ball, of course, but little did they know we would get all Tiger Beat on their asses. Because we do risky stuff like that here. JTT, who?
Even More Speedman: “In real life I’m most like Pope, I guess,” Speedman says, “because my mental stability is in question on an almost daily basis.” Oh, and this: “A woman who can cut through all the bullshit, mine or otherwise, is sexy.”
Even More Robson: “In real life I’m probably most like Craig Cody, because I went through a phase in life where I would get myself into some questionable situations.” That said, Robson shows respect where it’s due: “My mum and my little sister are pretty badass, but I would have to give the Smurf award to my grandmother, who started life as an orphan in the Ukraine during the war and was smuggled through Eastern Europe into Germany to survive before ending up in France.”
Even More Weary: “The Most Cody-esque thing I’ve ever done is rob, like, ten of those red lollipops from a bank,” Weary jokes. “Turns out they’re free.” You know what isn’t free? A killer sense of humor. Wait….
Even More Cole: The British import says he’s most like his character, orphaned high schooler J, because he’s “calm and clinical in tough situations.” The Cody bro he’d be most nervous to encounter in a dark alley? Ben Robson’s Craig. “He’s too big.” And there you have it.
Even More Hatosy: Hatosy, who ironically played a police detective on five seasons of Southland, likes to stay close to his character—arguably too close. “In real life I’m most like Pope Cody because I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m fiercely loyal,” he says. “Oh, and I like to stare at people’s feet while they sleep. What?” Told you.
For weeks now, the Cody boys have been planning their biggest heist yet. They’re used to small-time robberies, stuff that — as Deran points out — even a monkey could be trained to do. Now they’re planning on stealing money from a military base that’s heavily guarded by marine patrols. Everything needs to be perfect, but that’s easier said than done, especially with this group of stoned surfers.
The biggest wild card, other than perhaps J, is Paul. He’s definitely in on the job, but it’s clear he’s a little hesitant, letting a little moral crisis creep in on his subconscious every now and then. He’s freaking out over the details of the plan, snapping at Baz when he’s not specific enough about where the cash will be. Part of his hesitation is they can’t figure out a way to get the money out of the base. They need the cash to be in Building 15, but rerouting it there from its usual holding place in Building 13 would mean drawing attention to Paul. So they come up with a plan, and it involves J.
Speaking of J, he’s not too happy that Alexa has been spying on him. He tells her at school that if his family had found out about her and her spying, he’d probably be dead. She offers a deal for both of them to go to Detective Yates and come clean, but J refuses. He tells her she needs to stay away from him and the two separate, but not before Nicky sees them and assumes the worst.
That sends Nicky to the house to…wait for J? I don’t know, she mostly just needs to be there in order to create conflict. After all, Smurf can’t have Nicky seeing her father planning a heist with the Cody boys, now can she? So, Smurf sends Craig out to the driveway to get rid of her. The two take a ride to the beach, smoke some weed, and talk about Paul and J. Then Nicky says she wants to leave and do some coke. The question is: Do they do more than that?
That’s an important question, because the answer just might ruin the whole military-base operation. See, Paul is obviously a wild card, but J is just as much of a variable, especially since he’s still protective of Nicky. Anyway, Smurf needs him to pull off the first part of the plan, something that would allow Paul to move the money to Building 15 without anyone getting suspicious. J agrees to the gig, and for now it seems like he’s all in on being part of his family’s criminal activity.
But how long until Detective Yates is on to them? She’s meeting with Catherine, trying to convince her to turn on Baz and start a new life with her daughter under witness protection. She lays out all sorts of gory details as to why she should. It was Smurf who ordered her parents’ house to be burned down, killing them in the process; it was Pope who actually did the deed; Baz knew about the whole thing, hence why he called her to sneak out that night. Is it enough for Catherine to flip, though?
NEXT: Only the Pope can iron the bills (read more at the source … )