Thursday, June 26, 2014

Success Story: BEN ZELEVANSKY

Ben Zelevansky started out in show business working in production on such shows as “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist,” “Saturday Night Live,” “ Late Night with Conan O'Brien” and “Late Show with David Letterman” where, as Stupid Pet Trick Coordinator, Ben contributed to the show’s 1998 Emmy win (Dalmatian riding a tricycle via satellite from the Nagano Winter Olympics). While in New York, Ben studied improvisation with Upright Citizens Brigade founding members Amy Poehler and Matt Besser, and then moved to LA in 2010 to pursue a writing career. His comedy sketches have been performed by the likes of Martin Short, Robin Williams, Teri Garr, Laraine Newman, Andrea Martin, Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, Paul F. Tompkins, Dana Gould and many more. In 2012, Ben decided to focus on acting and since then, he has appeared on such TV shows as “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” “Don’t Trust the B--- in Apartment 23” and “The Goldbergs.” Over the next few months, you can also catch him on “Episodes,” “Silicon Valley,” “True Blood,” “The Middle” and starring in “Duh-tective Stories,” a web series he wrote that is being co-produced by Under 1 Roof Productions and Kids at Play Media. In his spare time, Ben runs RipIt (http://www.RipIt.me) a service for actors that rips your performance off the TV, and into your hands. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenZelevansky, but prepared for a lot of dog pictures and hockey talk.


How long have you been on Actors Access and how has the service helped you?

Ben: I’ve been on Actors Access since April of 2012, and have found the service immensely helpful. Just to have an online profile that gives casting directors everything they need to know about you all in one place is a huge gift for actors. I wasn’t out here for the dark days of hard copy headshots and casting notices, but I have little doubt that the repetition and environmental impact of that process would have driven me insane, and not in the fun Willy Wonka kind of way.

How did you get into acting?

Ben: I had been in high school plays and a handful of sketch/improv groups over the years and always enjoyed it, but “actor” seemed as unrealistic a job prospect as “astronaut” or “quarterback” or “outer space football player.” It felt like telling people that your career objective was to win the lottery. For whatever reason, I decided that I had a better shot getting work as a writer than as an actor. But writers have a very tough gig: they do everything pretty much in a vacuum, and then have to convince someone to set aside a big chunk of time to read their work. Actors get to skip the hard part of creating something from scratch, and only have to convince someone to spend 3 or 4 minutes watching them in an audition setting. So I decided I’d go the “easy” route and focus on acting.

What was your experience on set as a recurring character on HBO’s “Silicon Valley?”

Ben: It was pretty great. My character appears in two episodes, both of which were directed by the show’s creator, Mike Judge. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He only created Beavis and Butt-head and Hank Hill and Boomhauer and Bill Lumbergh and Milton Waddams...not to mention “Idiocracy,”a brilliant and hilarious satire that was criminally underexposed (in terms of viewership, not cinematography). So, yeah...being on set with someone whose work I’ve always loved was pretty great. Not to mention an incredibly funny cast that includes Thomas Middleditch, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods and T.J. Miller. If you’re a comedy fan, you know those names. If you’re not a comedy fan...what’s wrong with you? You got a problem with laughter or something? Weirdo.

What was your audition process to book your role “The Middle?”

Ben: Like all my auditions, it started with an email from Lisa Berman, my superstar agent at Berman/Sacks Talent Agency...this was to be a standard pre-read with G. Charles Wright. I was pleased to discover that the sides were not only funny, but well-written in general, which always makes memorizing easier. It was pretty clear to me what the character was about, and what I could do to make sure my portrayal served the writing. G. and his folks make you feel super comfortable and welcome in the room, so I was able to get some laughs, and even tag the scene in a way that fit the overall tone. After the audition, I had to drive out to Calabasas for a “True Blood” table read, and by the time that was over, Lisa had emailed me that I had gotten the callback. All in all, not such a bad day. The callback was a little more nerve-racking (or possibly nerve-wracking) but for the most part I was able to replicate what I had done the first time around, and the producers and writers in the room were every bit as welcoming and receptive as the casting team had been. I left the callback feeling satisfied that I had done everything I wanted to do, and had made a pretty good case for them to give me the part. And they must have agreed, because they cast me a few hours later. Or maybe they didn’t agree, and this is just a cruel and incredibly elaborate hoax. I’ll have to let you know.

What has been your favorite experience as an actor?

Ben: I’ve had such a disgusting amount of incredibly good luck since I started acting that it’s hard to pin down just one experience as my favorite. But one of the first jobs I ever booked was a co-star on “Parks and Recreation,” which was and is one of my favorite shows. On top of that, my scene was with the hilarious Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson. And on top of THAT, I actually got to deliver a couple of punchlines instead of just straight lines or exposition. And on top of THAT, the scene went a little bit viral, inspiring internet creations like this one: http://nbcparksandrec.tumblr.com/post/31999994847. If you had asked me to describe my ideal work experience, that day on “Parks and Rec” was pretty much exactly what I would’ve wished for.

What advice would you give your fellow actors just starting out?

Ben: Be lucky...it’s worked for me! As far as things you can control...be professional. Acting is fun, but it’s also a job. Whether you’re on the set, in an audition, taking a casting director workshop or a class...remember that you’re at work. That means showing up on time, being prepared, being respectful of the people you’re working with, and taking it seriously. So many things are out of our hands when it comes to booking a job that you’ve got to be really diligent about the things that aren’t. If you find that you always show up late (or not at all) to auditions, or you forget to bring a headshot, or you can’t seem to keep your resume and your reel updated, you need to think very carefully about whether this line of work is right for you. If it isn’t, maybe consider becoming a dentist. People always need dental work.