Brad Benedict Talks Acting and Starring in Tyler Perry’s ‘A Jazzman’s Blues’

Old film projector

MP recently spoke with Brad Benedict, whose acting career credits include everything from roles on primetime CBS shows to starring in Tyler Perry films. Benedict discusses his roles, experiences, and motivations. 

Brad Benedict outside
Photo courtesy of Ashley Robertson

When did you first want to become an actor, and what was that moment like for you?

I’ve wanted to be an actor ever since I was a little boy. Since I can remember, really. I grew up far away from Hollywood in Georgia and never thought it was a real-life possibility, but I always dreamt of being in the movies. I already thought it would be the coolest job in the world. But I think the moment I realized how badly I had the bug was my sophomore year of high school. My older sister, Lindsey, and several close friends were in our high school’s spring musical, “Grease.” I knew the movie and a lot of the songs, and they did such a great job. All I wanted was to be up there on that stage with them. I wanted to be a part of the song and dance. I wanted to feel that rush. I wanted to perform. I was so proud of my sister and inspired to go out on a limb as she had, so the next year, I auditioned for my first ever acting role in the spring musical for the show “Bye Bye Birdie.” I ended up booking the lead role and somehow, someway, just barely landed on my feet by the end of the production. That was where it all started for me as an actor. 

You’ve been in a few productions ranging from “NCIS” and “Glee” to “The Oval” and “Shark Academy.” What types of roles do you generally gravitate toward and why?

Well, I don’t know that I intentionally gravitate towards them. Still, I have been cast mostly to play antagonistic-type characters the past few years—truly dark and damaged guys who don’t seem to possess much compassion or empathy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to really put on my character mask and play make-believe with these twisted guys, but I still gravitate towards the more heroic characters – I like the good guy. Not the perfect guy, but the flawed good guy, who might be his own worst enemy but gets reacquainted with hope, love, and forgiveness in the end. Inspirational, triumphant, hopeful movies and TV shows are what got me the most excited as a kid. Those are the types of characters I hope to grow into, but for now, I’m happy to play the bad guy if it means I get to act. Maybe there are some good life lessons to learn along the way as I dissect the more troubled characters. But ultimately, they are human too, and finding empathy, one way or another, is key.

You’ll be starring in Tyler Perry’s new Netflix film, “A Jazzman’s Blues,” which is slated to be released in 2022. What was your experience like working on the film?

The audience is in for a real treat with this one! I had an absolute blast, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience working on “A Jazzman’s Blues.” It was my favorite film shoot to date in my career. Tyler was so incredibly excited about the whole process every day. I have worked with Mr. Perry for about five years now, and I have never seen the kind of enthusiasm he brought to the set of “A Jazzman’s Blues.” So that energy lifted me for sure. The movie is a period piece, and that aspect made the whole filming process even more fun. I got to feel like I was part of a different world. I was also blown away by the rest of the cast. In my experience, table reads can be a little clunky and don’t always draw me in. However, the complete opposite was true in this instance. I was moved to feel some major emotions and was sucked in by the actors and the story during our table read. I couldn’t believe I was a part of the team. The whole experience on this film gave me a new confidence and belief that I belong in this world of filmmaking. Once you feel like you belong, the fun abounds. I’d go back and do it all over again in a second if I had the chance. 

Brad Benedict outside
Photo courtesy of Ashley Robertson

What was challenging about bringing your character to life, and why?

My character is a sheriff in the 1940s in the South. I have never been a sheriff, and I didn’t live through the ’40s. It is a whole different world and headspace. My biggest challenge was not to judge the character who came from a different world and has a very different system of morals. That always creates a challenge, but it’s also a fun anthropological study. You are forced to try to get into the brain of somebody very different from yourself and, in some ways, to empathize, or at least get to a place where you can leave judgment at the door so that you can organically play the role. I had a conversation with Tyler about this during production. He wanted to make sure that I allowed myself to slip into the skin of this character without judgment or fear of being judged by others. I had to let go of Brad for a little bit, and that can be scary to do, but that’s the job.

What sort of person is going to love this character and why?

That’s a tough question. I am not sure what sort of person will love or hate this character. I know that the whole movie is filled with fantastic characters from a myriad of walks of life. You get to see the dichotomy of characters from very different places or at least very different circumstances. My goal wasn’t to create a character that people will love but a character that will be most effective in telling the story that the script was trying to tell. I’m always so lucky with Tyler because he gives me almost total freedom to interpret the material and play the character as I see fit. Throughout our working relationship, Tyler has told me several times that one of his favorite things about me as an actor is how free I am. I can only be that free if I just live within the story rather than worrying about how the character will be received. I can’t wait to see how people do end up reacting to my character. I imagine there will be some strong reactions, one way or another. 

What and who are your main influences when acting, and how have they influenced you? 

I was a tennis player growing up and played on my college team. The ‘big three’ in men’s professional tennis, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, inspire me to work harder every day. These guys have dominated the game for nearly two decades, yet they continue to work their butts off to be better than the day before. Instead of relaxing when they get to the top and losing their edge, they work harder. I want to be more like them. I want to work my hardest when I am at my best. If I do that, I can conquer any goal.

Early in my acting career, I remember Kevin Spacey telling me that my only job as an actor is to service the writer. To help tell the story as accurately as possible based on what the writer intended with the script. From one of the greatest ever, that little piece of advice has always stuck with me and is something I always try to remember when I am breaking down a script. 

I was also a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan growing up. He was the ultimate action hero but also seemed to have a charm and zest for life that was magnetic. I read his autobiography recently, Total Recall, and a huge theme that surfaced was simply reps, reps, reps. Just a great reminder to always be working on the craft. To be putting in the time and effort when nobody is watching. Acting and filmmaking are art forms, but there is so much craft involved that allows one to freely express themselves within the art form. It’s sort of like playing the guitar. You have to practice your scales and learn the craftsmanship of playing the instrument to freely express yourself with the instrument, the language and allow it to become art. 

What are three obstacles you’ve faced while growing as an actor, and how have you overcome them?

One obstacle I have faced while growing as an actor is being far away from my family. I was the youngest of four kids and felt like I was always in a full house growing up. Leaving Georgia for California right after I finished college was exciting, certainly, but also the loneliest I had ever felt. To this day, I still miss living in the same city as my family, thirteen years later. Luckily, almost all of my acting work has been back in Atlanta for the past five years, but I still use the distance as fuel to work my tail off. If I am sacrificing being close to my family to chase my dream, I want to make sure I make it worth it. Slowly in a new town, you begin to find your people. I’ve found that finding a community to belong to is super empowering and makes you feel a little less alone in a big city.

Another struggle I faced was becoming completely results-oriented in a business that doesn’t necessarily follow any clear rhyme or reason. As a competitive tennis player, the rules of the game and the shape of the playing field were clearly defined. There was a winner, and there was a loser, and the results were strictly merit-based. Unfortunately, being an actor and fighting for great roles does not follow the same clear rules. Ultimately, this feeling of a lack of control over my career led me to become a much more process-oriented person. I started focusing more on the practices that helped me improve and developed consistency with those practices. I made a checklist of daily practices and trusted that those habits would lead me to positive results. I had my biggest career breakthrough only a few months after I started working this way, landing my first TV series. 

Lastly, I have had to fight the urge to become what I think other people want me to be, rather than growing to be completely comfortable in my skin authentically. The entertainment industry is full of cutthroat business people and a whole bunch of huge egos. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to become somebody who you think would be most acceptable. The only way I have overcome this is by being a finisher of what I start. There is an abundance of amazing ideas and talented people out there, but not many people finish what they start. Whether it be a three-month fitness challenge or the production of a film, I have always found that seeing structured challenges through to the end results in confidence and self-belief that make me the best version of myself. 

Brad Benedict outside
Photo courtesy of Ashley Robertson

Which actors and directors do you look up to and why?

Strictly in the acting sense, one actor that I look up to is Christian Bale. I don’t know much about his process or who he is personally, but I love his full commitment to his roles. He is a character actor while still being a leading man. That is a category I would love to fall into one day. His characters are never flat. They are three-dimensional layered humans. Another actor I look up to is Matthew McConaughey. I recently finished reading his book “Greenlights,”and it resonated with me. I love his reflective, poetic way of looking at life and his complete comfort in his skin. As he would say, “Just keep livin’.” To me, that means there is no secret solution to overcoming challenges. There is no magic elixir. Just keep finding ways to stay positive, pick yourself up by the bootstraps, and keep forging on mindfully. Good things will happen.

As for directors, I look up to any director who can make an awesome movie that people love. I’ve made a few small projects myself, and I’ve been on quite a few film sets, and I realize that making something of quality is hard. So many aspects must come together to tell a story that pulls people in cinematically and makes sense story-wise. Of course, the director is in charge of all of that at the end of the day. So, hats off to all the directors out there that can pull it off. Tyler Perry is a director I have worked with often and somebody I look up to. He has a unique, innovative style of filmmaking that nobody has been able to replicate so far. I think what I love most about Tyler is his belief in himself. When he didn’t get a yes from the powers that be, he went out and made a yes himself. That is a person worth looking up to.

If someone was going to make your life into a movie, who would play you and why?

Well, I’m often told that I resemble Ryan Gosling, so maybe I just go with that? I love him as an actor, and he seems pretty cool, so I would be flattered if he were the choice. But not knowing many famous actors personally, it is hard to say who would be a good fit for me personality-wise. I feel like it would be a great way to see how people see me. If everybody who knows me was given a vote, I would be curious to see who the choice would be. Sometimes I feel like people see me far differently than I see myself. Since perception is reality, in a sense, I suppose it is quite important to know how people perceive you. The perfect fit would be a hopefully kind and curious, blonde-haired, blue-eyed six-foot lefty who grew up in Georgia, played tennis and the guitar, and is deeply in love with the ocean and its mystery. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I recently lived on a boat in the Bahamas for two months while filming a reality docu-series called “Shark Academy” for Shark Week 2021On “Shark Academy,” I learned the ins and outs of shark research while swimming with them in open water daily and competed for a spot on an elite shark research team. It was an experience of a lifetime, and then some. For instance, I ended up face to face with fifteen-foot tiger sharks at the bottom of the ocean. No cage. It didn’t spur fear. Instead, it spurred an even stronger desire to educate people and help protect this important, beautiful, soulful apex predator. I have looked directly into the eyes of a huge tiger shark, and I can assure you, they are not mindless monsters. You can feel their soul. Shark populations are being decimated, with at least 100,000,000 being slaughtered annually, often for only their fins. They are in a critical position and need our protection now. This isn’t just about the sharks. It’s about humanity and the health of our entire earth. If we lose the sharks, the whole ocean ecosystem will crash, down to the phytoplankton, and we humans may find ourselves struggling for breathable air. Phytoplankton produces around half of our breathable air, after all. Destroying a major species is a slippery slope and a subject I am super passionate about. Catch the first season of “Shark Academy” streaming on Discovery Plus now. 

View this article in the September 2021 issue of MP.