Ben Rappaport Mean Mr Mustard…Not
Ben Rappaport might be the most likable man in Hollywood. The 31 year-old leading actor deeply connects with each role he plays, diving deeper than the script to research the world his characters inhabit.
He realized his passion while attending high school in Texas.where he played guitar and created visual artwork, but it was a school production of Romeo & Juliet that unearthed an interest in acting. “[The play] was being done in a very cool way, where the Montagues were goth kids and the Capulets were really preppy. For whatever reason I really connected with that,”
“I had a great teacher that believed in me so I really went for it; did that classic thing after being bitten by the bug.” He went on to attend Juilliard and was trained in classical theater. “It’s a lot of Shakespeare, poise, speech, and movements. It was very heavily theater-trained.”
Post-graduation, Rappaport was working odd jobs “I was doing the whole pounding the pavement New York acting thing and just trying to make ends meet.” His first role was in the off-Broadway play Gingerbread House starring Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson. Rappaport also featured in Picnic alongside Sebastian Stan and Maggie Grace. “I really started in theater.”
His big break was with Outsourced in 2010, two years after graduating from Juilliard. “It was my first TV pilot season where I was going out for a lot of things consistently and this project came along that I really connected with. I was just sort of thrust right into it. It was a crazy experience.”
“I got a crash course from that season with what on-camera acting is and how to conduct yourself on set and how everything works and what all the terminology is,” Rappaport said. “It was just a huge milestone for me.”
He selects his roles based on the script. “It comes down to if the story is something that’s interesting or challenging, something about the character that I can connect with on a personal level.”
Thus far, Seth in For the People is his favorite character to date. “I really connect with his core being,” Rappaport said. The show centers on the federal Southern District Court of New York, following an ensemble of lawyers. “Just doing the research and challenge of learning the legal system and the legal jargon is really fun for me. The show highlights the justice system, the public defenders and the prosecutors. There’s sort of a moment of respect for Seth, so I’m excited for people to see that.”
“What I really love about TV is the ability to play the same character in a lot of different circumstances and be able to have a character grow over time. That’s something you don’t necessarily get to do in theater or in film. It’s liberating and exciting and constantly challenging.”
Rappaport seems to carry each of his characters with him, learning more about both the world, or himself.
His turn as Perchik in the 2016 revival of Fiddler on the Roof similarly resonated due to his own Eastern European Jewish heritage. “There was a ton of research involved in that because it takes place in a very specific time of history. I never realized the parallels between my family coming to America and Fiddler. I had such a personal connection to it.” (Rappaport’s heart was with the show—literally. He proposed to his longtime-girlfriend Broadway veteran Megan Kane while in Fiddler.)
“Perchik is a character who’s completely driven by social activism and fighting for what’s right,” Rappaport said. “Playing that role actually made me more awake, even more so than I was before that…I am often influenced by the roles that I play and the worlds they inhabit, for sure.”
He chose his upcoming movie role in Ask for Jane—chronicling a group of women in 1970’s Chicago who created an underground network for women to receive then illegal abortions—due to its commentary on the social issue of women’s rights. The film, for release this year is inspired by a true story. “I think Ask for Jane is coming out at a perfect time. It really is hard to believe that we are having a resurgence of these issues in fighting for these basic rights.”
Rappaport believes Hollywood needs to share stories that shed light on the current political issues at hand. “The general zeitgeist of our country stems from pop culture and Hollywood, and Hollywood has a responsibility to speak out on what’s right,” he explained. “We’ve seen especially this year the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and the pay gap between men and women. Those are the two glaring issues in the film and television industry today. I think it’s parallel to what’s going on in the country today as well.”
He admires those who are speaking out on the wrongdoings, and victims who are seeking justice. “It’s really amazing to see these people stand up for themselves and for the community of those who have been abused. I’m excited about this movement in terms of #TimesUp and #MeToo particularly inspiring the rest of the country and other industries to stand up and fight back.”
“I think the thing about all the characters I’ve played that are involved in politics or involved in the legal system is that it really comes down to the universal human experience, and I definitely relate to that.”
He hopes to move behind-the-camera to have more control of what stories are being told. He executive produced and co-starred in Landing Up, a Soho International Film Festival selection, also slated for 2018. “I would love to produce more, and also direct. “I think there’s something about being an actor first. There’s a sort of intimate understanding of how actors think.
“I really love my career. I love what I’ve been doing in the last decade. I’m constantly faced with new material…Your learning and growing doesn’t stop just because you leave school. And acting is the perfect profession for that.”