Spoiler alert: Ben Aldridge is having a moment!
After coming out only three years ago via an Instagram post, and steadily working in television with memorable roles in Fleabag and Pennyworth, Aldridge seems like he’s no longer just on the cusp of fame, but fully fledged within it.
After fending off Dave Bautista in M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin, Aldridge is shifting genre gears considerably for Spoiler Alert, a heartbreakingly humorous love story based on Michael Ausiello’s acclaimed memoir “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”.
In the film, Aldridge portrays Kit Cowan, a photographer whose romantic relationship with the real-life Ausiello, played by Jim Parsons, is challenged when he’s diagnosed with cancer.
As the film arrives in Australian cinemas this week (you can read our review here) Peter Gray spoke with Ben about the unique bonding experience he shared in getting to know Jim, the nervousness he felt in knowing he’d be sharing the screen with “Queen” Sally Field, and how influential Michael was in informing his performance as Kit.
Thank you for making me cry. It’s exactly what I needed. But before I get to Spoiler Alert, I want to ask is there a movie that makes you cry?
Ooh, that’s a really good question. I don’t really rewatch films. Something that made me cry was The Land Before Time. That made me feel very emotional when I was young (laughs). I’m trying to think of the name of this one film that I absolutely bawled in. It stars Meryl Streep, and she’s a violin teacher…
Music of the Heart?
Is it Music of the Heart? That could be it. But those two spring to mind.
Given that this is Michael Ausiello’s story, did you feel pressure in playing Kit? Did you garner stories and personal information from him? Or did you find the characterisation yourself?
I was given some home video footage of Michael and Kit. They used to record each other on this little handy-camera throughout various times of their lives, on holiday, and things like that. So I had footage to base off what I was doing as Kit, and the book (“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”) was a real influential guide. You could really feel Kit’s sense of humour and the way they got on together. And I had Michael as a resource as well, but that was one I didn’t want to abuse or over-step the mark. I felt very protective of him. But he helped me with how much pain Kit was in at various points of the cancer journey. And (director) Michael Showalter was quite insistent that he wanted me to make Kit my own. They liked a lot of what I am in what they wanted Kit to be. I wanted elements of him to be there, like his physicality, but I didn’t want to get hung up on it. It was more about honouring him.
The chemistry between yourself and Jim Parsons is beautiful. Did you have a lot of time to bond? I heard the first scenes you filmed were some of the more heart-wrenching ones, so how did you get to that point?
We actually didn’t. The first time we met was the day before our first scene, in a makeup test. That’s when we met for real. I think we would’ve met up if we could, but I was doing a TV show and couldn’t before. So we didn’t meet, but we did start a pen-pal relationship over e-mail. For about 2 months we would e-mail about once or twice a week. And we really got to know each other there, like a couple of teenagers (laughs). There’s something really nice about responding in your own time. (Jim) is a fantastic e-mail writer. He writes how he speaks, which is very entertaining and idiosyncratic, and we just got really candid with each other. We didn’t speak about the project, it was more ourselves, our lives, our boyfriends, our parents, the great joys and the tragedies…it was quite intimate. I think that helped for when we arrived on set we knew that much about each other. And then we were glued at the hip! I’ve never spent so much time with an actor. We were just always together, chatting like a couple of school girls (laughs).
It’s got to be said: Sally Field. Legend. Seems like the type of person you’d want to come out to and she’d be okay with it. Were you intimidated to know you’re working opposite Sally Field? That moment of “Oh my god, it’s her!”
Yeah. Queen Sally. It’s intimidating but exciting. When you first meet her in the film it’s the appendicitis/hospital scene, and Jim and I had just been doing the scene by ourselves, and then there was the day, the “Sally day”, and I was more nervous than usual on that day. She is a legendary legend. She’s so good. And Jim and I discussed that all we wanted was for her to look in our eyes and believe that we were good. She was obsessed with the script and the work. She’s really inspiring. I had re-watched, and I just told you I don’t do that (laughs), I had re-watched Steel Magnolias right before we started, and I had this kind of out-of-body experience when I was in that hospital bed. I think my brain was trying to disassociate so I wasn’t intimidated by her. She’s so wonderful and welcoming. She questions the scene and interrogates it. She’s just obsessed with acting. It was a dream come true to work with her.
There were some lines that really hit some truths about body image and telling partners about how we really feel. When you’re reading this script, are you bringing your own experiences and relationships into how you feel about this character?
Oh my god, yeah. Not to talk “acting”, but a lot of the time you’re bringing your own understanding and what you have. The more I play queer characters, the more I’m learning about myself and thinking about myself. I’m connecting to the stories and the other actors in a (different) way. My 20’s were about escaping who I was and playing parts that aren’t anything like me, but these last 3 years have been about playing (people) that I really understand. That I can connect to emotionally. It’s been a different period of what acting feels like for me. It’s such a privilege to play about in a world that I care about so much. I feel like I’m revealing more of myself, instead of hiding more of myself. I just felt really lucky to do that. I definitely thought about myself and my relationship a bit when we were filming, but I honestly had so much empathy for (Michael and Kit) and their situation, and was so locked into their story. It was a really holistic experience.
Spoiler Alert is screening in Australian theatres from February 9th, 2023.