Welcome To Hollingswood – Benjamin Hollingsworth
On-screen and off-screen, Benjamin Hollingsworth has a lot going on. Hollingsworth currently stars on Virgin River, Netflix’s most streamed series, and recently welcomed his third child. City Life caught up with the actor from his home in Vancouver on a Friday afternoon — that is, once we got the audio to work.
Friday, July 30, 4:00 p.m. EST
Benjamin Hollingsworth: Hey, how are you doing?
CL: Good! How are you?
BH: Good, I’m just going to put my earbud in!
CL: …Oh no! I can’t hear you, Benjamin!
BH: Sorry. I’ve done thousands of these, but it just decided to have a life of its own. I just got back to the gym, so I wonder if they [earbuds] just got connected to my phone?
CL: No worries! Totally understandable.
BH: Unbelievable! I might have to start the computer or something. I just turned it off of Bluetooth, and now it’s jumped back on, so I might’ve lost control of my computer. But we’re good, I think? OK, can you hear me?
[Disconnected and re-hopped on Zoom call]
I don’t know what that was, but I think we fixed it. Let’s start from the beginning. Let’s pretend that that never happened. Just when you think you have it figured out, the audio doesn’t work!
Once we got our Zoom to cooperate, Hollingsworth confirmed that he was, indeed, a real-life person, who also has to deal with technical issues. “People are always so surprised. They’re like, ‘You’re so normal,’ and I’m like, ‘Of course, we’re normal. We’re humans, we’re people, too.’ I think the ones who lose touch with that and become bigger than themselves and think of themselves as this A-list movie actor or this big TV star, they don’t have the longevity.”
This sense of humility is something Hollingsworth recognizes as being one of the key attributes to a successful actor. “I’ve had the privilege of working with some very, very talented people. I find the most talented are the ones who are most grounded, because, at the end of the day, we’re playing people, real-life people.”
Hollingsworth’s career is the result of natural talent meeting hard work. Starting out as a guest star on Degrassi in his teens, Hollingsworth secured a leading role in the film The Joneses, which turned into holding three seasons on CBS’s Code Black, and so much more in between — to now starring in Netflix’s most streamed series, Virgin River. “Longevity is the true measure of a successful career because it shows that your talent is what sets you apart. It’s not your looks, or luck. It wasn’t just being in the right place at the right time … the only linking quality is that they’re hardworking and talented,” says Hollingsworth.
Our conversation touched on a broad range of topics — his acting method, his plant-based diet, what a date night looks like having recently welcomed his third child, Juniper, and the importance of Canadian storytelling.
CL: What do you think is the recipe for making a series binge-worthy?
BH: First, I think, really, it was timely when our second season came out in the middle of the pandemic. Everyone was kind of closed off from one another, and this was a story about a town that’s exactly the opposite. Everyone’s there with each other, and there’s a sense of community, and that’s what we were all missing, that sense of, you know, when you aren’t feeling well, someone would come bring you some soup, or if someone was having a hard time with something, there would be a friend who would come by and give them a hug and make sure that they’re OK. It just kind of reminded people that that still exists in the world, and that one day we’d get back to that. I think that was kind of like a warm, cosy, fuzzy blanket for a lot of people. I also think the writing on the show, the plot twists, the way they end episodes kind of leaves you wanting a little more. So, I think a combination of the two makes it something people can’t get enough of.
CL: What is your relationship with your character, Dan Brady? How are you similar/dissimilar?
BH: Well, you always try to find a way to relate to the character you’re playing, and you always try to bring certain elements of yourself into the character. That being said, Brady’s a very different guy than I am. I’m generally a lot nicer than Brady and I come from a loving, caring family, and he was kind of brought up without one. So, you find similarities based on experiences you’ve had in life, and even though I don’t know what it’s like to have fought in a war as a Marine, like Brady has with Jack, I do know what it’s like to play hockey with guys, and that’s sort of war, in a sense, that same kind of camaraderie. So, what you do is you draw from life experience you’ve had to give you an idea of where that character is coming from. There’s also, you know, different techniques. You sometimes draw characteristics from animals, and I do think Brady is kind of a stray dog, or a lone wolf, and so I use those characteristics that that animal has and I apply that to Brady, and that kind of grounds it in a very textured way.
“Longevity Is The True Measure Of A Successful Career Because It Shows That Your Talent Is What Sets You Apart”
CL: Is it more fun playing a character who follows a different plot than the book that the series is based off of?
BH: Yeah, I think it keeps the audience on their toes. It also allows me to not be confined to some idea of what people have read in the book. We found a whole audience not only for those who love the books, but also for those who have no idea that it was even based off the books. Because my character has a much smaller role in the book and also a different kind of vibe to him in the book, I am kind of able to make my own choices and I’m not confined to some sort of idea of what the character should be. And I never like to be confined. I’m an actor who loves to run off of impulse and my instincts and what my gut says is right at the time.
CL: What has been the funniest thing to happen on set so far?
BH: We were shooting the lumberjack episode, which was up on top of a mountain in Vancouver called Grouse Mountain, and we were supposed to be there in the summertime, and it was snowing at the top of the mountain. Essentially, we couldn’t shoot; we had to wait and wait and wait, and then the fog rolled in, during which time I was like, “OK, great.” There’s this hike that goes up the mountain; it’s this really intense hike. They call it the “Grouse Grind,” and it takes an hour. It’s all straight up vertical, and so I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to get a workout in.” So, I did that hike a few times, which warmed me up, and then I was able to shoot. But, you know, we have to take off all the layers and pretend that it’s summertime. And we’re there in short sleeves, and to not be shivering on camera, it makes our jobs a little hard. That was funny-ish, I guess. I’m originally Canadian. I was born in Brockville[, Ont.,] and spent my high-school years in Peterborough, Ont., but I’ve been in L.A. for the last 15 years, and I’ve totally wimped out and became acclimated to the weather down here, so it was a little more difficult than it would have been if I was back in my high-school days.
CL: Congratulations on welcoming your third child into the world. How do you manage both your personal and professional life?
BH: Three kids alone are stressful, but managing them with a career is even more difficult. I think it’s easier when you’re on a show. We shoot in one location, and it’s kind of the same throughout the year, and that makes it easier. What’s tough is during my hiatus, when I’m not shooting Virgin River. You know I just got back from Calgary. I was shooting a series for Paramount Studios, a television series called Joe Pickett out there. That was difficult because my family was here, and I was still having to go back and forth. Being away from the kids is the hardest thing, and I think you don’t have to do that as much when you’re on a TV series, but when you’re doing films all the time, going back and forth is really difficult, not being able to see the kids or taking the kids with you. Then you’re three kids deep with no baby equipment or preschool or nannies and, you know, you’re there trying to work. My driver will show up from anywhere between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., and I’ll work until 10 p.m. or even midnight, so the days are really long, and sometimes I’ll leave before they wake up and go home after they’ve gone to bed. It’s hard when they don’t see you for a few days in a row, so that is the difficult part. But then it’s also one of the best things on the weekends, when I’ve worked really hard and see their little faces be so excited, and that really charges my batteries, so to speak.
“I’m An Actor Who Loves To Run Off Of Impulse And My Instincts And What My Gut Says Is Right At The Time”
CL: What other ways do you recharge your batteries? Do you have any health rituals when it comes to your diet and overall mental health?
BH: As of late, gyms were kind of closed while I was filming Virgin River. And if you’ve seen season 3, I’ve taken off my clothes a little more than normal and so I needed to whip myself out of pandemic shape and into television shape. That was a little difficult with the gyms being closed. So, what I did was I carried my kids everywhere and I pushed them in the running stroller. I carried them on hikes and I biked them uphill with my bike stroller, the bike trailer, and it was just a lot of practical-style body-weight stuff. I usually play hockey, but it was closed, and so that was difficult. And we have this little league of actors, most of which are Canadian, there are some Russians and some Americans, and we get together and we play, and I love that. And among us, we get to be physical, and there’s no better workout than hockey, so there’s that. And recently, I’ve been taking on more of a plant-based diet. I’ve stopped eating red meat basically and kind of moved toward a pescatarian, plant-based diet. That was really great for helping me lose weight and becoming more aware of some of the stresses that eating meat causes [not only] on the environment, but also on our bodies. I was able to lose quite a bit of weight fairly quickly just shifting my diet.
CL: I heard you had taken inspiration from your wife, who is vegan, right?
BH: Yes, she’s vegan, and she was born vegetarian. She’s never even tasted meat in her life, so she doesn’t know what it tastes like, and we’re raising our kids vegetarian as well. And, you know, before it was hard. When we first met, I was such a carnivore. I had to have meat every single day, three times a day — even at breakfast. If I didn’t have meat, it wasn’t breakfast. If lunch didn’t have meat, it wasn’t lunch, and slowly over the years I started eating less and less. But I think, just recently, there’s been a lot of advancements in Beyond Meat burgers and Impossible burgers and dietary alternative styles of meat, where I can eat a Beyond Meat burger and not feel that heavy kind of feeling that you would after downing a massive burger. Things are changing really quickly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years from now, more and more people have these options at every single restaurant. There will be a plant menu as well as a normal menu.
CL: What’s your idea of a perfect date night?
BH: A date would be a good start. Three babysitters to take care of our kids, that’s No. 1. Then, you know, I love doing a sunset cruise with some wine, a charcuterie board with different cheeses. I think it’s pretty great with some fruit and stuff. Just having some time without the kids. Usually, what we do is, we’ll have a combination of one of our parents or a grandparent and a nanny, and maybe we can skip out of town for one night, but we bring our youngest because she’s still breastfeeding. But, just even that feels amazing, and we’ll do a little mini-vacay for one night.
CL: What makes you most proud to be Canadian, and where do you see Canada’s film industry going in the future?
BH: I think it’s really important to tell Canadian stories and I think throughout my career, even over the last decade, Canadian television has changed. I started my first TV guest star on Degrassi, way back, and even that, around that time, there was very much a stigma around Canadian TV being not as good quality. It was kind of asterisked by a Canadian show, and now most of the good American TV is filmed up here in Canada; it’s filmed in Toronto or it’s filmed in Vancouver.
And vice versa: when I’m in L.A., a lot of the great talent is Canadian, and we’re down there working. It is more the lines, whether you’re a Canadian or Australian, or British, or Irish, or a Scottish actor or whether you’re American; it’s all kind of one now — it really is. It’s just a very international feel in L.A. Then every single one of those countries that I just mentioned, they have their own kind of bustling film industry, and so a lot of those actors go home and they like to work at home. I’m no different; I love working in Canada. One of the reasons why I took Virgin River is because it was shot in Vancouver and I got to move out with my kids and my wife there. It’s just a beautiful area, and so that actually goes into where I choose a role. Where it films makes a big difference for me.
CL: What do you think are the most important qualities and values to have in the acting world? How do you stay humble and grounded?
BH: I think that I’ve met a lot of terrific actors and I’ve had the privilege of working with some very, very talented people. I find the most talented are the ones who are most grounded, because at the end of the day, we’re playing people, real-life people. When you meet Matt Damon or Marcia Gay Harden, who’s an Oscar winner. I’ve had many conversations with Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, Paul Rudd, and they are just the most down-to-earth people who were grounded, who were humble and who treated other people like they would treat anyone. People are always so surprised, they’re like, “You’re so normal,” and I’m like, “Of course we’re normal. We’re humans, we’re people, too.” And I think the ones who lose touch of that and become bigger than themselves and think of themselves as this A-list movie actor or this big TV star, they don’t have the longevity. When you talk about Christopher Plummer, for me, there’s no luck in longevity. Longevity is the true measure of a successful career because it shows that your talent is what sets you apart. It’s not your looks or luck; it wasn’t just being in the right place at the right time. Those people who have a 50-, 40- or 30-year career, the only linking quality is that they’re hard-working and talented. So, for me, it’s about the work, about putting in the time, putting in the effort and making sure that when I got to work, it’s not just that I know my lines.
I know the way the character thinks and the way he reacts and the way he feels and what’s affecting the character that scene, and so all of that texture is what goes into making a performance real. If you’re not in that headspace, you’re not going to be grounded. I’m always happy to meet anyone who’s a fan and I’m very happy to be a working actor at all because there are tons of people who are talented and hard-working and who aren’t working because it is a very, very difficult career to have longevity in, and so I’m very, very grateful for the opportunities and the chances I’ve had.
CL: What’s your definition of happiness?
BH: My definition of happiness is being able to wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work. I think if you can find joy in what you do and find fulfillment in what you do, you’re bound to be happy because you’re not only being productive and you’re making a living, you’re supporting yourself or your family, but you’re [also] fulfilling your inner spirit, your soul. And if you can do that, you’ll have a full tank and you’ll be very happy. I’ve been very, very lucky to be able to do that and I’m one of the happiest guys you’ll know.
RAPID-FIRE WITH HOLLINGSWORTH
Q: What’s your favourite book?
A: The Great Gatsby
Q: How did you choose your children’s names?
A: Hemingway was the name of a restaurant we had our second date at in L.A. and it also happens to be the last name of my favorite author.
Gatsby is not only a nod to my favourite book but also the name of a restaurant in Paris where we ate the day he was conceived.
We love the name Juniper and the fact that the Juniper tree grows where everything else struggles. The berries also have many healing qualities.
Q: What’s your favourite love story?
A: Come on. I’ve got to answer this in public? Fine, OK, The Notebook. Go on, laugh it up but Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling – two Canadians at the top of their game is pretty hard to beat.
Q: What’s your favourite quote?
A: “Love isn’t finding the perfect person, it’s finding an imperfect person and loving them perfectly.” – Sam Keen
Q: What’s your favourite cologne?
A: The One by D&G
Q: Who’s your favourite designer?
A: Scotch and Soda
Q: What’s your favourite fall treat?
A: I love homemade pumpkin pie with whip cream. My grandmother used to make them when I was very little and it’s one of my favourite memories of her.
Q: Winter or Summer?
A: Summer in Canada and winter in L.A.
Q: Salty or sweet?
Q: How did you make your first dollar?
A: Shovelling snow off driveways in Peterborough, Ontario.
Q: What’s your favourite holiday?
Q: What movie has the greatest ending?
A: Has to be Titanic.
Q: What’s your favourite movie of all time?
A: Snatch or Fight Club or Se7en. Basically, Brad Pitt movies in the ‘90s.
Q: Who’s your favourite character of all time?
A: John Candy in Uncle Buck or Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire
Q: What is your go-to shower song?
A: Journey’s – Don’t Stop Believin’
Q: What’s your favourite sports team?
A: The Leafs as painful as it’s been, it’s ingrained into my soul. I will always believe. And, WHEN we do win the cup we will have found a solution to global warming as hell will have frozen over.
Q: What should every man try at least once in his life?
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
A: “Dreams are made possible if you try.” – Terry Fox
Q: What’s a hidden gem from the city you’re from?
A: Oh so many. Of course the Peterborough lift locks are pretty famous, but there’s a place on top of a hill downtown where you can drive up to at night and see the whole city. It’s a pretty famous old school make-out spot. Not that I’ve been.
Q: What’s your favourite day of the year and why?
A: Thanksgiving. Family, giving and tradition are wonderful things to celebrate. Oh and did I mention pumpkin pie?
Q: What is one thing you want to teach your kids as they grow up?
A: Imagination and empathy are imperative when navigating life. Follow your heart. If you learn to listen to it, you will find it has most of the answers.
INTERVIEW BY ESTELLE ZENTIL