The formula for box office success in the modern era of film seems to revolve primarily around six premises. These are:
- Comic book adaptation
- An amazing screenplay that's brilliantly written and conveyed in a nearly flawless fashion to the screen
- Special effects
- An adaptation of a popular book, or series of books, aimed primarily at a younger demographic
Among this group of categories, the latter features yet another movie that will likely follow the path of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and the Twilight series to success Divergent, which premieres in movie theaters across the nation March 21st.
Directed by Neil Burger and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen, the movie is based off the book of the same title set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Chicago. The press tour promoting Divergent is where I was given the opportunity to interview two of the stars of the new movie, Christian Madsen and Ben Lloyd-Hughes.
I caught up with Madsen and Lloyd-Hughes at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, in a penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, to talk about their burgeoning film careers, their family ties to such famous actors as Michael Madsen and Virginia Madsen, their attitudes about social media, the process of getting these prestigious film roles, Christian's connections both to surfing and snowboarding, and what's next for two of the stars of the new film Divergent, Christian Madsen and Ben Lloyd-Hughes.
Cyrus: Part of the research I do when conducting interviews is going to the subject's Wikipedia page. It's not because I trust the information per-say but there is a lot of information there and more importantly, what's fun about that is I get to go to the direct source and understand what's real and what's fake on the website.
Christian: The thing about me in the dress is completely untrue.
Ben: Yeah, don't believe that. (Laughs)
Cyrus: Well, half the stuff on there is false. That's what I've learned firsthand over the years. Amazingly you guys don't have Wikipedia pages yet. And my first reaction was, 'Wow these guys are really new then. You guys are up-and comers.'
Christian: This is really like my first thing.
Christian: Yeah. So I wouldn't expect that. Even when you were saying it, I was like, 'Oh, Wikipedia.'
Cyrus: There's nothing on the site but I was very surprised by that. So whoever your personal publicist is, get them going on that.
Ben: I think I used to have one. I did a series in Britain years ago called Skins, and I remember my little sister telling me that I had a Wikipedia page that was talking about me. But then it got deleted because on Wikipedia anyone can write stuff, right?
Cyrus: That's true.
Ben: So I think that it got sabotaged. But this is years ago, so it got taken down. I don't think it exists anymore. So now I'm page-less.
Cyrus: Which might be a good thing.
Ben: I feel good about it. I feel liberated. (Laughs)
Christian: Because who knows what would be on those sort of pages.
Ben: I'm not on twitter or Facebook or anything.
Cyrus: Why is that?
Ben: I just feel like my life is better without it. It's hard not having it as an actor. So many actors are, and each to their own, but I feel very happy not being on it. I was on it briefly. There was about a year I was on it as an actor. I just couldn't combine the personal and the professional. I felt very self-conscious. Everything I did, everything I said, and I wanted to live my own life.
Cyrus: George Clooney said that he doesn't have a twitter account because he's afraid he's going to drink one night and just go off on rants.
Ben: Yeah, I kind of agree!
Christian: Yeah I think I read that in Esquire.
Cyrus: Did you guys watch the Oscars?
Christian: Oh yeah.
Cyrus: Did you see that brilliant Ellen DeGeneres move of taking that selfie picture?
Ben: Oh, that was hilarious!
Cyrus: It had everybody in it and ended up being the most re-tweeted tweet of all time. So I understand both side of it. Christian, you have a twitter account?
Christian: I do.
Cyrus: And people can follow you @cmadsen8, correct?
Christian: Yes, The thing with it was, I was kind of just like Ben. I just didn't see the point in this. Sometimes I would get an email from Lionsgate like, 'Oh, can you tweet this out?' And so I was like OK, now I can see the point in this now. I want to promote and help.
But for things like Instagram, my sort-of aunt has one, and this is a way that we can connect. I kind of just started in a way. If I have a family member that lives in Chicago, we can't call each other all the time. She can sort of update me on what I'm doing, and I can see what she's doing. So it's been OK, it's both ways.
Cyrus: Speaking of family, there's this pattern in Hollywood that dates back almost a century now. Family connections are nothing new. Whether you're the son of someone famous, or you have siblings who are famous, and both of you fit that bill.
Ben, you have a brother who starred in a Harry Potter movie, correct?
Ben: That's right, that's right. I mean, you say starred, he would himself call himself a glorified extra. (Laughs) But he is an actor.
Christian: Which Harry Potter was it?
Ben: It was the fourth one, the Goblet of Fire. I believe he played Roger Davis. And he didn't have a line, but he filmed it for months and I think he had a good time.
Cyrus: For example, with actors Chris and Liam Hemsworth, they don't really have any previous connection. They just kind of started on their own and now they're famous. In your case Ben, did you have a previous lineage?
Ben: We had a weird lineage which was our grandfather was an actor, Basil Appleby, who you can find on IMDB if you Google him. He's on twitter. (Laughs)
Christian: That should be your twitter name.
Ben: Yeah, it's a cool name. So, obviously, my name is not Appleby so it's not really a connection. When he was an actor, he used to be in The Dam Busters. It's a big film from the old generation. A big British film. We have never been able to use any of his connections because sadly, they're all dead. So it hasn't really helped us.
Christian: That's your mom's maiden name?
Ben: Yeah, it was my mom's.
Christian: Any connection to the restaurant?
Ben: Yeah, I own that. If you want any apple pies then I'm your guy. (Laughs) But yeah, I never was able to use those connections and really exploit the nepotism and obviously we've had our own separate journeys, luckily at the moment we're both still working and both, you could say, doing very well so we're very grateful and lucky.
Cyrus: Naturally. You're both starring in some big films, yourself and your brother Henry, and you're starring in Divergent, which is going to be a huge hit. Now to Christian.
Ben: He's got legit connections!
Cyrus: Your background, I had no idea until I started doing research on you and the last name Madsen didn't initially register to me. Now, your Dad is one of my, and I'm not alone in saying this, one of my all time favorite actors, and we're talking about Michael Madsen.
Christian: Same with mine, too.
Christian: I mean yeah, it's my dad, but when you see a movie like Kill Bill.
Cyrus: Yes! He's Bill's brother in the movie. Or Reservoir Dogs, where he played Mr. Blonde, even Donnie Brasco. I can go on and on about your Dad's history. And your Aunt is Virginia Madsen, is that correct? Is that who you were referring to when you were talking about your aunt a moment ago?
Christian: Yes. She's been doing some traveling. Her son, my cousin, is starting a snowboarding camp and I'm trying to follow up with him, and Instagram has been great to help me see what they've been up to.
Cyrus: Well, on a side note I'm a former sponsored snowboarder.
Christian: Oh, cool.
Cyrus: That's why most of my journalistic work ties into surfing and snowboarding.
Christian: Yeah, my cousin started snowboarding and then he broke his spleen, so he stopped.
Cyrus: What's his name?
Christian: Jack Sabàto.
Cyrus: He broke his spleen? That's a pretty serious injury, isn't it?
Christian: Yeah, and now he's back and he's in Canada.
Cyrus: Jack Sabàto is his name, let's mention his camp. What's it called?
Ben: Yeah, give him a shout-out.
Christian: I don't know. (Laughs)
Cyrus: That's fascinating. Was your father the reason you got into acting?
Christian: Not entirely. When I grew up I was sort of around it and he would bring me to sets and fly me around with him, but I just didn't know what it was. I was so young at the time. I also kind of always had that notion of if my dad was a doctor, I'd be a doctor, and go into the family business. Even my grandfather was a firefighter so that was also something I'd want to do, but I was just kind of in the notion of if my dad's a NASCAR driver, I'd be a NASCAR driver. But I wanted to find what it meant to me rather than just doing it because of my family, you know? So I went to acting schools and did some theatre and found this craft of what it meant to me. It became this therapeutic thing. Acting is kind of like fire, it can either burn you or it can cook your food. Once I understood that, I tried it out and here I am.
Cyrus: How old are you?
Cyrus: How old are you, Ben?
Ben: I'm 25.
Cyrus: So you guys are kind of close. I brought three of my San Diego State journalism students with me, and they didn't know any of your dad's work. These kids need to catch up. Did you two become close during the filming of the movie?
Ben: Not really.
Christian: Not really.
Ben: We actually had apartments and he had the best balcony so I was often literally climbing over his balcony.
Christian: I was sort of in a Ben sandwich. I had Ben Lamb and Ben Lloyd-Hughes on both sides.
Cyrus: Where were you guys filming Divergent?
Cyrus: Great city.
Ben: The book is based in a dystopian version of Chicago. It was a really brave decision to set it in Chicago to use the real locations instead of making them in the middle of Los Angeles or wherever.
Christian: That's what was so cool about filming. When you read the book it talked about running down a train station on a street, so we really shot it in that street and everything. It made it so much easier as an actor.
Cyrus: You grew up in or near London?
Ben: In West London, born and raised.
Cyrus: What kind of influence does that have on someone growing up?
Ben: Living in London?
Cyrus: It's a big city.
Ben: It's a big city. In Britain, there's kids who grew up in London and then kids who didn't. You become quite street wise. It's such a big city and everyone is moving and trying to get on with their lives. You don't have the everyday village quality like, 'Hello, how are you? Would you like your tea?' It's more like, 'Get out my way.' But I'm very proud of London. I come from West London. I support a football team there called Queens Park Rangers, whom I'd like to give a shout-out to. I'm a die-hard Rangers fan. I think that I would always hopefully have a strong connection to and live in London, because it's a brilliant city.
Cyrus: Given the weather there, is your skin burning right now in San Diego?
Ben: Honestly! (Laughing) We were sitting outside doing an interview for 10 minutes and the back of my neck was burning. We got touched up today because we just did live TV shows at seven in the morning, like Good Morning San Diego. The girl doing my makeup, she was like, 'Well, you're from London anyway, so you've got that English rose.' She basically said I was pale. She was like, 'You're as pale as shit!' And I was like, 'What you're saying is, I'm as pale as shit!' (Laughs) But I'm very happy to be in this beautiful town of San Diego. Because honestly, coming from London, it was rainy, I was miserable. Two days ago, I was meant to fly out on Saturday and the weather was horrible and I got food poisoning. So I couldn't fly.
Cyrus: Oh geez!
Ben: So not only did I have food poisoning, but I was in miserable conditions thinking, 'I could be in San Diego living it up with Christian Madsen, my old friend, but instead I'm in my flat in London throwing my guts up.' But I'm here now and it's so beautiful.
Cyrus: Food poisoning is so evil.
Christian: We haven't been here since we did Comic-Con. Such a great little area.
Ben: And we stayed in the same hotel.
Cyrus: Christian, you're from Malibu? Is that correct? Is that where you grew up?
Christian: I'm from a divorced family, so I sort of bounced around a lot, but yeah Mom is in the valley.
Cyrus: Same background here, so I get it.
Ben: Hey! Me too.
Cyrus: Well there you go. That's a great bond we got here.
(Laughter from Christian and Ben)
Christian: We know what it's like to be alone. But yeah, Dad lived in Malibu, Mom lived in the Valley and I sort of bounced around back and forth. My Dad lived in Montana and I've lived out there.
Cyrus: Beautiful. Love Montana.
Christian: Santa Fe, I mean, you know some great houses, so I definitely bounced around a lot.
Cyrus: Your dad has amazing taste and it seems to come down to you. That's good. Did you surf at least when you were here?
Christian: Honestly, I wanted to get into it so much, but I just never know how to pop up. My stepbrother, he got sponsored and he was great, he went pro and stuff.
Cyrus: What's his name?
Christian: Cody Setzer. He was super into it and then he hurt his knee and then he's kind of coming back now.
Ben: All these guys in your family are super good at X-Games. The snowboarder and the surfer.
Christian: I just didn't make that.
Cyrus: It's the California blood.
Christian: That's what it is.
Cyrus: Did you guys have to audition to get your roles in Divergent? How did you guys get involved in this? This could turn into a monster series. Was there an audition process?
Christian: Long story short, I was just sort of in a place where I was like, 'I don't know what acting is anymore to me. I was auditioning for two and a half years and nothing. And I just sort of got this audition, didn't look at what it was, just wanted to focus on the material and the script and the dialogue and I connected a lot with the character and so I went and I got the audition. I went in, they liked it, and then I left but didn't expect anything and then I got a call and they said, 'Don't cut your hair." And I got another call, "The director wants to do a Skype interview with you," and then I went and sort of did about three scenes with him nine different times. It felt good but I still didn't expect anything. Because I didn't look up anything about who was making it, who was directing it, when I walked in to the Skype thing I didn't know who it was. So I didn't say like, 'Aw man, I'm going in with Neil Burger," you know? And thank God because I probably would have been a little bit more nervous. But yeah, it really helped out in the long run because next thing I know, I was getting flown to Chicago and I did a producers meeting and I still didn't believe it. I was trying to ask them questions like, 'So we are going to Chicago?" It took until literally shooting a couple scenes for me to be like, 'I guess I'm in this thing.'
Cyrus: How about you Ben? Same thing? Similar process?
Ben: You know, it was a similar but much longer because I went on tape about a year before the film got made. I got sent the script, loved it, I really connected with the story and the world it created. So I went on tape a few times and they asked me to do it again and then I kind of forgot about it, but always thought of it as a great project that I'd have loved to have done in an ideal world. And then I ended up back in L.A. doing some meetings and Divergent came up again and they said, 'Can you come in and read for Will?' And luckily the director had seen me in a British film called Great Expectations.
Cyrus: Which just came out recently, correct?
Ben: I think it did come out recently. But we made it a while ago and it came out in Britain before that. And so he at the time was one of the only people in America who had seen it. So I was hugely lucky. It puts you at a huge advantage when a director has seen anything you've done because you kind of have an edge over other people maybe. And he luckily thought I was right for this and wanted to get me involved and I'm very glad that he did.
Cyrus: Beautiful. Congratulations on this film. I imagine seeing you guys making movies for many years to come.
Follow Cyrus Saatsaz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/InstructorCyrus