Catching Up With Ben Feldman of As Above, So Below

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It feels appropriate that Ben Feldman is starring in a horror movie with a philosophical bent. The deeper meaning found within the Parisian catacombs in As Above, So Below provides a unique spin on the found-footage genre, in the same way that Feldman himself offered a surprising spin on the 1960s ad men we’d grown accustomed to on AMC’s Mad Men. His character, Michael Ginsberg, made quite the exit this past half-season, but thankfully, it’s not the last we’ll seen of the actor. Paste caught up with Feldman to talk scary movies, summer in Paris, and—yes—his poor nipple.

Paste Magazine: So, I just got a chance to screen the film yesterday.
Ben Feldman: Yes, this summer’s happy rom-com.

Paste: (laughs) The best part was that I was at a late screening, and everyone else had gone to the one before mine. I was alone in the theater with a security guard, and I was just freaking out.
Feldman: Did the security guard like it?

Paste: I could tell that he did. There were a few times when we looked at each other and laughed—you know, during the three funny moments. But the rest of the time I was curled up into the fetal position.
Feldman: (laughs) My wife’s not even going to watch it. She’s just going to cover her eyes the entire time.

Paste: (laughs) I support that. Now, I’d read that when you were younger you taught a videography class.
Feldman: Oh, you did some research! There’s a camp that I went to in Maryland, when I was little. That’s when I became a loud, obnoxious, creative, narcissist. So, I figured I’d give back to the kids when I was a little bit older. I taught videography, playmaking, mime, and then did things like “Capture the flag.”

Paste: Since you’ve had that behind-the-camera experience, do you find yourself looking at your own performances from a directorial standpoint?
Feldman: More and more. I used to not do that, just because you’d have to be a lot smarter than me to do that kind of stuff. My learning curve is a little bit slower, but I’m coming around.

It’s weird, I never think about this. But, when I was a kid, I made movies all of the time with my friends. I would steal my stepdad’s video camera, but I was never in the movies. I was always just yelling at them, like, “Okay, your dog died! You need to sob over your dog’s corpse.” And my yellow lab would be sitting there staring at me, and my buddy Justin would be sobbing over him. I used to do that all the time.

Paste: (laughs) That’s awesome.
Feldman: Just yesterday, I was on a set and I asked a question. And the DP said, “Look at you—you’re thinking like a director.” I was just glowing for the rest of the day.

Paste: Now, this isn’t your first experience with a found-footage horror movie. I know it’s been a while, but do you think Cloverfield prepared you in any way for this?
Feldman: Sort of. It prepared me for the physical aspect of things, in that you’re not relaxing. You’re not setting up a shot, shooting a few, then going to sit down in your trailer. You have to constantly be up and on your toes. And you’re sort of living in the moment—from the moment the camera would be turned on, to the moment it would be turned off. It’s sort of one, long, non-stop go at a scene over and over again. But I was in Cloverfield for, like, a minute (laughs).

Paste: I love the moment in As Above, So Below where your character sees his little brother in the water. Was there one particular scene that stood out to you when you first read the script?
Feldman: I should start off by saying I don’t particularly like horror movies. At all. There was some thing kind of special about this—like those sort of scenes—that made it feel like a bunch of other genres, and not just a horror movie. There’s adventure, and, to a degree, there’s character study. There were moments like that—and the one where my character is working in the clock tower—that made me fall in love with the script. Moments that felt like they could live in any movie, those made me excited.

Paste: Yes, I’m not particularly fond of horror movies, either. But as you make your way to the end, you can see that it’s not typical.
Feldman: Yeah, you fall for these characters. They’re not just archetypes, so you feel like you went down there [into the catacombs] with people you know. And—to a certain degree—it’s really an adventure movie, and a treasure hunt. I grew up on those kinds of movies—like Indiana Jones. And all of the things that are referenced in the movie, you can type them into Google, and they all have their own Wikipedia pages. It’s all real—alchemy, and history, and then there’s folklore.

Paste: And you filmed in the actual catacombs. I thought that was interesting.
Feldman: I found that interesting too (laughs).

Paste: Did that make the experience more authentic?
Feldman: Yes, one hundred percent. I think we shot sixty percent of the movie down in the actual catacombs. Eventually, you have to go to a stage to shoot some things. You don’t find too many long hallways filled with blood in the catacombs.

Paste: Sure.
Feldman: The entire summer, we weren’t just actors; we were tourists. That made it a really great experience.

Paste: Can you talk about working with some of the other actors out there?
Feldman: First of all, I now have three new best friends in Paris. So I can be one of the popular kids in Paris now. Those guys were amazing. It was so cool to shoot with a French crew and French actors. It wasn’t just like—Americans going in, and taking over an area, and making it America-town. It felt like an immersive experience. Perdi [Perdita Weeks] is now a great friend, and we had so much fun. The only other American actor in the movie was Edwin [Hodge]. He and I went out and explored Paris as much as we could—probably to the detriment of our health. But it was a really great time.

Paste: I can’t get off the phone without talking about your unforgettable exit this season on Mad Men. Can you tell me what it was like shooting that final scene with Elisabeth Moss? I’m a big fan of hers, as well.
Feldman: First of all, did you see The One I Love, yet?

Paste: No, I haven’t. But our movies editor, Michael Dunaway, actually interviewed her about it recently, and I was very jealous. I have to check it out.
Feldman: I watched it on the way back from Paris a few weeks ago, and I can genuinely recommend it. She is an incredible actress, and it’s impossible to not have great chemistry, or to not deliver your best work, if you’re opposite Lizzie Moss. It was really great. And it was special to me because my character came into that world via her. She was my first interview in the show, and she was the first actor that I got to work with on the set, so it was great to go out with her sobbing to my left (laughs). But it really bookended my experience.

Paste: What’s next for you?
Feldman: I have a new NBC fall TV show called A to Z that we’re shooting right now. It’s great—very happy and fun. Cristin Milioti stars, and Rashida Jones is producing. The first episode is available online now. They did a digital premiere. You know, for the kids! For the kids and their internets! And then we premiere on October 2 on actual TV.

Paste: (laughing) Okay, perfect. I can’t wait to check it out. Thank you so much for this!
Feldman: Thank you, it was great talking to you.

Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.