Most recently on stage, Ben Lamb was performing as Bruce at Finborough Theatre in How to Survive an Apocalypse, running until the end of October, and his other stage work has included The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth, with his first play being Hamlet at the Crucible Theatre. With his screen career, Ben starred as Prince/King Richard in the A Christmas Prince film trilogy on Netflix, which led to having a cameo in The Princess Switch: Switched Again. Amongst his numerous screen roles, Ben played Major Robert Ellis in The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, Lucas in Blood Orange, Anthony Rivers in The White Queen, and has had many guest roles including in the Christmas special of Victoria. Ben has filmed for upcoming projects End of Term and The Ledge, with release dates not yet announced. We caught up with Ben about his recent run in How to Survive an Apocalypse, his time as Prince/King Richard in A Christmas Prince film trilogy and his upcoming work.
You’ve recently finished your run as Bruce in How to Survive an Apocalypse, what was it like being part of the UK premiere at Finborough Theatre?
It was so exciting to be onstage again after what we’ve been through the last couple of years. The premiere itself was nerve-racking because Jordan Hall’s script is extremely finely balanced. If you lose concentration for one moment with something written so tautly, the whole thing can faceplant in an instant!
Was there anything that drew you to the production and can you tell us about the show?
I was really keen to work in such a small theatre. I’ve only worked professionally in much bigger theatres, and was excited to work on Bruce, to somewhat humanise what could easily be a very unappealing character, in the exposing environment of what is essentially a small room above a pub(!). Made even smaller by the director’s decision to have audience on both sides in traverse. How to Survive an Apocalypse was first performed in Canada in 2016, and as you can imagine from the title, it has an uncanny prescience today — though not necessarily in the most obvious ways. At its heart, it’s a play about the breakdown of a relationship, and what happens to three consumerist millennials when confronted by the nihilist and ultimately destructive force of the character I play. There are moments of real tenderness and lightness, but it’s also an exploration of the difficulties my generation face, so there’s a lot of meat there too.
How was it returning to stage since the pandemic started and how different did you find the experience to when you performed in theatre previously?
There were some technical differences that a few years ago, none of us could have imagined. Social distancing and mask-wearing, for example, have a big effect on the ‘temperature’ of an audience. Often we would notice one or two uninhibited audience members would be more vocal, and that would really give permission to the others to engage and laugh more at the more amusing moments. On top of that, there’s a space between each audience member, which I suppose is necessary but also a shame. It removes a little of that shared experience you get when you’re all squished in a warm, dark room together and start reacting to things like a shoal of fish.
Can you say about some of the other theatre productions you’ve worked on?
My first play was at the Sheffield Crucible with John Simm playing Hamlet. Michelle Dockery was Ophelia. I learned a lot by watching their performances every night. And made one of my best friends too! Other highlights would be Jonathan Munby’s production of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe, in which I played Lorenzo opposite Phoebe Pryce’s Jessica, with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock. And I had a brilliant time playing Malcolm in Macbeth at the Young Vic, directed by Carrie Cracknell. Lots of Shakespeare now that I think about it, which I’m down with!
You played Prince/King Richard in the trilogy of A Christmas Prince films, what did you enjoy most about playing the role and being on set?
The people. Rose (McIver) and I really connected early on when, because of an unforeseen issue, we were standing around in the snow on a Romanian mountain for twelve hours with boots that weren’t waterproof, gradually filling up with ice cold water. When you’re experiencing the silly little negative things like that, that come with any job, it makes such a difference when the team around you bring nothing but good energy (and eventually, warmer shoes!). We’re all still in touch.
Do you have any favourite memories from your time working on the films?
I’m a big History geek, and so, working in places like Ceausescu’s winter retreat, or the old Communist state news building, were particular highlights. Generally I enjoyed working on the scenes when we were all together, because with all the subplots in those films, it felt pretty rare to get the whole cast in the same room. And of course, I enjoyed visiting the different locations and trying new foods (slaniña, or preserved pig skin, is a particular favourite), that working in a foreign country allows you to do.
What was it like having a cameo in The Princess Switch: Switched Again?
We filmed that out of sequence while filming A Christmas Prince. I think right at the end. It was fun!
How was it filming your episode of Father Brown and can you tell us about your character Harvey St Gardner?
Harvey St Gardner is a young photographer with a dark past who is brought in to capture Bunty (Emer Kenny)’s fashion parade. But the two find very quickly that they have feelings for each other, which are further complicated by the skeletons in Harvey’s closet. I was going through a particularly difficult and unhappy time in my life when I was cast in that, and having a few weeks in our beautifully sunny Cotswolds locations really pressed the reset button and gave me clarity on moving forward. So even through it was only a few weeks of filming, it holds a very special place in my memory.
Is there anything you enjoy most about having guest roles in shows such as Endeavour, The Alienist and Midsomer Murders?
When you come in as a guest on a show, you’re stepping into a different world. It can be a daunting experience, as it’s sometimes only when you finally step on set that you realise exactly what kind of a world you’re populating. But being kept on your toes and emotionally open is as useful in that situation as it is more generally in life, so I really welcome it.
Can you say about being in the cast of The Warrior Queen of Jhansi and what it was like filming as Major Robert Ellis?
I’m seeing Devika Bhise (who plays the Rani) this week! She was such a generous actress to work with, and I’d really enjoyed her performance in The Man Who Knew Infinity, so I was delighted to get the opportunity. Robert Ellis was a real person, and from all the information we have about him, was a very loyal soul. Of course there may also have been a romantic element to his loyalty to the Rani (Queen), which comes with its own cultural sensitivities in India, but I admired the fact that he fought with his own Company and countrymen, obliterating his own reputation in the process, to do the right thing by her.
You filmed the Christmas special of Victoria, what was this like?
One of the things you realise when you film anything Christmassy, is that it’s a lot more comfortable to film in winter… I think we filmed this in August! Lots of winter layers when it’s boiling hot outside, and squinting against summer sun!
I just remember what a pleasure it was to work on a show that I had enjoyed watching, working with Jim Loach who directs with a quiet, reassuring, and collaborative leadership. Researching that character (Captain Forbes), who was in charge of a ship in the Anti-Slavery Squadron, was eye-opening, and really made me realise the extent to which British history has been whitewashed.
What was Now You See Me 2 like to film?
A lot of fun! Jon Chu had worked with Red Wagon who was the company behind Divergent, so we had a lot to talk about. I had friends who had been cast on the job too, plus I got to work with Woody Harrelson, which was awesome. I think it was the first time I’d filmed with a drone. Not just any drone, I remember thinking this thing was HUGE! We did days at Leavesden Studios, a while at the Excel Centre, and also at Greenwich Naval College, which is where we were filming when makeup designer Fran Hannon won her Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel, so I got to hold the little gold man during one of my two-hour makeup calls (I had tattoo ‘sleeves’ which needed to be applied every morning, and removed every evening).
How was the experience playing Lucas in Blood Orange?
We filmed in Ibiza, holed up in a villa where Iggy Pop would sing to us as he picked at minute helpings of breakfast. He was the most fascinating guy to be around. Gradually, from the stories he would regale you with, you would piece together that the ‘Andy’ he was speaking to at such-and-such a party, was Andy Warhol, or the ‘Yoko’ he’d gone for coffee with was… well, how many Yokos are there, actually?! The shoot was very quick, but I was really happy with the result.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from playing regular character Anthony Rivers in The White Queen?
I think I got to know every single restaurant in Bruges, where we filmed! It was a dream come true to come straight out of drama school and be cast in this. As a history geek, I really enjoyed the research into Anthony, who was even more of a polymath than Emma Frost’s excellent script had space for. He was a renowned jouster, politician, warrior, and he even invented the sonnet!
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
When I was a kid, I was pretty disruptive, but eventually my parents realised that the only place I was quiet was when we went to the theatre. So they took me to shows at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth – our local at the time – and later to the RSC in Stratford and shows in London. I was completely mesmerised by everything about the theatre. And so I did as much as I could all through school, before joining the National Youth Theatre, and eventually managed to get into RADA. Only one in 100 applicants get a place, so at that point, I gave myself permission to think that I might just be good enough to give this acting thing a go. My grandma and great-grandma were both actresses, but it still seemed like a distant dream.
What are some of your favourite TV shows and films to watch?
I recently became totally hooked on Le Bureau on Amazon Prime. I’m just totally in awe of the writing, the story, the characters and their arcs. And the international cooperation behind the making of the show. I am kind of proselytising about that at the moment. We recently caught up on Squid Game on Netflix which was cool, BBC’s Vigil, and BBC/AMC’s The Terror which is on iPlayer at the moment. Oh, and I’ve only just caught up on the entirety of Homeland. The parallels between the show and real life are at times, uncanny.
Are you able to tell us about your upcoming projects End of Term and The Ledge, and what plans you have for the upcoming months?
End of Term is a thriller set in a school — to say much more than that would be to give too much away, but it was an honour to work with the late, great Ronald Pickup, and the delightful ex-Doctor Who, Peter Davison. The Ledge managed to fit by the skin of its teeth between lockdowns: we filmed in Serbia at the end of 2020, in the mountains. I play a really nasty piece of work, the ringleader of a group of Americans who take a trip to the Dolomites in search of adventure. They get it, when they are embroiled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game 3000ft up the side of a mountain! My next project is a look at the unknown life of a well-known artist, but that’s all I can say at this point…
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