Written by: Frank Iacono and Celeste Iacono
Shaun Benson is a Canadian actor and director who was born in Guelph, Ontario. From a very young age, Shaun studied the arts including piano, ballet, and modern dance. He attended the University of Western Ontario and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry.
During his University career, he began to perform seriously and garnered roles in university theater productions such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Bones, and Biloxi Blues. Post-graduation, Shaun went on to study and train at the George Brown College Theater School in Toronto.
Shaun made his television debut as Jonah Gleason, a series lead, on the critically acclaimed series The Associates (2002), which led to another lead as Patrick Heller for the PAX network on Just Cause (2002-2003). He is best known for playing Leonid in Kathryn Bigelo’s K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) opposite Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, playing Steven Lars Webber on General Hospital (2004 – 2005), Bob Taylor in Populaire (2012), and the mysterious Simon in Kept Woman (2015).
In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shaun Benson and asking him a few questions about what first got him into acting, his career as an actor, his experience in directing Barn Wedding, his role on daytime soap General Hospital, his musical aspirations, and his upcoming projects.
The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you become interested in acting? And, who or what inspired you to pursue a career as an actor?
I’ve always been a performer. I played my first piano recital at age 5 (badly) and was dancing onstage by age 9. The inspiration was a blend of things like watching Singin’ in the Rain (still my favorite all-time movie), The Sound of Music, and James Bond, etc. as a kid and also just how much fun dancing and school plays were.
TCS: What famous actors were among your early influences and how do you think they shaped your acting style?
Gene Kelly most definitely—he shaped my style in that I am not afraid to go classically large with a role and I’m not afraid for it to be fun. In later years, it was Keanu Reeves, Robert De Niro, and Matthew McConnaughey. De Niro for depth and Keanu and Matthew for the fun and joy of watching that sometimes actors who take themselves too seriously can lose.
TCS: Can you share with us your experience in directing Barn Wedding?
Simply put Barn Wedding was the best artistic endeavor of my life. Working with the actors to create the characters – then the writer, then the cinematographers, then all of the editing and sounds mixing etc.— it challenged me daily and made my motor rev in every gear to the redline. Just the way I like it.
TCS: How did you prepare for your role as a villain in the 2015 movie Kept Woman?
Preparing for Kept Woman involved a lot of research into my own favorite film villains and then giving myself daily permission to be bad — both as a human and as an actor. I had to embrace a lot of darkness and then let it out because Simon doesn’t actually disagree with his own actions. So first I had to dig into the perversity of the actions and then I had to have fun executing them. It took its toll.
TCS: How did your participation in Louis Nowra’s film K-19: The Widowmaker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, influence your acting career?
The influences of that film are still being felt 13 years later. I don’t even know what I learned because I was on set for 3 months but not in a ton of scenes. So I got to watch and absorb. Certain pennies only drop years later and some haven’t yet, I’m sure. The biggest thing I learned, that I’m aware of, is that it’s ok to be both technical and in the moment. Harrison and Liam are masters of this.
TCS: Tell us about playing Dr. Steven Lars Webber, perhaps your best known role, on General Hospital.
That was a sheer delight. The cast and network of that show are so talented and engaged – far more than I was expecting. My run was only a year but I learned and gained so much more than I could ever describe. Huge shout outs to Jill, Maurice, Rick, Corbin, and Nancy.
TCS: Tell us about how exciting it was playing Bob Taylor in the French film Populaire?
It was exciting beyond measure. Paris 4 months Premiere on the Champs Elysee, working with Roman, Berenice, Regis, and Deborah and Laurent and Guillaume etc. etc. etc. — it was perfection from day 1. It is a beautiful film in a beautiful country made by beautiful people.
TCS: Describe for us your experience working on documentaries such as Flight of the Butterflies and Casting By.
Flight of the Butterflies was a bit like Populaire (except for my Montezuma’s Revenge day 1!!!!) The people involved and motorcycling through the Mexican countryside with Stephanie Sigman (the next Bond girl) on the back and ultimately shooting a scene with half a billion butterflies — forget it. Perfection.
Casting By was as eye opening as a project has been as I was the photographer for the first half and therefore was a fly on the wall and got to hear some of the world’s greatest talents talk about the casting process. Just invaluable.
TCS: Share with us some background concerning your iTunes podcast?
I always woke my lady up by ranting about politics or traffic or excitement about my week and I thought I should give her a break and share the ramblin! It’s been a huge success with thousands of listeners in 50 countries.
Listen to the Shaun Benson, Chatting Between Takes podcast now.
TCS: What would you consider your best and worst moment so far in show business?
My best moment happened recently when the first film I directed sold out to standing room only and won 2 awards – but most importantly I felt like my 8 year old self watching it. And my worst was when drugs and alcohol killed my career for about 5 years. I’m in my own 2nd life in this career and I’m as grateful as a man could be.
TCS: Backtracking to your time at the University of Western Ontario to now working as a professional actor, is there a specific role that you’ve either played or portrayed that you would you say is your favorite and why?
My favorite would have to be the character of Lewis in a play called Waiting for Lewis. I was so naive and inexperienced but got guided by Fabrizio Filippo and Joanna McIntyre to do what I still believe is some of my best work and it also let me know this was a career I could excel at.
TCS: Is there a specific role or type of character that you haven’t played yet but would really like to?
COMEDY! COMEDY! COMEDY!
TCS: Can you share with us your interests and hobbies outside of acting and directing?
Karate, car racing, cycling, motorcycling, hangin at the mall with my lady, playing in my band Emmy Rouge, chillin’ out, and binge watching TV shows.
TCS: Where did your interest in music come from and how did you land writing for the LA based band Analog Smith?
My house was always full of music. We had a piano, banjos, guitars, and a violin — so I just mucked around. Truly the summer camp I went to was where it all coalesced into writing and performing. The band was started like most — a few dudes who liked how each other carried it. The writing followed pretty naturally from that.
TCS: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I’m currently shooting a number of episodes for Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience and just shot a cameo for a film called Back Country that should be out next year. Other than that Emmy Rouge will head to LA to record next month and my producing partners and I will begin our next film that I’ll direct.
About Frank Iacono
Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.
Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.