Ben Aldridge – getting to know an actor on the ascent

IN the eight years since his television debut in Compulsion, starring Ray Winstone and Parminder Nagra, Ben Aldridge has established himself as one of Britain’s most talented and hardest-working actors. Equally comfortable on stage or screen, in roles on either side of the Atlantic, the 30-year-old Aldridge, who comes from Devon, has defied pigeonholing, now embarking on more challenging diverse roles looking, perhaps, to shed his polite saccharine heartthrob image.

With prominent roles in some of Britain’s most popular television shows, including hit-comedy Fleabag and critically acclaimed BBC military drama Our Girl, in which he returns this autumn in his role as Captain James, Aldridge, labeled as the ‘new Tom Hiddleston,’ shows ever more potential and promise to deliver world-wide success.

We caught up with the rising star to discuss his charmed career, from early lessons learned on-set to rude awakenings at warehouse raves and the excitement of playing one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century.

Front Cover. Ben AldridgeBen Aldridge. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

You worked with some of the most prolific actors early on in your career: Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Dominic West, Olivia Colman and many others. Did you find that intimidating? Did they impart any wisdom that you use to this day?
Definitely, that can be intimidating. You have to acclimatize as quickly as you can. When you’re stepping onto a set, you can be mesmerized by what you’re surrounded by and doing. It’s the same working with [high-profile] actors, like Michael Fassbender or Ray Winstone, on my first job. I definitely had to pinch myself, and you haven’t got a lot of time to get caught up in it, because at the end of the day you’ve got to raise your game to their level, you kind of have to value yourself pretty quickly and believe you can hold your own.

In terms of learning stuff from them, yeah, a huge amount. But I can be slightly shy so I’m reluctant to ask people questions or ask, “What can you teach me?” But I think you just absorb so much from being around those people. Also, in one role I worked with an actress I found hugely inspiring, her dedication towards her role, and how she was constantly thinking about how truthfully and how authentically to portray her character, and I think that was a real lesson.

You play Captain James in the Our Girl, which returns for a second season this autumn. Has this role changed your views on, or opinion, of the armed forces? And what did the role teach you, if anything?
I think I knew very little of how the Army really works, its inner workings, and actually what job they are doing. And I had little awareness of modern warfare, the war that we are involved in in Afghanistan. I think because it can feel very distant to us, even though it’s our country in that war. So it was a huge education.

I read quite a few biographies, and watched a fantastic BBC series called “Our War,” which was filmed from the troops’ perspective on GoPro’s that they attached to their helmets during actual combat and battle. They were eye-opening, as this wasn’t something I had much prior knowledge of, and I feel like I learned a lot. It was absolutely a newfound perspective.

In Our Girl, we try to be as authentic as we can. On a day filming in South Africa, we were out in 38 degree heat carrying full kit, with real weighted backpacks, we’re going, “Jesus, this is a lot of work,” and we’re just pretending. Like, I’m just marching 10 minutes then going back, but the real soldiers are going on day-long patrols in that heat or engaging in contact as well. They are having real extreme experiences, an extreme way of living.

When you’re on tour, you’re not involved in our society as we know it, you’re so removed in a way, and one thing that struck me is that the Army is a really incredible organization. I don’t necessary support our involvement in those wars, or agree with them, but I think that the armed forces have also got a focus on humanitarian missions, and do offer support in many third-world countries, doing very good work.

Ben AldridgeBen Aldridge. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

You have a reputation for being something of a clean-cut, serious actor; Do you think that’s a fair representation?
No (laughs). I think I’ve realized that’s something I’d like to work on, my diversity as an actor. I think I’ve been fortunate to play some quite nice, charming people in period dramas, but I’m so up for playing roles closer to myself. As actors we try to be multifaceted. I think I’ve touched on some of that, but there’s always more to discover. We contain multitudes (laughs).

Well on that point, then, what’s the strangest place you’ve ever woken up?I think I’ve woken up at a warehouse rave before (laughs), that was quite strange. There’s probably been a few.

So looking back to roles, what would be the ideal role for you?
I couldn’t cite a famous Shakespeare role, or wouldn’t want to do that. But I’d be interested in exploring something quite psychologically dark and detailed, something in that vein would be quite nice.

Ben AldridgeBen Aldridge. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

What lies ahead of you in the near future? Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
I just wrapped [Amre,] a film about George Gershwin, the American composer, which was an incredible experience. I completely fell in love with him and the world he inhabited, his music for one thing, but also I had to do so much research on him, and he was just an incredibly magnetic, charismatic, energetic, powerful force. He was careering around the world, writing this pioneering fusion between jazz and more symphonic sounds.

It was a hugely intimidating role, which I really loved, trying to fill his shoes. We filmed it in Paris, set in 1925 Paris, and the story of George Gershwin meeting this musician from Kazakhstan and attempting to liberate him from his life in Russia. It’s got myself, Abbie Cornish, and a guy called Sanjar Madi, so that was really exciting, and I think it’s hitting festivals next year.

In terms of projects coming up, I’m not sure acting-wise what I’m doing yet, but I’m directing a short before Christmas written by some friends of mine.

What role that you’ve played to date has resonated the most with you, and why?
It’s hard to say, but George Gershwin might be the role I’ve been most excited to play. Playing real people is always a big responsibility to take on, but I absolutely relished every bit of information that I could gather about him and really indulged in having a great time. That’s probably the part I’ve been most excited to play, I reckon.

by Alexa Beatriz

All photographs: Justin van Vliet

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