Ben Reed, Actor and Proud Father, Talks ‘American Sniper’ and the Importance of Family
“It gets easier as you get older,” Ben Reed says with a chuckle.
This talented actor may have been referring to parenting, but the same idea could also be applied to the acting profession as a whole — the more experience you have, the simpler and undeniably rewarding it becomes.
And the recompenses are plentiful for this Bixby, OK native, whose latest project, the controversial and highly political American Sniper (dubbed as Clint Eastwood’s best movie in years due to its reverberating philosophical ideas), earned an Oscar nod. Although the actor might not have gained a nomination himself for his role as Wayne Kyle (Chris Kyle’s father, the former played by Bradley Cooper) in the biographical war drama film, his work is certainly deserving of praise after being 20 years in the business, starting off with the children’s classic Babe and moving onto walk-on roles in well-known TV shows such as House M.D. (not to be confused with Fashion House, which he also starred in as a doctor himself) and The X-Files, as well as 2013’s short film The Pinhole Effect.
Yet what truly sets him apart isn’t his know-how of this industry nor his ruggedly handsome looks and crooked smile (or the words of respect and approval he’s been receiving from war veterans for his recent portrayal), but a knack for merging family life with his career without either imposing on the other.
Currently, the charming and insightful family man — who values tradition and discipline as much as having fun — lives in San Diego with his wife and five kids (yes, five!), who range in age from 13 to 26. Calling them his own “little basketball team,” he recently told entertainment site Reel Life with Jane that he didn’t make the New York premiere of American Sniper because he didn’t want to regret missing key moments of his children’s lives. His middle son, a musician who is 23, was having a concert that night and his 12-year-old son had his first basketball game of the season. Needless to say, the proud father decided that seeing his progenies carve out their own path was just as (if not more) worthwhile than seeing his work come to life on screen, revealing to RLWJ, “I chose to go [with] family as opposed to career [that night].”
With a certain dose of magnetism and confidence, this striking gentleman tells GALO all about his life amidst the best of both worlds — on screen and at home — and discusses an exhilarating new part of his career: film production.
GALO: In several interviews, you state that acting was not your original plan after attending West Virginia University. Can you tell us what you had originally wished to accomplish after college? What about that American Academy of Dramatic Arts six-week program flier made you decide to just pack up and leave everything behind?
Ben Reed: I was going there [West Virginia University] to play football, and to eventually play professional football. I started my junior year and then I tore my shoulder up, and you never have the same strength or abilities after that. But that is a whole world away, I don’t even think about it anymore.
Deep down acting is what I wanted to do, and when I saw the article something just snapped in my head — it was a turning point for me. I was like, “here’s my opportunity,” and I followed it. Now, I’ve been in the business a long time. My parents changed their mind a long time ago about the decision, and they actually went and saw the movie American Sniper with my brother Brad and his son — and I am really glad they did. It was the first movie they had been to in the theater in 20 years.
GALO: While some would give anything to break into the industry, there’s no doubt that acting is a stressful job which requires a good amount of dedication and persistence. But you aren’t just an actor, are you? You’re also a father and a husband. I hear you didn’t even attend the American Sniper premiere in New York because one of your sons had a concert and another had a basketball game. How do you manage your time between being on set and being at home with a wife and five kids?
BR: It kind of reveals itself. Obviously, we have to make a living and work, and I can be gone two to three days of the week in LA depending on the project, sometimes it is even longer — but I always put my family first. I had a job over in New Zealand for Xena: Warrior Princess and I was supposed to be there for a month, but some stuff came up with my kids and I passed on it. There are just some things that you can’t do. I weigh everything and the importance of stuff, but my family always comes first because they are the most important in my life. Five kids will keep you in check. If the premiere had been up in LA, I would have gone. But it’s quite an ordeal to go to New York. I would have missed like three days of being here just to do that. I would have also had to do a lot of publicity, so that could have meant four to five days. I would’ve just been thinking about my kids looking at the stands or in the audience and me not being there. You see, I have a choice while soldiers don’t [Reed is referencing the film here, specifically how soldiers are away from their families for months at a time].
GALO: You’ve had appearances in quite a few high-profile TV shows, such as CSI and House M.D. Now that you’ve branched over into films, would you say it is easier or more difficult? I’m sure the preparation is similar, but what makes the two different for you specifically?
BR: To me acting is acting, and I don’t care what it is. You still have to get into character and you still have to be present. You still have to do the same kind of research on the characters. What makes American Sniper different is that it is a true story and these people are real, so you kind of need to get it right. I don’t think there is a difference really between acting in a movie or on TV. To be honest, I just like working. I love acting. I am very passionate about all the opportunities you get to play different characters. How many people get to get in costume or get to do an accent? I mean, it is all make-believe and fun, but you get to be someone different for a little while.
GALO: How about we talk a bit about American Sniper? Wayne and Chris Kyle had a rather unique relationship, as much of their bonding came from Chris hunting with his father. You’ve said in several interviews that your relationship with your father was similar. In fact, you yourself seem to enjoy hunting. How would you say Wayne helped to shape Chris into one of the deadliest snipers in U.S. History? How did you use your research to essentially “become” Wayne?
BR: My father was not a big small-talk guy. Every time he talked to you, it was something you needed to know and learn from. He and I never had a lot of frivolous conversation. You will see in the film that I take my son (Chris Kyle) hunting and I am teaching him things — like when the son throws his gun down because he is so excited about hitting his first deer and I get to tell him, “don’t ever leave your gun in the dirt.” When you see the movie, you definitely see the correlation between what my character teaches him as a boy and what he did as a soldier — and how he helped the others.
I don’t know if you would say that it shaped him, but it absolutely gave him a model. They are just showing [through the scenes of Chris’ childhood] the audience why he is a good shot and that he had a gift. But gifts have to be worked on, and the way he gets better is how the Navy trained him. Wayne didn’t want him to grow up to be a follower or to be a bully. He wanted him to be a leader — a sheepdog. He protects his family like a father should — that’s just real life. It isn’t anything that was made up for this movie. But if you are taught to be a leader and you have what it takes, I do think you will most likely follow that path.
In a lot of ways, I am the same way with my kids. I mean, I love comedy and am kind of a dork in real life, I guess, but when it comes down to teaching lessons and how I want my kids to act, there is a lot in me that was instilled by my father. From what I read and the research I did on Wayne, he was in the same vein. I didn’t want to portray him as a mean dad; he is just a stern and direct dad. I mean, he was a deacon at church and that takes a special [kind of] man and a leader [to do that service].