Interview With Actor Benjamin Arcé, “Christmas At Holly Lodge”

By Ruth on December 23, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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If you have been watching Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas programming like I have, you may have seen the fun and enchanting Christmas At Holly Lodge. The stellar cast, writing, direction, production and so much more made this a highly-anticipated film, and if you paid careful attention at the very end, maybe you noticed a certain character who made a special surprise call from the Middle East to his daughter just in time for Christmas. It so happens that Benjamin Arcé brought that character to life, and the moment I knew he was a part of this film, I reached out to his publicist for an interview. And recently, he and I had a delightful, informative chat where we discussed almost every topic imaginable. I am thrilled to be able to share our interview two days before Christmas arrives!

Liz Rosa Photography

RH: Benjamin, it’s so nice to get to chat with you today. I actually discovered you because of the press release that your PR company put out.

BA: Oh, thank you, Ruth. Nice to chat with you too. So glad you saw that.

I’m a huge Hallmark supporter, and when I saw that you were in Christmas At Holly Lodge, I got really excited to chat with you.

That’s so nice of you. Thank you for reaching out. It’s much appreciated.

So could you tell us a little bit about your story of becoming an actor?

Sure. For me, it’s been something of an interesting trajectory of getting to this point where I am now. A couple of years ago, I wasn’t thinking about getting back into acting. I actually have a love for behind-the-camera work. I am a bit of a techie-type of person. I like gadgets and technology. I was working on a short film, and we asked for the services of my now-agent. I was in the process of casting a couple of the leads, and she was sitting in the room and she said, “I can tell that you can act.” And I said, “Yeah, I did it when I was younger.” She asked if I would think about doing it again. Now, I’m one of those people who loves the whole process from the room to set to rehearsing to what the actor does to interpret his role. Kind of the whole enchilada, so to speak. So she encouraged me and helped me to think about getting back into acting. I think the word I’m looking for is serendipity.

You’re not the first actor to use that word in terms of their career. Serendipity is not a cliché; it’s really true. I know everybody has their own story, but it does seem that in every case, things seem to fall into place at the right time, and how else do you describe it? 

That’s right. The details are different, but the underlying undertone is the same. It’s that right place, right time theme and being open to the opportunity in the moment. I think there’s a lot to be said for risks, and I think there is a difference between risks and gambles. Sometimes you’ve gotta take that risk and just dive in. There are many times I do not know how we went from point to A to Z or zero to a hundred, but here we are. At the very least, I’m very grateful.

Liz Rosa Photography

So you mentioned you did acting when you were younger. Could you tell us a little about that part of your story?

I was born in Vancouver, Canada to immigrant parents. My mother is English with some roots here. But when I was two or three weeks old, we moved to Peru. My mom was a flight attendant as well. In Peru, I have some background in my family in entertainment. My grandmother used to tell me from the time I was small that I was going to be an artist.  You can look in the archives of Columbia University of pioneering women in film. My great-aunt was one of the first women in film in Latin America. She started off as a comedian on the radio, and then when the medium of motion pictures was introduced, she was one of the first women in Latin America on film. Of course, when I was growing up, I was more interested in athletics than acting, but I guess acting was kind of in my blood.

As to what led me to acting, it was more by chance than anything. When I moved to Canada, I was about seven or eight years old. My mom was a flight attendant. Because so many airports were being shut down, they sent my mom back to her home base in Vancouver. So somewhere around 1994, they did a blanket casting call for these different schools in the Greater Vancouver area. Lots of kids showed up and auditioned for this TV pilot. It was a really cool concept. It was kids playing adult roles, and it was all improv. One of the executive producers, John Binkley, was a playwright and theater director and briefly involved with TV. He had done a season of this show in England called No Adults Allowed. It was kids playing adult parts and dealing with everyday problems, so he wanted to bring it to the States. So he came to Vancouver to find some young actors to fill a few roles.

I went to the audition, and it went well. One thing led to another, and I got a role. I played a single father with a young Chelsea Hobbs. And also Erica Cerra. Both ladies have gone on to have pretty big careers. It was really cool because the city was pretty young. It wasn’t really Hollywood North yet. I truly enjoyed it. I found that I had a knack for it. Now, I could have continued, but I decided it was more important to just be a kid and put the acting thing on hold. So that’s what I did. I’m grateful for the experience. I learned a lot about myself, and it is a special memory. But for me, I’m glad I decided to just be a kid. It seemed like the right path. I know some kids can handle it and do very well. But for me, I just needed the time to grow up and mature away from acting.

Now what some people don’t know is that I came back into the industry when I was about eighteen. I was working at a restaurant in Gastown.  So an agent came down from the agency to buy some lunch, and she said, “By the way, I have a commercial audition for a young Latino who can speak English and Spanish. Would you like to audition?” And I was like, “Sure.” It was the History Channel, and she got it all set up. So I got the gig, and I ended up working one-on-one in a commercial for Mexican History Week for the History Channel with one of my idols. Edward James Olmos from Stand and Deliver. I worked with him on this commercial, and that was incredible. Spanish is my first language, and English is my second. I lived the first half of my life as a kid in Peru, and when we moved to Canada, it was a culture shock. So Stand and Deliver was one of the movies that me and my mom watched when I was a child, and it gave us hope. That movie had a huge impact on my life in terms of what I felt I could achieve and what I felt was available. So when I met him–I’m not gonna lie–I was a bit of a fanboy. And the irony of it all is that I was playing a starstruck production assistant. {laughs} It worked out really well.

As a result of that, I moved along into my music career. And my agent at the time got me another commercial for Verizon, when phones were just starting to carry MP3’s. So the commercial was all about being able to get your tunes on your phone. And that commercial helped me fund my trip to Toronto. My agent thought I should stay, but I was like, “No, I’m pursuing music.” At that point, I was enamored with music, and I still am. Music is a part of us as humans. It’s a birthright, a right of passage.

Liz Rosa Photography

I know you were doing quite a bit of music at one point.

Yeah, music is a bit of a different topic for me now. About ten or eleven years ago, I put out some music on the internet, but I retracted it because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m always gonna make music, and I may put more music out later on, but I have no desire to be the next big pop star or anything like that. If my music can help calm somebody or help them through some difficulties in their life, then I’m happy to share it.

Now, my music career did help me with my acting career. Being on stage performing is similar to being in front of the camera. It continued my education. My band was live instruments, and we rapped and sang. There were some really cool elements to it. We were rough around the edges because we were literally a bunch of guys that just wanted to make good music. We didn’t really think too much about the business end of it. There were many times we had to freestyle on stage because the crowd wanted some more. So we had to improv.

I find it amazing how many actors I’ve talked with who have to do some improv in film and TV. I always understood how that worked on stage, but I didn’t expect it to happen on the screen.

It is a little more controlled than doing it live. There’s cameras and lights, but it is part of the craft. There’s a lot of amazing things that come out of the flow and the feeling. I have been lucky to work some great directors who I’ve been able to trust them, and they have trusted me. I have followed their guidelines and they have let me be free.

An excellent example is the Britney Spears Biofilm I did {Britney Ever After}. I play Sam Lutfi. Leslie {Libman}, the director, she was awesome. In this particular scene, we were trying to reenact the scene where Britney steps out of the vehicle, and she’s a little bit confused and doesn’t want to see anybody. She breaks down. In the script, we were supposed to be arguing, and Leslie just told us to go at it. And the scene that you see was pretty much all improv.

Christmas At Holly Lodge

In fact, the director of Christmas At Holly Lodge, Jem Gerrard, is another wonderful director. I always say there’s a time and place for everything. And sometimes with TV, they like people to stick to the words as written. But sometimes there’s a little room for improv, and with this particular character, Francisco Montoya, the character was calling in from somewhere in the Middle East while on a tour of duty. I had the script there as a guideline, but Jem told me to do what I feel. And I was like, “Awesome!” It adds to the emotion. This story is a story that a lot of people in Canada and the U.S. can relate to. Sometimes dad’s away and sometimes mom’s away. And it’s ironic that a few weeks later, I had my own child. So there’s a lot of lovely energy there.

Speaking of Britney Ever After, I did get to see that film. Now, I’m not a Britney fan. I wasn’t planning to see it, but I happened to interview Nicole Oliver, who played Britney’s mother in the film. And she encouraged me to watch it. And I thought it was well-done. I know that many fans didn’t really like it, but I thought it was pretty fair and tried to tell the story without too much bias. 

Britney Ever After

I am with you there. I thought it told the story well. Maybe not everything was accurate because some things had to be implied since we didn’t have all the information about every situation. But we are storytellers, and it is our job to tell the story and make you react. If you aren’t feeling something while watching, we’re not doing our job. If you don’t either love my character or hate it, then I’m not doing my job right. With this film, it was really about the humanization of a pop star. Sometimes the celebrity machine can be very unforgiving to pop stars like her. Sometimes we forget she is a human being because of that celebrity status. I thought Natasha {Bassett} did a fantastic job. Maybe the fans didn’t like her portrayal, but I think we did our job. We told a story to the best of our abilities, and the people reacted.

I think the profession of acting is one of the best jobs on the planet. I get to be on set, tell a story with other storytellers and learn as well. I’m not only learning about the craft, but I’m also learning about the human aspect of this all. There’s a lot of opinions about what acting is. Audience members who watch the show may criticize the characters, but they may not really know what it takes to become somebody else on screen. And then when you’re off screen, you’re scrutinized and judged by the public eye, and some even get treated like public property. I’m thankful I don’t have that problem. I’m just a working-class actor with a lunch pail and a helmet. I look forward to working as a series regular if the opportunity is afforded to me. I’m not looking for fame; I just love the acting. I just want to act and create interesting characters. And I’m also older now, and I have a family. I’m not so much into the limelight.

I know all about how critical some people can be when it comes to reviewing shows and films. So I’m the reviewer that refuses to be negative. I always put a positive spin on whatever I review, and if I cannot find any positivity, I won’t review it. Even if it wasn’t my favorite, I can take a step back and honestly review it and realize that other people will like it. So I’m mindful of that.

Britney Ever After

I’ve always grown up thinking that although we operate in a capitalistic system which means competition, I don’t believe in the kind of competition where you tear each other down to get ahead. I don’t like to compare movies and say which one is better or anything like that. It’s like that saying, “No two snowflakes are alike.” Everybody’s story is unique, and if I don’t happen to like a certain movie, maybe it wasn’t made for me.

I am a proponent of open-mindedness as well. I do watch things outside my comfort zone, and in most cases, I am personally challenged and it becomes a positive experience. But if I hadn’t been open-minded, my perspective would have been, “I know I’m gonna hate this,” and I wouldn’t get anything out of it.

Absolutely. And that’s the beauty of open-mindedness. If more people practiced open-mindedness in film and every aspect of their lives, it would be amazing how much more we’d be connected as a society.

Now, with Christmas At Holly Lodge, what was your experience like with that film?

Oh, Ali Sweeney was wonderful, wasn’t she? All of my scenes came off as being so tender and realistic. I loved that. I appreciated all the hard work that the cast and crew put into this film to make an excellent product. I didn’t get to meet everyone in the cast, but I met most of them. And they were all just lovely people. Learning from them and watching them work was an amazing experience. I realize I’m under the radar, and I like that. And because of that, I get to see things and learn things that not everyone may know or see. In fact, this was an opportunity for me to play a role that I haven’t always had the chance to play. I love every role that I’ve done, and I’m grateful. But I was so grateful to Ali, Jem, and the network execs for giving me a chance to play something a little bit different.

Well, you are coming into the Hallmark family at a very special time. Their network is continuing to grow at a very fast pace. Their ratings are incredible. They are continuing to increase the number of movies they make each year. 

I love the concept of their Christmas movies. I think it’s a cool concept that they show these movies and work their way up to Christmas Day. Some people may not agree, but I still think it’s a cool concept. When I was younger and a little kid, Christmas was really special to me. Especially when we celebrated Christmas in Peru. We celebrated it in such a way that it’s very familial and very community-based. People celebrate outside with fireworks there, and just the whole vibe of the holiday is amazing. I love that concept of watching a bunch of different movies leading up to Christmas Day.

The other cool thing is that Hallmark is beginning to diversify their casts and their content. Lots of people complain and say Hallmark isn’t doing it fast enough, but they are slowly changing. And they are doing it in their quiet way. They don’t shout it from the rooftops; they just make the changes at a slow, steady, even pace. And I applaud them for doing it that way. Women have integral, strong roles in their films. They had their first Latino couple this Christmas as the lead couple. Things are changing, and so you are coming in a very good time. 

Speaking of women with Hallmark, our director, Jem, is a wonderful director. If you check out her reel, you can see her short film that the girl who plays my daughter was in a year or so ago. Jem is an up and coming talent. I love the fact that Hallmark features and encourages females in front of and behind the camera. I have worked with so many great women over the years. I know I don’t have a lot of experience on set, but historically, this has been a male-centric industry. The difference in energy with women is really something. I was raised by women–a mother, a grandmother, and that was lucky for me. I love how things are changing, and to see these young women like Jem and others working in the industry is so refreshing.

Another series I’ve gotten involved with is a Mexican-American web series called La Quinceañera. The co-creator of the series, Gigi Saul Guerrero, she’s a tour de force as well.

Liz Rosa Photography

Speaking of Christmas At Holly Lodge, the ending was strong and very memorable. And I think that’s good for you because maybe Hallmark will invite you back for other projects.

Thank you for saying that. I would love to come back to more Hallmark projects. Everyone was so wonderful on set, and the experience was just fantastic.

One thing about that ending is that I did use a personal tragedy in my life to help convey the emotion. And that is what actors do. We have to tap into our personal lives to make the emotion on screen real. So as hard as this personal experience was for me, it did help me with my performance.

So you were also in season two of Ice coming up next year.

Yes, in that show, I play one of the mercenaries. And you’ll get to see that there’s a bit of a commotion when we’re chasing the two leads. It was a really cool experience to be able to play a role like that. I’m looking forward to everyone being able to see it.

And with this web series you mentioned, is it all in Spanish?

It’s in Spanglish, so it’s a mixture. I can’t talk too much about it because it hasn’t been released yet. But it’s a really interesting and amazing story. I think a lot of people will enjoy it. I got to be in a few episodes.

And there’s a really funny story associated with my character. My character is really interesting. I got to wear a fake mustache. The first day I was on set, I arrived and got my fake mustache on. I initially said “hello” to some of the crew members. I talked to them for a couple of minutes, and they directed me to where I was supposed to be going. Later on in the evening, after a fourteen-hour day, as they were shutting everything down and we were leaving, they had watched me for the last fourteen hours on set with this mustache. I was walking back to get changed. I took this mustache off, and when I saw a couple of the guys, they saw me and were like, “Hey, man, how’s it going?” I was like, “Yeah, what’s up, guys?” They didn’t remember me, so I said, “We spoke this morning, and you directed me to where I was supposed to go.” Then they were like, “Oh, Ben, oh my gosh! What?” They didn’t even recognize me! {laughs} They didn’t know me because of this one little thing. It was hilarious! I didn’t even recognize myself.

So when this is released, where will we be able to watch it?

It will actually be available on the site Stage 13.  It’s this new online content channel. It’s a really cool concept. It’s a place that’s giving a platform for all sorts of online content. It’s a spot for fresh, new content, and I just feel so lucky to be a part of this show that will be featured there hopefully very soon.

In addition to all this, are you actually writing something now?

I am working on some writing and directing. I want to write and direct a few shorts in the next year or two. The pinnacle of my career would be to write and direct for a feature film or for online content. I love every aspect of storytelling. I use the term storytelling a lot because no matter the art form, whether music, film, painting–it’s all telling a story.

For me, being from a Latino background, I believe in representation. I want to tell diverse stories. Diversity is not just about ethnicity makeup. It’s about the actual story. And that’s where I draw my inspiration for coming up with stories from all over, in terms of plot lines and genres. I grew up in Peru. I lived between Peru and Canada for most of my life. There are a lot of stories that are ingrained in my DNA. I’ve been inspired by those stories. I want to write and direct those stories from Peruvian culture that inspired me and gave something special to me. I would love to be a part of Peruvian cinema in some way.

That is amazing. To be honest, I really know very little about Peru.

Exactly. There’s not a lot out there. Maybe you’ve heard of ceviche before. It is a fisherman’s dish. It is something that has been exported from Peru all over the world. In our culture, the fisherman would catch the fish, skin it, put some lime on it and prepare the dish. From there, you have the Asian influences. The Japanese migrated to Peru, and they brought their culinary traditions with them. So the ceviche we see today is a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian culture.

When people think of Peru, they might also think of the Incas. That’s a normal thing to think of in regards to Peruvian culture. But they may not know that there is an African-Peruvian community, and it’s very strong. African culture has influenced Peruvian pop culture much like African culture has had an influence in the States.

That is absolutely fascinating! I really hope you do get to tell some of those stories. And I can’t thank you enough for sharing so much of your journey, Benjamin.

Ruth, I had such a wonderful time sharing my story with you, and I definitely look forward to our next interview. Thank you for your support and the support of all the fans.

Liz Rosa Photography

There is nothing I enjoy more than chatting with an individual who has a unique story to share and does not mind sharing it. Benjamin was remarkably open about who he is and what he believes. Indeed, he is an extremely astute conversationalist, and he is an also an active listener, both of which are skills that are being forgotten in today’s culture that has become inundated with social media, text messages, and online personas. While I have no problem with social media and willingly see the positives associated with this medium, it’s gratifying to know that there are people like Benjamin in the world who can still comfortably share their perspective, outlook, values, and more through the spoken word and art of dialogue. Because he was so candid with me, I was able to discover who Benjamin genuinely is, and all I can say is that the film community is extremely fortunate to have him rejoin this artistic profession. He has a natural ability to connect and tell stories, and his passion for his culture is refreshing and stimulating. Furthermore, Benjamin is a lifelong student, and he has learned from every aspect of his life, regardless of the circumstances. He never discounts a moment to glean something new, whether he is on set, going through his daily life, or just having a chat with someone. Every instance of his life is a chance for him to mature as a person and a professional. He pays attention to every detail when he is on set, and the strength of his observation skills is going to remain one of his vital assets as he continues to pursue his career and is afforded more opportunities.

Therefore, if you have not watched Benjamin in Hallmark’s Christmas At Holly Lodge, I would invite you to do so before these endearing films disappear for yet another season. His role is memorable, and I can only hope that Hallmark furnishes him with even more opportunities to shine in 2018 and beyond. Additionally, I would invite you to check out Benjamin at all his links below and perhaps even follow him if you are so inclined. While his story may be a bit unorthodox at times, I can categorically state that Benjamin is like a breath of fresh air in an industry that sometimes appears to be stalemated. Moreover, I can only pray that more networks and industry professionals give him the opportunity to share more of his fabulous skills with us viewers in the weeks, months, and years to come!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

1 Comment

  1. denise December 23, 2017 Reply

    wonderful interview!

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