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Interview with Benjamin Bratt of "Star" on
FBC PUBLICITY: Conference Call with
Benjamin Bratt the Star
December 14, 2016/10:00 a.m. PST
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank
you for standing by. Welcome to the Conference Call with
Benjamin Bratt of Star. At this time, all participants are
in a listen-only mode. Later we will conduct a
question-and-answer session. [Operator instructions]. As a
reminder, todayís call is being recorded.
hosting speaker, Lauren Burnett. Please go ahead.
Lauren: Hi, everyone, good morning. This is Lauren Burnett
from FOX Publicity. Thank you so much for joining todayís
call. We have Benjamin Bratt from Star which premieres
tonight at 9 p.m. on FOX and then returns January 4th for
our series premiere.
Who do we have first?
Moderator: [Operator instructions]. One moment.
Benjamin: Thereís no one there, just kidding. Hi, everyone,
this is Benjamin. I look forward to talking to you.
Moderator: All right, first question is from Ny MaGee at
EURweb. Please go ahead.
Ny: Okay, wonderful, good
morning, Benjamin. Thank you for taking time out to speak
with us today.
Benjamin: Of course, my pleasure. How
Ny: Iím good. Iím fabulous now that I get a
chance to speak to you. My first question for you is did you
pull from the personas of any real life but notorious talent
agents to help you get into the head space of, I think Iím
pronouncing his name right, Jahilís head space?
Jahil Rivera. I did in fact. I pulled directly from Lee
Danielsí early life, himself.
Ny: Oh really?
Benjamin: Yes that for me was the big draw in taking this
role on. I had worked with Lee back in 2004 when he produced
the film called The Woodsman and of course, having worked
with him on that and then following his body of work over
the course of the years, heís clearly someone who enjoys the
role of provocateur. When he called me to talk about the
world he wanted to create, it all sounded fascinating to me,
but the number one thing that pulled me in was that on some
level he designed Jahil Rivera as a reflection of himself of
when he was a younger man and working in Los Angeles as an
account manager to actors.
The reason that fascinated
me was that obviously Lee is nothing if not provocative in
both personality and in the subject matter he likes to
explore. Heís also someone who obviously on record has had
his various issues with substance abuse and personal
behavior that has maybe at times derailed his personal plan
I liked that he was going to explore
that with this character, so when Star begins, we come upon
a guy who is down on his luck, had a moment of fame likely
back in the late í90s and has been waiting for the right
time and the right star to hitch his wagon to to try to
extend that ladder to success and fame once again.
Perfect, thank you.
Moderator: Okay, next questionís
from the line of Lupe Rodriguez, CineMovie. Please go ahead.
Lupe: Hi, Benjamin.
Benjamin: Hi, Lupe. How are
Lupe: Good. How are you? Thank you. This is a
music world where the setting is. Do you see parallels with
the Hollywood? Do you see the same similar struggles? Can
Benjamin: You know, I donít have enough
familiarity with the music industry to make a fair
comparison between it and some of the television industry.
By all accounts, the music industry is far more cut-throat.
Benjamin: Thus, making it a perfect
setting for a show like this. I think this show is as much
an exploration of the overwhelming ambition it takes to
become rich and famous as it is an indictment of it.
Benjamin: If you compare Empire, which
was also, of course, a Lee Daniels show, that show on some
level is a reflection of the fabulous life he leads now in
the lap of real fame and fortune. Star, on the other hand,
is more of a reflection of the struggle that he emerged from
and the aspirations and hopes you have for yourself,
whatever your flaws are, whateverís holding you back in
trying to get there.
I think what people are going to
find, audiences and fans of Empire are going to find, they
share a kind of musical DNA and also an examination of the
dysfunction of families, albeit this one is not a family of
blood. But really the comparisons end there as Lee really is
not afraid of rather adventurously and courageously leans on
current hot-button issues to serve as a springboard into the
narrative to his shows, in particular, these episodes.
Lupe: Yes, okay, thank you.
Moderator: Our next
question is from the line of Thai Leah, THAheadline.com.
Please go ahead.
Thai: Hello, Mr. Benjamin. How are
you doing today?
Benjamin: Iím well, how are you?
Thai: Doing great, thank you so much. I had the pleasure
of seeing the first episode of the show Star, and your
character seems a little bit sketchy to me based off his
Thai: Were there
any difficulties trying to get into that character, and what
can we expect, what can viewers expect from you for your
Benjamin: Stepping into the skin of someone
like Jahil Rivera is an opportunity to expand beyond, as an
actor, an opportunity to expand beyond what typically Iím
offered in a television forum. The good news for me as an
artist was that Lee was quite familiar with my work in the
independent film world, and that includes films like PiŮero
or a film I produced with my brother, La Mission, or The
Woodsman as I noted earlier that I worked on with himóall
films which afforded me an opportunity to really act, to
really transform into something from quite different than
what most TV audiences expect of me.
With that, Lee
has given me a gift, really, on a network television show to
visit parts of personality and things that are very
different from my own that are by far and away much more
challenging to portray because theyíre so far removed from
what I am.
With that said, Lee is the inspiration for
the character and obviously a natural touchstone for me to
continually go back to. Itís been not just a challenge but
kind of inspiration really to do this because rather than
feel pressure to exact a performance in the form of the
creator of the show, I feel inspired and excited at the
challenges put before me.
Thai: Awesome, thank you so
Benjamin: Thank you.
Moderator: One moment
please. Next questionís from Kiko Martinez, San Antonio
Current. Please go ahead.
Kiko: Hello, Benjamin, howís
Benjamin: Good, how are you doing?
Kiko: Good. When it comes to the entertainment industry,
whether itís music or film or TV, it always seems nowadays
that people want to become famous overnight. What do you
think about that idea of not having to put in the work,
maybe putting a YouTube video out there or starting a
reality TV show and then expecting something big out of
that? How do you feel about that as somebody thatís been in
the industry for so long?
Benjamin: Yes, I find it a
little troubling, and I know itís gross generalization to
put it this way, but a lot of young folks I talk to, and
especially folks I bumped into in public who express a
desire to obtain fame and fortune, they want that as an end
result as though thatís a profession, as though thatís
something to seek out and to enjoy based on nothing other
than the pursuit of it itself.
What I always reflect
back on them is what I do wasnít really taken on with that
as an agenda. I see what I do for the craft that it is. I
come from a working class background. I come from a couple
of parents who always expressed that a strong work ethic is
what you need to succeed in life, no matter what it was you
wanted to do.
I approached this profession from a
very working-like point-of-view as a result, kind of like
building a house where you have to lay a foundation first
and then build upon that before you put the roof on, before
you [audio disruption] top essentially.
What I try
to reinforce with young folks when they come up to me and
they say theyíre seeking fame and fortune, I try to spin it
back on them and point out, well beyond that, what inspires
you? What is it you want to do with yourself, in this world?
What kind of positivity do you want to bring to the world?
Whatever that is, itís not going to come easy. It takes hard
work. It takes dedication. It takes self-discipline, and it
takes a certain degree of self-respect and respect of others
where you bring the positivity to the world and not just
seeking out something thatís empty and unfulfilling.
Kiko: Thank you, appreciate it.
Moderator: Our next
questionís from the line of Phyllis Thomas, TVMusic Network.
Please go ahead.
Phyllis: Hi, Benjamin, how are you?
Benjamin: Iím good, thanks.
Phyllis: Thank you. I
just wanted to ask you, with Empire and you guys following
it and that show being so successful, do you feel any
pressure to be a successful or tell a story as well as that
show does? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Benjamin: Yes, you know, itís a funny question about pressure
because the truth is I donít really take that pressure on;
itís not my job. The tone of the show, the flavor of it, the
direction itís going in, the characters that exist in it,
none of that ultimately is my concern because itís not my
responsibility. Actually, let me correct that. It is of
concern, but itís not my responsibility, itís essentially
out of my hands. I have to really focus on that task at hand
which is to make this character feel real, make him feel
The good news is with Lee Daniels, he
puts his thumb on everything. Although heís not running the
writers room, his stamp, his brand is on everything. I told
him that we need to clone him. We actually need at least
four more of him because heís spread so thin. Heís in the
editing room. Heís in the writerís room. Heís dealing with
the network. Heís talking to the actors, and heís also doing
that on Empire to some degree still, too.
thatís the overall challenge. I wouldnít necessarily count
it as pressure from an actorís point of view, but I think
the collective understanding is that you want to maintain
quality that it takes his presence to keep that quality
level up, and for now, weíre grateful for his presence. He
has other projects coming up, film projects, etc.
Who knows? Weíre coming out tonight. Weíre excited about the
momentum we feel behind us. We get the sense from people
just approaching us publicly, and Iím talking about the
collective of us actors who are on the show. It feels like
people are very excited about whatís coming out and looking
forward to checking out another Lee Daniels joint.
Phyllis: Thatís great. Then, speaking of whatís coming up,
thatís one heck of a greeting that Queen Latifahís character
gives you the first time you guys see each other after a
while. Can you talk a little bit about working with her and
is there anything that you can tease about your two
Benjamin: Yes, aside from Lee
Daniels, the presence of Queen Latifah in the show was the
main reason I took it on. You want to be surrounded by good
people, and I couldnít have more respect and admiration for
an artist than I do for her.
Sheís the type, I call
her ďMidasĒ to her face because anything sheís ever touched,
she turns to gold. I donít mean that necessarily in a
commercially successful way, I mean that in a way where she
approaches everything with integrity and with a sensibility
of bringing artistic truth to it.
So, whether sheís
cut albums or been in films that have been nominated for
Academy Awards, or been in half-hour comedies, or hosting
her own talk show, she knows how to succeed. Part of that is
brought to bear by her natural charisma and charm, and of
course, talent. Thereís no denying her inherent grace and
gravitas thatís just within her. Thereís a kind of natural
spokesman there that I love working off.
completely protected in her presence, and artist to artist
you need that sense of safety when youíre working,
especially when youíre doing scenes like weíre doing, where
weíre antagonistic towards one another.
Benjamin: Yes, so those are some of my favorite
days on set. A little bit of a tease is that as episodes
begin to unfold, we discover that, yes, as we know from the
pilot, that Jahil was a manager to her and her friend, Mary,
and they had a record that made it onto the charts. But they
might have a bit of personal history there too that
underlies and continues to antagonize their current
contemporary relationship. Are there feelings still there?
We donít know. There could be. Those are some of the layers
weíll be peeling back.
Moderator: Okay, our next
question from the line of Art Shrian of myNewYorkeye or
NyEye. Please go ahead.
Art: Hello, Benjamin, how are
Benjamin: Good, Art. How are you doing?
Art: Iím great. Thank you for taking time. Itís such a
pleasure talking to you. Youíre not just a wonderful actor,
youíre a wonderful activist. Youíve done so much good for us
brown folks and indigenous folks. I really thank you for
that, all the wonderful work and support that youíve always
Benjamin: Thank you.
Art: I just wanted
to ask, you are on a wonderful show, surrounded by people of
color, stars like Queen Latifah, to newcomers as well, and
now we are seeing more of that mainstream shows on FOX and
other networks, from Empire to several other shows where
people of color and their stories are being told in
mainstream with them as the main characters, and itís not
just targeted to particular audience, itís for everyone.
Youíve been in the industry for so long, youíve seen so
much. How do you feel about that? What do you think is
causing that? Is it good? Does more need to happen? Whatís
your thoughts on that from your experience in working on
Benjamin: Itís an exciting time because I
think that the industry is finally catching up with the
reality of the real diversity that exists within our
country. I have always cited early pioneers of blind
casting, folks like Dick Wolf who gave me one of my first
jobs, to Shonda Rhimes, and now of course, Lee Daniels who
populate the worlds of their programming as they see the
world itself and as a reflection for what it really is.
I was born and raised in San Francisco, California, a
child of the í60s, í70s, and my fond remembrance of that
city was that it was cosmopolitan, and it was eclectic, and
it was ethnically and culturally mixed. But, when I got into
the business, I found none of that.
The good news,
to your question is that yes, not just in the independence
sphere but also on the major networks, more and more
programming is reflecting the reality that in fact, America,
the United States of America, is now and always has been
strong and incredible and full of potential because of what
it is, which is a culturally diverse and remarkable tapestry
of different cultural influences from around the world.
Art: Thank you for that. Being in the industry, your
experience, what would your message be or suggestion be to
young actors and young storytellers to take people of color
and ethnicity to take advantage of this time? What would
your suggestion be?
Benjamin: I would say that
everyone has a story, and the key to telling a story on a
national or international level is to find the universality
in the connective tissue really that really makes all of us
human beings the same. Thatís one thing that Lee has really
been successful at.
In Star, he reflects a world he
knows well, a world that is a reflection of our communities
where some of the social ills not only influence the way we
grow up but some of the choices we make for our future, and
that holds true for the world of Star. We have some
characters that come from the world of poverty and child
abuse, or from the dilapidated foster care system, or
thereís gun violence, gender politics at work, substance
abuse, you name it.
While it does seem like that
would be at times merely used as a way to dramatize
different scenarios, itís also a reflection of what Lee
knows, the world that Lee knows well. On some level he seeks
to make it authentic and dramatize it at the same time.
Thatís what I think people are going to respond to.
This show is not necessarily for everyone. Some of these
things are hard to look at and yet, the way he depicts it,
the starkness that really exists in real life and then
juxtaposes it with the hopefulness and the inspirational
aspects of music. I think heís created something totally
unique and really compelling to watch.
Thank you. The next question is from Fidel Orantes, Reforma
Newspaper. Please go ahead.
Fidel: Yes, hi Benjamin,
how are you?
Benjamin: Iím good. How are you, Fidel?
Fidel: Great, thanks. I want to ask, by doing the show,
in some way it makes you think about the struggles you had
when you decided to pursue an acting career and think about
also how much you have accomplished these days.
Benjamin: You know, you mean in terms of the struggle as
represented by these three young ladies in trying to make a
go of things?
Benjamin: Is that the
question? Itís funny because, and I donít want this to come
out the wrong way, but I really never felt struggle when I
first decided to become an actor, not initially. When I was
in college and was working on my BFA in theater and then
went on to graduate school to get my Masters in theater, it
was almost an incubator of sorts where there was no external
pressure and no environmental pressure or predetermined
boxes that I had to sit in.
In particular, at grad
school, at the American Conservatory Theater, in their
professional company they had a policy of blind casting
where you could see a production of A Christmas Carol as an
example where Tiny Tim was played by an Asian boy, his
father was white, his mother was black, and nothing was made
of it. It was just the best actor for the job, and so in a
way I was spoiled, in that way.
In the face of some
of my early successes and encouragement from professors,
that hey, this is something you can actually do, I didnít
have to consider that there was any kind of racial or
cultural roadblocks in my way on my way to working. It
wasnít until I got to Los Angeles for the first time, and
now this is dating myself, back in the late í80s that I
realized, oh, wait a second, the industry isnít really like
that. They want to put you into a specific category right
away, and I see that theyíre putting me into boxes that Iím
not necessarily familiar with but I guess, if that means Iím
going to work, Iíll do it.
I never lacked for work. I
was always very fortunate to work from the moment I got to
Los Angeles. I havenít stopped working. I would say it took
me a minute to realize, wait a second, the work Iím being
offered is not what everyone else is getting offered. They
see me a certain way that isnít necessarily an accurate
reflection of who I am.
If youíre brown-skinned,
they want you to have a Spanish accent or they want you to
have a Hispanic surname. I donít have either of those. I
wasnít raised that way. My motherís from Peru, and Iím
proudly Latin American. I recognized my indigenous heritage,
but Iím just as proud of my paternal side of the family
which is German and English. Iím just who I am.
identity politics, the racial qualifications that one needs
to ascribe themselves or is compelled to feel like they need
to ascribe themselves when they get to the industry was a
little shocking for me, but you learn to roll with it.
Thankfully thatís all changing.
Moderator: Thank you,
next questionís from the line of Caron LeNoir, Black Girl
Nerds. Please go ahead.
Caron: Hi, Benjamin.
Benjamin: What a great name for an outlet, Black Girl Nerds.
Caron: Blackgirlnerds.com, absolutely. We love you. Weíve
followed your career for a very long time, and thereís a lot
of new talent, a lot of fresh faces in this series. I want
to know, will we hear you sing, what attracted you to this
project, and what, if anything, surprised you.
Benjamin: What was the first part of the question?
Caron: Are we going to hear you hit or miss a note or two?
Benjamin: All right, hereís my issue. This is my issue
and the particular bone I have to pick with Lee is that he
has put me in a cast almost entirely comprised of people who
can not only sing but who can sing professionally, from
Brittany and Jude to Ryan, the three girls who comprise the
trio, to Queen to Quincy Brown, to Tyrese Gibson, to Lenny
Kravitz, they can all sing. They can all blow, and Iím
jealous because I canít, I canít hold a note. Thatís the
honest to God truth.
Iím hopingóI donít know if itís
going to take, whatís that computer program where it holds
your note in tune? I donít know if itís going to take some
auto-tune or what, but Iím hoping heís going to give me a
shot to embarrass myself because therein lies the challenge.
Thatís one of the reasons I took on the show, or at least
let me get a dance number.
Caron: What surprised you
about the young people you had a chance to work with, this
group of amazing talented newcomers?
self-possession they have. I reflect back on when I first
started in the professional world when I was in my early
20s, and I was very green. These girls have a certain degree
of naivety as well, kind of a wide-eyed, babes in the woods
kind of thing when we first shot the pilot a year ago.
But I have to tell you, you compare that to who they are
now, and this is even prior to the show premiering tonight.
Weíre now eight episodes in, and theyíre like solid
veterans. The reason why is not only do they put in their
12-hour shooting days, they are then moving on to the dance
studio and working on the choreography for the various dance
numbers that occur in every episode. Then, whatever spare
time they have left, they actually go into the studio to
learn and record the songs that theyíre required to sing.
Theyíre a remarkably talented group of girls, and
now because of all the hard work that they put in over the
last few months, it was a kind of conservatory-like setting
that has now fueled them and prepared them for not only the
work that they do every week but for what awaits them in a
really public way.
Moderator: Thank you, and next
questionís from the line of Laura Hurley of Cinemablend.
Please go ahead.
Laura: Hi, thank you for speaking
Benjamin: Of course.
the premiere, Jahil had quite an introduction to Star. What
can you tell us about his dynamic with the three girls
Benjamin: So, as Lee has explained it
to me, Jahil is obsessed with Star, and in particular
because she is, as we discover in the pilot, the daughter of
Mary who was Carlottaís partner in the duo that he had some
early success with. Thatís one of the aspects, one of the
reasons why heís obsessed. But heís also obsessed because of
her talent. He recognizes immediately that she is unique and
that she is someone that can quickly ascend to the fame and
fortune that he always aspired to have for himself.
Thereís clearly a sexual attraction between them, which,
given their age differences isnít necessarily ďonĒ as they
say. Thatís a very Lee Daniels construct too. As I mentioned
earlier. Leeís aim and goal is to provoke as much as it is
to entertain because out of the provocation, to his way of
thinking comes the drama, and heís not wrong.
weíll see unfold over the course of episodes is the
development of this obsession that Jahil has towards Star
and what that really means in terms of his relative
disinterest to the other girls.
Laura: Okay, thank you
Benjamin: Thank you.
our final question is from the line of Federico Lisica of
PŠgina12. Please go ahead.
Federico Yes, hello,
Benjamin. Thanks for your time.
Federico: I want to ask you, if this is a story with a
person with a difficult childhood, about the roots, about
the person that is looking at and building her future, it
seems to be like Blood In, Blood Out but without Vatos
Benjamin: Iím not really clear on the parallel,
can you sort of restate that?
Federico: Yes, this
story has a protagonist with a difficult childhood that
sheís looking out for her future and a story about identity,
about roots. I want to ask you that it seems to me like
Blood In, Blood Out but without Vatos Locos.
Yes, I donít really see the parallel, and I apologize.
Obviously thatís a film Iím quite proud of. I donít really
see the parallel because the three protagonists in that show
didnít really have a mentor of sorts. I guess one of them
That said, Lee is very fond of focusing on the
dysfunction of the human condition, in particular in this
sense, the dysfunctionality of what seems to be a hodgepodge
family. Empire, he focuses on a dysfunctional family thatís
made of blood, and in the face of fame. This is the opposite
of that. You have Carlotta who is the kind of godmother to
these girls who clearly has a history with Jahil, and Jahil
is a kind of perverse uncle/older brother mentor and these
girls who are essentially sisters in the struggle to succeed
with their ambition and desire for fame and fortune.
Theyíre unique personalities. The differences between
them all and their histories, their respective histories
just leave a lot of potholes in the road, and youíre going
to step in them. There are going to be bumps along the way,
and thatís where the dramaís going to come out of.
The good news is a show like this, for as much drama and
even melodrama that emerges, at times is hard to watch. The
music is always what brings it back around. The music
clearly emerges as a main character of the show, and just as
it has been historically throughout mankind and for cultures
around the world, music is always a source of inspiration
and perhaps even a conduit to spiritual balance. Thatís one
thing that Leeís always interested in doing, is sort of
examining the difference between the sacred and the profane,
and he does it in this show just as he has in some of his
Moderator: Okay, that was the final question,
back over to you Miss Burnett.
Lauren: Thank you all
so much for joining.
Benjamin: Thanks, guys. I hope I
answered your questions, and I hope you enjoy the show.
Thanks again for your time.
Moderator: Thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference. We
do thank you for joining while using AT&T Executive
Teleconference. You may now disconnect. Have a good day.
Lauren: Thank you.
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