American Sniper’s Ben Reed aims high while staying grounded

Ben Reed, who plays Chris Kyle's father in the widely acclaimed film American Sniper, has managed to be a successful actor while still making his family his priority.

Ben Reed, who plays Chris Kyle’s father in the widely acclaimed film American Sniper, has managed to be a successful actor while still making his family his priority.

By Emma Murphy

If you were one of the millions of people who saw the record breaking and Oscar winning film American Sniper, you’ve seen Ben Reed’s acting skills.

The movie focuses on Navy S.E.AL. Chris Kyle’s remarkable career. Reed, 49, portrays Kyle’s father, who installed in Chris the values that he lives out throughout the film.

In real life, Reed is a father as well, and has a family connection to the armed forces. Here’s what I learned when I talked to him recently:

• Don’t be intimidated by big names. American Sniper was directed by the well-known actor Clint Eastwood. You might think that a huge star like that could be intimidating to work with, but Reed assured me the exact opposite was true!

Eastwood had a very casual and comfortable way of directing. When Reed spoke with him, it felt like he was making suggestions to him, while still allowing him to do his job as an actor.

“[Working with Eastwood] was one of my best experiences as an actor for over 20 years,” he told me in a recent interview. “He was very kind and very calm on the set, just exactly what an actor wants.”

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Reed heard about the role of Mr. Kyle, he did a lot of research in the hopes that he would get the part. He looked up Kyle on the internet and, as a father himself, tried to put himself in the character’s shoes.

He talked to his brother, once in the Army Special Forces, about his experiences while serving. He then spoke with his father about what it was like knowing his son could have been killed.

“It was nice having a conversation with [my dad] because the men in my family don’t really open up a lot or share their feelings and thoughts,” Reed explained. “But he knew that I was doing research for this film so he was very open and I appreciated that.”

Reed’s research paid off when he got the part.

“I just wanted to make sure that I portrayed a strength from Mr. Kyle because I felt like that was how he should be portrayed and I think that’s what he tried to impress upon his children,” he said.

• Don’t be afraid to try new things. Reed’s been acting for a long time now, but recently he stepped behind the camera — he is the executive producer of the film Starcrossed.

“It was the most fun and the most stress I’ve had in over 20 years of being an actor,” he said of the experience.

This role included a lot of new aspects that Reed had never had to worry about before: finding the investment money, casting, finding locations. Although it was a lot of work, he is looking forward to doing it again in the future.

“We were building something from the ground up, so it was a lot of fun for me,” he said.

• Don’t try to be the character. Reed also told me about the best advice he’s ever received in regards to acting. When he was about 30 years old at an audition, the casting director said something that has stuck with him ever since.

“‘You are enough,’” Reed recalled him saying. “‘Don’t try to be the character. Let the character be you.’”

This has helped him immensely through his career.

“As an actor, you want to go at it and kick butt on an audition and portray that character, but he was telling me the character could be me and put me into the character,” he said. “There’s so much truth and so much freedom to that for an actor.”

• Acting isn’t all glamour. If you think about acting, you might first think of walking the red carpet and glamour. Reed told us this is not what acting is really about, though. He said acting is actually more of a mind game than anything else.

“If you’re just going to have at it and you just think it’s going to be this glamorous thing because you get your picture taken and you get to do this cool movie here, and do this TV show in Hawaii, and go to New Zealand and make a movie, then you’re in the wrong business,” he said. “Acting is work and it’s a profession. It’s actually a lot of hard work and a lot of meetings and auditions and opportunities that you want where sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t.”

Don’t let that scare you, though, if acting is what you are truly passionate about and want to pursue!

“If this is something you need to do and have to do and want to do, then by all means follow that dream,” Reed told me.

• Rejection is a part of life. Another aspect of acting is not getting the part. You always hear about the actors that get the role, but usually not the ones that don’t.

“(Acting is) glamorous and it can be fun and when you’re working it’s the best, but if you’re not mentally strong and you can’t take rejection and people telling you no all the time, then it’s not the business for you,” Reed admitted.

He also told me when things don’t go your way, you just need to keep going, try and try again.

“You lay your heart out for a role and the next thing you get a call and you’re told they went another direction and you didn’t get it,” Reed said. “Then you just have to start over and go to the next audition.”

• You can put family first. Despite having a successful acting career, Reed is still able to make his family, including five children, the priority.

The day we spoke, he told me that he was supposed to meet with some people in Los Angeles, but this conflicted with his daughter’s presentation that she had been working on for months. He called and rescheduled the meeting so that he could be there to support his daughter.

“You can make things work if you want them to,” he explained. “Sometimes you can’t, but people are pretty flexible when it comes to you wanting to be with your family.”

Emma Murphy is an editor in our program at Mount St. Mary Academy in Buffalo.

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