Interview – Ben Aldridge on creating authentic chemistry with Jim Parsons in romantic-drama ‘Spoiler Alert’

Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, Spoiler Alert is a heart-warming, funny, and life-affirming story that follows the 14-year love affair between entertainment journalist Michael (Jim Parsons) and his photographer partner, Kit (Ben Aldridge). Through Kit, Michael discovers the family he was robbed of as a child, from Kit’s small town parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) to their extraordinary circle of Manhattan friends. And while Michael imagines his life unfolding like the plot of one of his favourite romantic comedies, even he can’t predict the twists and turns that will transform and deepen their relationship.

Leading up to the films Australian release on February 9, I was lucky enough to chat with Spoiler Alert’s star, Ben Aldridge, to discuss building his on-screen chemistry with Jim Parsons, filming emotional scenes, and improvising for a comedy director!

Nick: Ben, it’s a pleasure to meet you! I loved this movie, so thank you for taking the time to chat about it with me!

Ben Aldridge: I’m glad you enjoyed it! That’s great to hear.

Nick: I want to jump right into this by bringing up the title of Michael Ausiello’s book – Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. What do you think the most heroic trait of Kit’s was?

Ben Aldridge: That’s such a great question! No one has asked me that before. I know from Michael’s [Ausiello’s] point of view, that Kit was someone who refused to be a victim during his battle with cancer. He remained really positive. He didn’t want to be pitied.

They both share that as people, even Michael. Both of Michael’s parents passed away, and there’s a sense of… you can’t pity him because he doesn’t play into that. He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him, and it was exactly the same with Kit’s battle with cancer. I suppose that would be viewed by many as heroic.

Nick: With mentioning Michael there, he is played by Jim Parsons in the film, and you both have fantastic chemistry together. It feels like such an authentic romance. How much of that love did you see on the page between Michael and Kit, and what was the process like working with Jim in order to bring that onto the screen?

Ben Aldridge: I think in terms of the page, when I was reading the book, they have such a playful chemistry. But there is a lot of that that doesn’t make it into the film. I think we were worried about playing it too “cutesy”, but they [Kit and Michael] had such a language. They had these nicknames for each other, and they had their own way of talking, much like many other couples do.

So, I think want Jim [Parsons] and I wanted was this kind of playfulness. The fact that they make each other laugh. But we were thinking: “Well, is this more of a drama? Or a drama with some comedy bits?” But I think Jim is an incredible comic actor, and he’s also an incredible dramatic actor. I personally wanted the comedy to come from the fact that they find each other funny, rather than looking to the audience and being like: “Laugh at this line now!”

In terms of Jim and I managing that chemistry, we actually started a pen pal relationship. As soon as I knew I was going to play Kit, I was working on something in the UK, and we weren’t going to get a chance to meet up in New York before our first day on set. But we started this pen pal thing just so we could get to know each other. And we really did, it was a candid back-and-forth of questions, and looking at our own sexuality when we were younger, our parents, our partners – we really got to know each other. We became really good friends and loved working with each other.

Nick: It’s interesting you mention that language Kit and Michael had, because I think the most powerful scene of the film is in the restaurant after Kit’s official diagnosis, and they take the photos of each other. So much is said between the two characters, but with very little dialogue. Can you talk me through that day on set and how you prepared for such a crucial scene in the film?

Ben Aldridge: So, that’s something that actually happened at that restaurant. They have the photos from that day! I think we didn’t talk too much about it, and we had our own feeling that this was a sacred moment on set. We were in the real restaurant, and I was using Kit’s real camera. Michael had saved Kit’s camera, so it was really powerful to be taking that photo with the real thing.

Often Michael would tell us that Kit made sense of life via his camera. It was like part of him was making sense of the world, and also slightly distracting him a little bit from reality. So, I think for Kit, this was him capturing the moment for what it is. And Michael hardly reversed the camera back onto Kit. He was intimidated to take a photo of him! And then, what is so powerful in that moment, is that Michael picks up the camera and does the same thing.

It’s the moment that Kit is realising his own mortality. He’s looking around the restaurant going: “This could be it”. And it’s a real, loving moment, but it’s also the beginning of them grieving. It was quite an intense scene to do.

Nick: I can imagine, and I don’t want to bring this chat down too much, but this is the sort of film that will provoke audiences to ask questions about their own mortality. What impact will I leave when I die? Or how will I react when someone I know dies? Is that something you find inevitable to question when you’re playing such an intimate role like this?

Ben Aldridge: It’s funny, but I didn’t think about myself. I was so moved and I had so much empathy for Michael and Kit’s situation. And we had Michael Ausiello on set every day as an executive producer, so there was this constant tethering back to the fact that this is a true story. I think I just felt for them so much.

I don’t know what I’d do, and I hope I don’t have to experience this. But, when I first read the book, I wrote to Michael afterwards and told him that I think this book has taught me to love better. I definitely found it to be a very inspirational love story, for sure. That’s undeniable.

Nick: Another thing you mentioned in the answer before was the Kit used photography to understand the world better. And on the flip side, Michael uses television as a coping mechanism. What role has fiction played in your life to help you cope with something, or to better understand a situation?

Ben Aldridge: I’m really drawn to the theatre, and movies, and reading, because I want to be moved. I want to feel something, and I want to feel exhilarated. That may sound weird, but I really want to be moved to tears if I understood something or if I’ve learned something. Maybe it’s given me something to think about.

That’s why I love watching stuff. And it’s probably part of the reason why I wanted to be a part of this team. To create something that might have an effect on people. Fiction has played a role in my life as an escape, or a means of learning about something you didn’t know before.

Nick: I’d love to wrap it up on a slightly lighter note. I really wanted to point out how impressed I was by your Risky Business like slide into the room during the first Christmas scene. Did you hit that on the first take? Or did you have to do a couple before nailing it?

Ben Aldridge: [laughs] There is a few versions. There was a version where I actually slid off-screen into the next room. We did play around with that a fair bit. But I am going to blow my own trumpet here – it wasn’t scripted. That was my offering. My bit of improv!

We were in the location with socks on for quite a while, and I was sliding around all the time. Then when we started blocking that scene, I wanted to do the slide in this little arrival moment. I am particularly proud that it made the cut! Anytime you do a bit of improv with Michael Showalter [director], whether it’s lines you come up with or he throws at you, anytime it made it into the cut, it was god. It’s a vulnerable thing to try something. Sometimes it doesn’t land, but I was happy with this!

Nick: I was equally as impressed! Ben, thank you so much for chatting with me today. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when I watched it, so I think you’ve created something really special here.

Ben Aldridge: Thank you so much, Nick.

Thank you to Ben, and to Universal Pictures, for the chance to chat about Spoiler Alert – in Australian cinemas February 9.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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