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::EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW::
LE Newsletter - April 15, 2004

  Interview with Benz Antoine

Benz Antoine
speaks on being a Canadian Black actor, the cancellation of the dramatic series, Blue Murder, and one his latest upcoming projects The Maple Leaf that focuses on Canadaís identity crisis.  Benz is also working on an upcoming release of his short film entitled Decorating 101 and his feature documentary Decorating 101: 21 Questions about Men Women & Relationships.

Benz first realized that he had caught the acting bug, while ironic, when he was shooting a music video for a rap group called
Da Freshman, originally signed to MCA.  When passers-by asked if the set was a movie shoot, it struck him.  People thought he was an actor in a movie. And heís never turned back. 

Securing a role on Global's recently cancelled Blue Murder as Det. Jim Weeks makes Benz a recognizable face in the Canadian landscape.  His other credits include a part in Romeo Must Die with Jet Li and the late Aaliyah; Gothika starring Halle Berry; and in the TV-movie Icebound, starring Susan Sarandon.

LE:  Blue Murder has recently been cancelled.  I thought this was a successful Canadian series. 

BA:  Somebody said that there wasnít an audience for Blue Murder and a journalist was quoted as saying ďyeah like four people were watchingĒ.  Thatís the attitude right there.  Regardless of whether you think the show is wack or not, that should not be your position.  Your position should be a comment on what is happening and in a more positive light.  It doesnít help the industry for Blue Murder to be cancelled.   

LE:  Who do you hold responsible for Blue Murder being cancelled?

BA:  I think the real reason has nothing to do with Blue Murder or Global or anybody.  Itís the attitude that we have as Canadians from the onset.  Iím actually doing a documentary on this Ė itís called The Maple Leaf.  My premise is that each and every one of us has an imaginary invisible tattoo of a maple leaf on our foreheads.  And we act accordingly.  In other words, we always give it up that we are Canadian.  Not in ways that make us proud, in a way that makes us second place all the time. Weíre not always competing to be #1, weíre always accepting that we wonít be #1.  Thereís a guy in Montreal named Denys Arcand who has an Oscar for shooting a movie in his backyard.  The Quebecers are different than Canadians.  Arcand makes movies about his reality, his world, his friends, his people Ė and they donít care about anything else and therefore they succeed.

LE:  Itís because itís real and they embrace who they are.

BA:  Well, there are bad things with that too.  But there are good things. Iíd rather be real and abrasive sometimes than be like the rest of Canada.  The rest of Canada doesnít really have an identity and so what do you expect from someone.  Why should someone tune into Blue Murder as opposed to Law & Order?  Because that is the choice. 

LE:  That brings me to another circumstance. Richard Leacock is a co-star in the series ďDocĒ that is filmed completely in Toronto and airs at least once a week in Canada Ė yet no one knows who he is.  He canít walk alone anywhere in the southern U.S. without being mobbed because it is such a big series there.  Yet again, no one here knows who he is.  Thatís why I was so happy to see him get a ReelWorld Trailblazer Award as it is Canada that is recognizing his efforts. 

BA:  That show is very specific.  Once again, itís a certain group of American people, not even all of America, just one section, because of one guy, Billy Ray Cyrus.  Heís not even an actor but it pays off because there are people that watch it religiously and heís really decent in it.  He has shortcomings but that makes him real. 

LE:  What is that about the Canadian public that doesnít embrace its own? 

BA:  Itís not on the public, itís on the media.  Media is the #1 teacher.  When you are making product, youíre already passing the buck, youíre already saying ďOh well, I donít have enough money to do this so Iím going to do that.Ē  And then you expect people to go out and watch it with that attitude.  Itís not the public, they will watch actually.  I never even watched Canadian TV until I got booked on Blue Murder.  The only thing I remember was Traders.  I remember thinking this is a good show.  I remember not caring or even knowing where it was from.  Then I remember Neon Rider when I was young.  I remember watching the guy and heís got his horse and heís doing his thing.  If something has heart, people will watch it.  So, itís a catch 22.  Weíre saying if people would watch, then we would get more viewers and more money Ö we have to start here (points to heart).  We have to find a way to make it with less money, more integrity and get those people to watch. 

LE:  That goes back to the identity thing.  Everyone second-guesses themselves just for being Canadian.  Like itís not enough.  It is enough and in fact itís celebrated in many parts of the world. 

BA:  I donít think that we have a star system either.  That all ties into that ďmaple leafĒ attitude.  That weíre not good enough.  But they can take Jim Carrey and make him a star.  They donít actually come and take people, these people actually leave.  They donít really know anything about us still. 

LE:  I do think Americaís eyebrows are up though because Iím getting more and more U.S. executives in entertainment asking to be on my distribution because they want to know whatís going on here, Iím assuming. 

BA:  I think this is funny.  Michie Mee was just as good as MC Lyte was back in the day.  Bottom line, they know how to make their stars.  They make them stars.  We donít know how to do that. 

LE:  They also have a history of making stars.  Weíre relatively new to it.

BA:  But what about Quebec?  Quebec has stars.  Iím asking why are they able to do it.  So, itís not about being American or Canadian because technically they are Canadian.  Itís the belief that they can make it happen amongst themselves.  Toronto has enough to make things happen.  We will bow down to 50 Cent but are we going to give love to Choclair and say ďyo dog, that was a good trackĒ?  But if Choclair gets signed in the States Ö then the love will be given.  As long as the Americans are backing you, the love is given.  If the Americans are not backing you, theyíre like Ďyeah, so it came back here and nothingís working (sarcastically)í. 

LE:  Why?

BA:  Because we donít have the belief that we are somebody.  You do a show in the States and you are a star.  They say - ok this is the next star.  Theyíre always looking for that star.  90% of the time, it doesnít work.  They put a guy in our face like Josh Hartnett.  Me, I look at this guy and say what can he do?  Heís in over his head, heís in a big movie with Harrison Ford but what can he do?  Heís a boy.  But it didnít work.  It doesnít work on everybody.  But they try to do it for everybody.  If you stay here, you can be stuck.  Mike Bullard got cancelled.  Whatís the difference between Mike Bullard and David Letterman?  As soon as you start moving towards that brash or American attitude and youíre by yourself, and because Canadians donít like that, the masses will win.  How can you not have Mike Bullard on the air?  How does that work exactly?  What are we thinking now?  The guy in marketing for Mike Bullard Ė I have yet to be offered, called, emailed or anything about getting tickets to go there.  Meanwhile, when I watch that show, they always say, free tickets call this number.  And thereís always something going on.  Iím saying Iím here. 

LE:  So you think that the people even as deep as the staff of recruiters for guests on the show are looking for American guests?

BA:  Yes, theyíre looking for the American guest.  But itís that attitude Ė that ďmaple leafĒ attitude.  Itís in every facet, not only entertainment.  The guy whoís doing your marketing, he doesnít think outside the box.  You are a professional in your field.  If Iím on a show and Iím given a scene that doesnít work for me because it has maple leaf written all over it, I say Ďno, but this is how itís going to beí.  And itís a big struggle.  You have to beat the director, the editor, and the network.  Everyoneís got this mentality, all you can do is represent yourself.  What Iím saying everybody that is Canadian has either submitted to or is the cause of the reason why.  We donít dream. 

LE:  If you have one person that doesnít believe in their identity, they will probably not be successful.  If you have an entire country that feels that way, there is never going to be a formula for star power. 

BA:  The Prime Minister at the time, Jean Chrťtien bows down to Bush.  Bush didnít even thank him and heís bowing down, kissing ass.  That pretty much says it all.  Actually, the Quebecers have the right idea, it just doesnít fit into the agenda of the rest of Canada.  Iím from and live in Quebec and know everything thatís happening over there and theyíre annoying.  In fact, French is my first language.  They want to separate and you know what?  They will eventually Ė even if it takes years.  Theyíre just not smart enough yet to realize whoís going to help them do it.   The real reason why itís easier for them in Quebec is the language.  They canít fit in to the American culture.  They donít want to learn the language.  Itís because they feel rejected, thatís why theyíre so aggressive. 

LE:  Have you experienced any unique circumstances being a Black Canadian actor?  Do you feel set apart from other actors in Canada?

BA:  Yeah, of course.  I was talking about that the other day with Joel from Blue Murder.  If I was a 5' 10" white guy, I would get to audition "x" number of times.  But me being me, I get to audition 1/5 of that.  So, I have to be sharper to make sure that I get it.  If I get it, then it's easy for me to succeed in the game.  But I have to book it.  And then when  you're the Black choice, but they don't know if they're going "Black".  So, you do your thing and you get the callbacks.  You're the man,  you're hot.  And then they say, you know, I don't know whether we're going to go Black.  That's the reality.  I don't think that any White guy has to go through that same thing Ė I don't know if we're going to go White on this one.  I embrace it.  The agent is great but it's the producers and whether they are interested in seeing you or are they really looking at you.  You know when you're really being looked at.  You know by the size of the role, by the project, if you're really being look at.  Not that you do it differently but you take it with a grain of salt. 

LE:  If there were no limits or obstacles to doing what you want to do, what would you be doing?  Money, nothing stands in your way Ė what would you do?

BA:  Writing and directing my own movies. 

LE:  Do you have any interests outside of that? 

BA:  I believe very strongly in the things that we were talking about before.  Canadians having no confidence in themselves and us Blacks having no confidence in ourselves.  Last week I was discouraged because I haven't worked in a couple of months.  I put on BET and I see Jay-Z "big pimpin', spending cheez" and macking the hos and the cuties and it's all love.  Me?  I'm a fairly successful guy.  I'm a successful 30 year old.  I'm happy.  So, I shouldn't be discouraged by that.  But I'm looking at him thinking I'm really far from what I'm meant to do.  So, that image is not working for me and I'm more discouraged.  So, I flip the channel and I go to Biography Ė A&E.  And what do I see?  Bruce Lee.  So, I sat down discouraged, put on BET and got more discouraged and then I put on Bruce Lee and was instantly energized and inspired.  I stood up and went out and typed my proposal and did what I had to do because there's always hope.  My point is that I believe very strongly that BET, through no fault of their own, is a negative influence of Black people.  I would be alone standing here but I donít care - I don't give a damn because I'm Canadian. 

LE:  I totally agree with you. 

BA:  The kids see those images and they want to be that.  It's not bad in and of itself if there were other choices being offered.  You can't have gospel on Sunday morning, then news at 11 and then prime time is always 50 Cent, always the hot flavour, with the bling.  These guys don't want to even be role models Ė it's not even their fault.  50 Cent says "I can't believe Reebok made a deal with a psycho."  It's not his fault.  Corporate America says deal for him, no deal for Common, no deal for Lauryn.  That's the bad part of it.  The kids are becoming that way. 

LE:  How would you like to be remembered?  What do you hope people go away after meeting you saying?

BA:  I hope that they go away saying that I am a good actor.  In other words, I want people to go see a movie because of me.  I go see movies when I hear that it's Pacino.  I want one person to go see something that I did because of me.  Or in part because of me.  Or, this guy did a movie before and it was good and I know this one's going to be good too.  Or this guy's witty, or something.  Because that's what it's about at the end of the day.  It's about pleasing the audience. 

Iíd like to be known for striving for excellence.  As well, a good husband and a good father.