Stratford-born actor Ben Woods is up for an 'Offie' award
Actor Ben Woods tells Gill Sutherland about how treading the RSC boards as a youngster led him into an acting career – and how his latest role as young Scrooge has seen him become a finalist for a prestigious Offie theatre award.
There’s tons of theatre awards about – your Olivier, Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard… These big guns are all very well, but it’s the annual Offie Awards which has Herald arts on tenterhooks currently.
You see Stratford’s very own Ben Woods is up for the prestigious award this year – with the winners being announced on 8th March at a do at Battersea Arts Centre.
The Offie Awards were established ten years ago to recognise the talent involved in independent off West End theatres across London. More than 80 theatres participate in the awards, with around 400 productions being considered.
How brilliant then that Ben was nominated, along with 13 others, for the ‘male performance in a supporting role’ category for his performance as young Scrooge in A Christmas Carol which ran at the Bridge House Theatre SE20 at the end of 2019. In January he learned that he had been put forward as one of three finalists.
Telling Herald arts about it, Ben says: “It’s an extraordinary thing! I’ve got an award ceremony to go to. Everyone’s saying that I’ve got to write an acceptance speech just in case I win. But I don’t know if I want to jinx it!”
Ben grew up in Stratford, where he started his acting career playing the young Duke of York in Richard III at the RSC aged 12.
Speaking about his first steps treading the boards, he says: “My first acting role was playing Joseph at the Broad Street Primary nativity aged six.
“I auditioned for the RSC maybe three or four times through open casting calls and I got to know their children’s casting director Barbara Roberts. In 2003, because I had been in several times to audition, she actually contacted my mum and said she had a part for me, which was the Young Duke of York, and could I go in to audition... I got the role and that was my first professional acting job. To me it was the best thing since slice bread. We took it on tour to Newcastle.”
Ben says he was encouraged by his fellow cast members to believe that he had the talent to make an acting career possible. So at 18 he auditioned and won a place at Mountview, where he did a BA in acting and graduated in 2012.
However it was two years before Ben would find work as an actor. He explains: “I ended up working as a fine jewellery salesman on Bond Street. I had a friend in the industry that worked in the diamond trade and he offered me the job.
“It’s funny because I feel like actors are innately very good salespeople. I mean my suit was my costume and the shop floor was my stage. The money was great and the experience was lovely but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
After a nerve-wrecking five recalls, Ben ended up landing a role in the epic Netflix series Borgia. Ben picks up the story: “So that was my first job out of drama school. I was still working on Bond Street when I got a call from my agent saying ‘you’ve got the job’, and the next day I flew to Prague at 6am for a five-month shoot. I played the pope’s grandson Aurelio Borgia, and it was just an amazing time and became a home away from home and the family that I had over there I’m still very close to.”
Ben’s good fortune continued: “On the way back from shooting Borgia I got a role in a film called Chosen with Harvey Keitel, a World War II thriller and we filmed that in Romania. It was a beautiful story that needed to be told.”
Since then Ben has done a lot of theatre and the odd small part in TV.
What would winning the Offie mean to him?
“Oh my gosh, just that level of recognition. It’s a big deal for an actor. You don’t do this to get recognition, but it’s someone saying to me ‘you’re doing a really great job keep doing it’. Now I’ve got goosebumps thinking about it!”
Go Ben, Stratford is rooting for you!