Growing up near Melbourne, Australia, in a little town called Sunbury, Ben Prendergast’s favorite past time was re-enacting scenes from his favorite films. He used to imitate different characters, seeing how closely he could replicate their voices or physicality. When he would sit in a darkened cinema, watching the opening titles of a new film, he would feel a shiver up his spine, the kind that only great cinema can bring, and he would just fantasize about being a part of that world. However, for many years, he only ever saw such an option as a fantasy.
“Coming from a small town, the only things that were available to me were sports and music, so for most of my teenage years that’s what I did. I guess the music was a theatre of sorts, and I would write and perform music with a number of different bands, and as the front man for these bands I would play the character of troubadour or lead singer,” said Prendergast.
However, the day he realized his passion was far more than just a hobby, Prendergast began his acting career, and has since gone on to be internationally sought-after for his talents. Since that time, Prendergast has gone on to become one of Australia’s leading actors, and in 2016 received the Australian Green Room Award for Best Actor for his performance in Simon Stephen’s Sea Wall, the Australian equivalent to a Tony Award. Prendergast calls the experience the highlight of his career.
“Undertaking Simon Stephen’s Sea Wall in 2015 to 2016 and then meeting him in London last year has been a definite highlight. That piece is a modern classic, a monodrama about a father who loses everything. Performing that piece taught me to respect text in new ways, and then meeting and discussing the play with its creator brought a new understanding to what we do as storytellers. Of particular note was an audience member during our tour of Australia in a theatre in Darwin. He was a little rough around the edges, and clearly looked like he’d been dragged to the theatre by his partner. At first, he looked bored and perhaps defiant, but by the end he was on the edge of his seat, deeply moved, and in tears. Later he felt the need to come and embrace me after the show, as though he’d witnessed a confession rather than a performance. Truly special. The shared human experience of theatre is something that no other art form can touch,” he said.
Prendergast’s film resume is also extraordinary. Throughout his career, he has worked on a series of critically acclaimed films and worked alongside Hollywood’s elite. Such examples of this can be seen with his work in Punch Drunk, The Marker, Post Apocalyptic Man, and Predestination, starring four-time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke. No matter what role he takes on, Prendergast makes sure to captivate audiences, and no matter the medium, he completely commits himself to his character.
“Ben has a fantastic work ethic and makes himself available to everyone. He is also a lot of fun, having performed with him in the romantic comedy Midsummer by David Greig, I can say without doubt he knows how to bring rich and impactful experiences to our audiences. His preparation, keen dramatic instincts, and execution of character set him apart from most other male leads, and through the process of rehearsal his transformation into the characters he portrays is stunning. Being able to play both comedy and drama with such impact makes him a fantastically versatile actor and one that audiences love to follow,” said Ella Caldwell, Artistic Director of Red Stitch.
Red Stitch is one of Australia's finest and most prestigious independent actors theatre company, often winning the country’s top accolades, and Prendergast has been a member for many years. It was with this production company that Prendergast won his Green Room Award, and where he often has the opportunity to put on Pulitzer prize-winning plays from the world’s best contemporary playwrights. Prendergast has a high-profile in Australia as a leading male for dramatic and comedic theatre roles, working in main stage and award-winning theatres, and is often looked at for roles all around the world because of his immense talent on stage. No matter how busy he is with film and television projects, he always aims to take on at least one theatre project a year.
“In terms of theatre, it’s my creative home and a continual training ground. I can honestly say that it is what has made me any good as an actor. Spending months with a character in some cases, performing their journey from start to finish in front of a live audience eight times a week does more to fine tune your craft than ten film roles. This is true of my heroes too, Laurence Olivier, Robert De Niro, Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, they all came from theatre and you can see it in their performances,” said Prendergast. “People misunderstand the relationship between theatre and the moving image forms of film and TV. They think they’re unrelated, or somehow theatre is an ‘older’ art form like radio or silent film and that it will somehow be replaced by the moving image. But in truth theatre serves a really important function; that is that you have a real moment happening in front of a real audience. Some people call it ‘empathy training’ in that an audience can safely engage in something that won’t hurt them, and in my thousands of hours on stage I can honestly say that nothing can replace that. It’s magic.”
Beyond film, television, and theatre, Prendergast is also recognizable to many Australians due to his commercial work. As the Australian voice of Mazda, Prendergast’s voiceover work became instantly well-known, and it is a job he just loves to keep doing. Because of the success of his Mazda work, he is now hired without an audition for many voiceover projects.
“I've now worked with Ben on dozens of National advertisements, but most notably for Mazda where he was the national lead in the Mazda 6 and CX5 campaigns. Seriously, Ben is a great guy, a total professional and he works really quickly, it's so rare he makes a mistake. Most artists have the great voice and the good diction, but Ben seems to have a sixth-sense around what will most move the audience. The text tends to jump off the page when he's reading, and to be honest I could listen to him read a phone book. We have had such great feedback from our clients that we book Ben whenever we need someone to truly capture the story surrounding a product or brand launch,” said Craig Stevens from Mazda.
Prendergast’s commercial success as an actor and voiceover artist has spanned over fifteen years, featuring in commercials for Apple, National Australia Bank, Metricon Homes, Beurepaires, Hydralite and Pfizer internationally and many other smaller campaigns. Every commercial he takes on is always enjoyable for the actor, finding that sometimes even a half-minute spot has the power to engage audiences everywhere.
“I love working on commercial projects; they are like tiny snippets of story that require a huge amount of focus over a small period of time. In some cases I get thirty seconds to read a script before I’m performing it for a nation. That kind of pressure requires a lifetime of training and a clear head. In the case of TV commercials, I always focus on who that target market is, their drivers, and then try and pitch a performance at tying what they want with how the product solves that,” Prendergast described.
Undoubtedly, whether he is on a stage, in front of the camera, doing a commercial, or being seen on the big or small screen, Prendergast is an outstanding actor. Audiences can continue to expect quite a lot from this Australian native, and he is more than ready to keep giving them what they want.