In conversation with Ben Perkins, Film & TV Children's Acting Coach

"You can't separate Redroofs from my career in any way"

Floated Image Ben pictured alongside Tom Holland, Naomi Watts and J. A. Bayona on the set of The Impossible (2012).

Ben Perkins first heard of Redroofs when he was just seven years old. Today, he uses the lessons he learnt in his classes to coach young actors on major film sets, including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, It, and A Monster Calls, and has been publicly thanked by the kids he's worked with on press tours and at award shows, including mentions on Good Morning America and in Tom Holland's Spiderman BAFTA acceptance speech. 'You don't really know what an influence you're being', Ben says. 'You just try and be the best that you can be to help the kids'.

Ben thinks back to his years at Redroofs. 'It was the time of my life, really', he remembers. 'We had this sort of freedom, and I'm not even sure it was necessarily designed. It was full of a lot of love and community. Because it was a family run business, that came through into the school, into the pupils'.

'The love that there was in the Redroofs environment, and with the respect that Sam and June and Carolyn had for you... That made you feel trusted, therefore you were growing in confidence and that made you feel capable. I think the three most important things for an actor are those'.

The family ethos of Redroofs and the environment that it fostered is something that Ben remembers fondly and has carried with him into his career. ''I love the kids I work with - that is my own character, but me coming through a school like that made me realise how important that environment was. It was like, "Here's an environment that's safe. People love you". You got to express yourself. Everybody came away from Redroofs with a lot of friendship, imagination, and confidence'.

"Everybody came away from Redroofs with a lot of friendship, imagination, and confidence"

Ben working with Lewis MacDougall on the set of A Monster Calls (2016).

Leaving Redroofs, Ben wanted to be a film actor, and he became heavily involved with student films at the London International Film School and the National Film and Television School. For every on-camera role he booked, Ben asked to get involved with off-camera tasks too to gain as much experience as possible. 'That led me to working on this super low-budget feature film. I ended up literally being the first AD (Assistant Director), the art director, etc', he laughs.

Having gained some experience, another opportunity opened up through old Redroofs friend Anna Winslet. 'One of Anna's friends was at NFTS (the National Film and Television School) doing the Producer course, and she asked me if I would come on as Production Manager for her graduation short. It was a proper little short film with a decent budget. We had Imelda Staunton in that film and ended up winning quite a few awards. I loved it', he remembers. Joining the same producer on her next project for Channel 4, Ben got a chaperone license to help minimise costs.

Having been out of contact with Redroofs for years, a coincidental run-in was about to change the course of Ben's career. 'My best friend, Rachel, from Redroofs bumped into Carolyn who happened to ask after me; I hadn't been in contact with Redroofs for quite a long time. Rachel said, "He got a chaperone license last week", and Carolyn said, "Oh, tell him to pop along to the office at Pinewood. We're looking for chaperones because we've got 70 kids on Harry Potter"'.

'That is basically where my coaching was born', says Ben, thinking back to his early chaperoning experiences on the Harry Potter films. 'As a chaperone I was watching directors tell the kids things. As a kid, you go, "yeah, yeah, sure", but I was looking at them thinking... you haven't got a clue what that guy just said to you. So I would run in to the background kids and tell them, "Look, this is what he meant". Because of the ethos that's totally part of me, which I realised does come a lot from the family aspect of Redroofs, you really care about the kids. You just try and help them because you can see that they're out of their depth'.

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Ben working with Lewis MacDougall on the set of  A Monster Calls (2016).

Following Ben's experience on Harry Potter, the team behind the long running CBBC series Tracy Beaker, which starred Redroofs student Dani Harmer, needed a chaperone to go to Prague for a new TV show. 'I somehow ended up going off to Prague, not having done anything like that before, as a chaperone for this TV show for about six months. That then became a career. I jumped from chaperone job to chaperone job for a few years'.

"She rings me out of the blue and says, "This big movie is going on in Thailand. Would you come and be the chaperone and my assistant?". I said, "Sure!""

On one job, Ben became friendly with the AD department, using his previous film experience to help them out wherever possible. The team from this job lead him onto his next project as a chaperone and 3rd AD on Nanny McPhee Returns, and it was here that Ben was first introduced to the Acting Coach job title. 'They bought in this lady called Celia to acting coach for the kids. I had never even seen an actual acting coach on set. I had no idea they even existed', he says. Coincidentally, Celia herself came to tutor at Redroofs a short while later. Having watched Ben working with the kids, Celia asked if he would be interested in assisting her if a job called for it. 'About eight months later she rings me out of the blue and says, "I've got this job, The Impossible. This big movie is going on in Thailand. There's three boys. Would you come and be the chaperone and my assistant?". I said, "Sure!"'.

The Impossible, which was released in 2012, stars Marvel actor Tom Holland in his first ever onscreen role. When Celia had to leave the project early, Ben assisted the writer who had stepped in for the first half of the shoot, but when the writer left for another project Ben was left as the sole acting coach on a very challenging film. 'That was Tom's first film and my first film as an acting coach, so it was like a baptism of fire for both of us. It was really tough. It was six months in mud. It was hard grafting. But there were beautiful weekends on Thai beaches with loads of really nice people which helped, and I ended up in this beautiful friendship with Tom Holland'.

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Ben working with Tom Holland on the set of The Impossible (2012).

'So that's how I ended up being a coach', Ben sums up. 'I can't take Redroofs out of that equation in any way because it's the ethos. All of those things are what I use day to day... with a few tidbits on acting', he jokes.

It is not just the ethos that Ben took from Redroofs into his career. 'I've developed my own technique which I call Three Words', Ben says, explaining how he adapted what he learnt in a drama exercise called 'Speak Your Thoughts', created by Redroofs' Sam Keston, into his own coaching. 'When you get good at that technique all you need to say is those words and the tears will be there'.

'Sam was also the first person to introduce me to music', Ben recalls, discussing the use of music to help bring emotion to the surface in his Three Words method. 'She used to play a piece of music and we'd do an improv - she used to play Suzanne Vega'.

'I used the same technique with a girl who was the lead in a TV show a few years ago', Ben continues. 'I did a workshop with the Speak Your Thoughts/Three Words technique, and she won the breakthrough BAFTA that year and won a BAFTA for that performance. The roots of that technique are thanks to Sam. So basically, I built a career on one lesson in 1987', he laughs.

'You can't separate Redroofs from my career in any way', Ben realises, thinking back through his history in the entertainment industry, from the connections that found him his first jobs in film to the methods that he uses as a coach.

"Those little breakthroughs - where a kid looks at you as a teacher and says, "I did it!" - that, for me, is the best bit of it... that's the magic"

Ben takes a moment to think about his favourite part of the job. 'I was working on a film with a young guy called Jack, and he's like, "I can't cry, I can't". I said, "Just give it time, give it time"', he begins. 'I had them by themselves for the first five or six days of rehearsals, then Jack turns around to me after he's cried in this rehearsal and says, "Oh my God, I didn't know I could do that!". That happened with three of the kids on that film. I said, "There you go, you see? You can do it!"'.

'Once they've had that breakthrough it's always there, and that is some kind of magic. Those little breakthroughs - where a kid looks at you as a teacher and says, "I did it!" - that, for me, is the best bit of it. There's a lot of other cool things as well. But that's the magic', he says. 'There is a magic thing about acting I just love. I just love the camaraderie and the magic of storytelling and of acting'.

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Ben taking a selfie with Jackson Robert Scott on the set of It (2017).

Speaking of camaraderie, Ben's thoughts drift to the friendships that he has made over his career. 'The first two days on Swallows and Amazons the parents were all invited to the workshops, as long as they participated. I wouldn't have silent observers. That was something that broke boundaries down, and we all made this bond in the first couple of days that lasted throughout the film. I have been surprised by those friendships, just what a joyful experience it can be'.

'They're like, second family friendships', he explains. 'In any film, when you're six months down the line, everyone's tired and getting exhausted. If you don't have friendship and honesty between people the film doesn't work. The people I've met on this journey have been amazing. It's such a nice industry from that respect'.

"It's all in your power"

With every film he worked on, Ben used his position on set to soak up everything going on around him. 'Right at the beginning I was like, "I'm on Harry Potter", you know? I used to watch as much as I could, get as close as I could to the action, try and absorb what the adult actors were doing, try and see how the directors were communicating with the kids, just try and analyse it all', he says. 'As I moved up in the departments I got closer and closer to that action, so then I'm in this hugely privileged position where I've been 2ft away from Naomi Watts or Sigourney Weaver giving their all in a performance, and see how that's done'.

'I see the camera techniques, I see the camera language, you're in meetings and you just absorb all of that information, and then it's all in your power'.

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Ben taking a selfie with Bill Skarsgård on the set of It (2017).


Photos: Shared for Redroofs' use by Ben Perkins

Article written by: Sasha S Eastabrook