As the brooding heart of J.J. Abrams’ iconic ’90s series Felicity, the enigmatic Ben Covington was played to classic teen-angst perfection by a then unknown Scott Speedman. While the show’s creators, a young J.J. Abrams, went on to take over pop culture, and co-creator Matt Reeves just directed DC’s newly released The Batman, its 20-something leads were left to navigate an overwhelming amount of overnight stardom. The attention proved to be a lot for Speedman. Over the next couple of decades, the actor retreated from his heartthrob status, stepping “off the rollercoaster,” while still delivering strong performances in darker series like TNT’s Animal Kingdom.
20 years later, at 46, Speedman finds himself coming into his own personally and professionally. As a first-time dad, he stars simultaneously on a couple of zeitgeist-happy series—perennial hit Grey’s Anatomy and Netflix’s creep-show You—and a couple of much-anticipated projects from two filmmakers on opposite sides of the generational spectrum: the always-intriguing Lena Dunham, for her new film Sharp Stick, and the master David Cronenberg, for his directorial comeback Crimes of the Future—co-starring heavyweights Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux, and Kristen Stewart.
Here, the London-born Canadian discusses bringing his A-game, saying yes more (hello, porn star role!), and learning to let go (“It’s OK, nobody cares”). Just don’t call it The Speedmanaissance.
LEO: Your career has hit quite a stride the last couple of years, I’m curious if you find that getting older has made you easier to cast.
SCOTT SPEEDMAN: Yes and no. Ultimately, I think when I was younger I could have been working like crazy. There’s always gonna be a place for the youth in this business. So I think that was really just me; I took my place out of line a long time ago, and then… it took a little while to get back in line, you know what I mean?
Why do you think you did that? Was it just too much?
Yeah, it was just too much. I was just not mentally prepared. I was mature in some ways and immature in other ways, just… life stuff. Before I sent the [audition] tape down to LA, I’d never been here, and I got cast in that show [Felicity], and that show took off. They gave me the keys to some of the kingdom, and I just didn’t wanna grab it at that age. So I definitely took a major step back. And then you start to get yourself together as you get older, and you go through this, you go through that, you just sort of… There’s an easier way with it that took me a long time to get to. I just think I’m more myself and allowing things to happen, saying yes more often, taking more chances…
Fighting it less.
Do you think you were resistant to the whole ‘teen heartthrob’ of it all?
I don’t know if it was that exactly. I had done a couple of things in Canada, and all of a sudden I was here, and it was just like a huge thing. It was just a lot. It was a lot of energy coming at you. I was 22, and just not ready.
Knowing you a little bit, you’re just not a narcissist. You seem to be resistant to that kind of attention as an actor.
Yeah, for sure. I’ve never seen a red carpet and gone, “Woo, cannot wait to get on that.” [Laughs].
But that can sometimes work against you.
You have to be willing to play that game a little bit.
Play that game, turn your brain off a little bit and just do it—and that was tricky for me. I’m getting better at it now.
There seems to be this thirst for ’90s nostalgia which just isn’t dying out. How do you think being someone whom audiences associate so much with that time, and with this iconic ’90s series, helped you—or hindered you?
Whatever you came out in first seems to be what you’re associated with. That’s always gonna be there, so you just kinda live it. Has it hindered me at all? Sure, you could say so in some ways, but it’s also absolutely what launched my career. I wouldn’t have it without it, so I’m totally in love with that show and that time.
Let’s talk about the David Cronenberg film, Crimes of the Future. Can you tell me a little bit about that, how that came to you and your role in it?
That was one of those ones that just kind of showed up in an email one morning from the producer, who I know from Canada, asking me to be a part of it. You know, you have to re-read it a couple of times because you’re like, “Wait, who’s in it? Who‘s directing it? Is this real?” So the whole time before that, I was just waiting to get fired [laughs]. But that didn’t happen.
The movie itself is definitely a return to that guy’s roots. It’s really a body horror, sci-fi, classic David Cronenberg movie. As for the plot, every time I start to try to describe it, I give way too much away. It’s a convoluted thing that needs to be watched visually to really understand what it’s all about. I think it’s gonna be amazing, I haven’t seen everything so I’m really excited about it, but it’s a tough one to try to dive in to explain. But basically, it takes place in the not-too-distant future, where our pain thresholds have dissolved, and all the things that come along with that. For his fans, I think they’re gonna be real thrilled with this movie.
When you get a script like this, how do you start to break it down to make it comprehensible for yourself?
When I get something like that and I’m not the overt lead, which is Viggo Mortensen, I just read it and read it and read it and read it, and just try to look at what I’m bringing to the table, and what the character I’m playing is bringing to the table, and try to make it as simple as possible, because that’s my job. It’s not that it’s the type of script where you don’t get what’s going on. It’s absolutely understandable that way. But you sound like a crazy person when you try to explain it.
Cronenberg did a film in the ’70s of the same title. Are the two projects related?
They’re only related because I think this was inspired by that, but no, they’re not. That’s a thirty minute short film he did before anything. Before his first, earlier Canadian feature films. He wrote this script years ago as well. It was just something he wanted to revisit. To be honest, I think he thought he was not going to be directing again, and then things happen, and he got the hunger to direct again and this one was sitting there—so that’s how that one came to be, I think.
How fortunate for Cronenberg to return to directing, and you get to be a part of it.
I know. As a Canadian, you have a couple guys you wanna work with, and he was at the top of the list. And to be honest, it’s the best role I’ve had in a movie, probably ever. So I’m real excited to see how it’s coming together.
How long were you shooting in Athens for?
Two months, seven weeks, something like that. Because of the schedule and my role in it and COVID, I had to be there for the whole movie pretty much. And that was amazing. I hadn’t been on location like that in a while, and that was an interesting place to do it. It’s a dark movie. We were shooting a lot of nights. It didn’t take place originally in Athens, but I think something about the city and the ancient elements of the city, and how it’s dilapidated and falling apart in places, made it real interesting to shoot this futuristic movie.
I would think it’d be intimidating to be new on a set with two people like Cronenberg and Mortensen who have worked together and collaborated for decades. Was that hard to penetrate? Was it intimidating?
It wasn’t. It was super cool. Cronenberg has an aura like he’s gonna be this real serious guy—intimidating, quiet, and stern and stoic—and he was the exact opposite of that. He was very open and collaborative, and frankly, sweet and nice. The way he works is just so unique, and I’d never experienced that. I was playing a pretty volatile character who was all over the place, and he really rarely, if ever, said no to anything I was doing. Not so much dialogue, but just behavior.
But in terms of the intimidating thing, not so much. I think I go into denial that I’m doing these things—and then I showed up early to set on my first day, and Viggo and Kristen Stewart were doing a scene together. I was watching them work, and was like, ‘Holy shit, you really gotta bring it, cause those guys are bringing it hard.’ [Laughs]. So, that was a bit of a rude awakening, but in a cool way. I mean, that’s what you want.
I’ve been doing a lot of television and doing a lot of movies, and having an athletic background when you’re playing with those kinds of people, it brings your level up too. So, that’s exciting. It does get intimidating. It’s just everything. It’s exciting, intimidating, nerve wracking, but ultimately you’re gonna be better having worked with these people.
Mortensen is a good example of someone who was able to have a career without playing along. At all. [laughter]
And that’s just very innocently natural to who he is. He really just is—more than anyone I’ve ever worked with—he’s just a full on artist. He just is that way. I don’t mean that in a pretentious way at all, it’s just how he interacts with the medium, and how he thinks about the work; there’s just very little self-conscious plotting of careers vibe you get out of that guy at all.
Let’s talk about the Lena Dunham movie, can you tell me a little about that?
That was another thing too that just came along. I talked to her and she wanted me to do this small but pivotal role on her movie—which is something, like we were talking about before, that maybe not too long ago I probably would have said no to or been nervous to take on. It was just very out there; I play this this OnlyFans, very popular, feminist porn star. [Laughs] Yeah, it was out there. But at this point in my career, like we were talking about before, I’m just sort of, ‘Why not, go take a shot…’
Did you have graphic scenes?
I mean, they were on the edge. We worked with an intimacy coordinator for the first time, which was interesting. I felt totally fine, it felt pretty free. I’ve done a bunch of stuff like that now, so it wasn’t crazy. Lena created a great environment. She was awesome. I loved her, loved working with her, she was super cool. She was super sweet and just let me do what I needed to do or wanted to do.
You worked back to back with two filmmakers who could not be more different. How was the experience of going from one to the other?
Well, they’re definitely cut from very different cloths for sure, but actually, the way they work—they’re not as different as you’d think in that way. Their movies, and what they’re trying to make, and what they’re trying to do are very different, but my interaction with them is what I care about. “Is the director gonna allow me to let the dog out?” And both of them were very similar that way, sort of hands-off, enjoying what I was doing, giving me space to do what I needed to do to get there and all that actory stuff. They both create these environments that are rare, frankly, in television and film. David’s been doing it for so long, and Lena too, to a certain degree—just very confident in what they’re doing. So that kind of bleeds over to the experience on set.
Do you have a dream director or actor you have always wanted to work with?
Everybody always says Paul Thomas Anderson. But it’s PTA, Paul Thomas Anderson, for sure. Looking at what he does is just so exciting—but everybody says that. I was watching Ari Aster’s movie Midsommar the other night, and that was blowing my mind. A guy like that who has only made a couple of movies, who looks like he’s trying to figure out his way into other genres, somebody like that would be very cool too.
So obviously TV as a medium has been very good to you. Now you have these two films coming out. Do you have a preference? And how have you seen television evolve?
First, do I have a preference? I think it’s a rare thing, actually, when a movie works, and it pops, and an audience gets it. But for me, just the way I was weaned… Losing the Arclight [Movie Theater, which shuttered its doors during the pandemic] has been a major downfall for my life.
Me too, me too.
Major, major, major, major. So, yeah, there’s something special about movies. And then television—it’s a more personal thing, your characters, you’re doing it for a couple of seasons. The audience, they’re very forgiving and they’re very allowing. You start to know the character, and you start to live in the character more, and it bleeds into your own life a little bit. It’s just a different experience. But in terms of my experience with it, yeah I love movies. Always love movies.
The way television has changed is obviously incredibly dramatic in every way. There’s so much television, there’s so much content. Everybody does everything. Chris Pratt is doing a show and doing huge movies and a huge TV show; it’s just a wild time.
People seem to be getting fixed into certain boxes–’TV actor,’ ‘Movie actor’—less than before.
To a certain degree. My whole goal now is to reach where Walton Goggins exists. He can do a CBS TV show, and then the coolest—The Righteous Gemstones’ Uncle Baby Billy, and then this movie, that movie, and nothing seems to really stick to him, you know what I mean?
Pretty specific reference [laughter]. I’m sure Walton Goggins would be very flattered to know that he’s your goal post.
I think he’s great. He’s around my age, he’s hitting his stride at this point in his career, and I’m just like, “Nothing sticks, you can do whatever.” I’m hoping that for me, that’s what it is. I feel I’m not there yet, but that’s what I’m trying to aim at.
How has becoming a dad changed your perspective on your your career or long term goals?
I just think it all feels like a good time. I don’t know. I certainly feel lucky to be doing that and working at the same time. Having a career right now and having a kid, it all doesn’t feel accidental. It feels all part of the same story in a weird way.
Like you’re coming into your own both personally and professionally.
Yes. You’re there. You’re like, “Okay, I got what everybody goes through”, the anxieties of your late 20s. And mine was—my 30s were a crazy time and not the healthiest time. And you’re like, “Okay, I survived that. I did that.” Now, I’m actually having a long term relationship. I’m having a kid, coinciding with working more and coming back into wanting to work more, and wanting to be part of the business, which I love and all of that. So yeah. It feels all part of the same puzzle.
If you were to go and time travel back to Felicity-era Scott, what would you tell yourself?
Oh man, I would say, take it easy. I look at pictures of me back then, from that time, and I’m like—wow dude, you had nothing to worry about. You should have just relaxed and just gone for the ride a bit more, said yes a bit easier, and just gone on the roller coaster instead of jumping off, probably. But there were a lot of other factors that went into that; I had to deal with life stuff, figuring stuff out, so I don’t really mind that those things happened.
But so yea, I would say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, you’re gonna be fine. It’s OK. Nobody cares.” [Laughs].
CHECK OUT SCOTT
As Lang Daughtery in David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future
As Vance Leroy in Lena Dunham’s Sharp Stick
As Dr. Nick Marsh on season 18 of Grey’s Anatomy
As Matthew Engler on season three of Netflix’s You
As Barry ‘Baz’ Blackwell on TNT’s Animal Kingdom
As James Hoyt in The Strangers
As Ben Covington in JJ Abrams’ Felicity