Paul Ben-Victor

For two years, Paul Ben-Victor played one half of one of Sci-Fi TV's greatest double acts. As Bobby Hobbes, he took the role of an unusual secret agent who had been sacked from most high-profile organizations and put to work at The Agency, a poorly-funded group working deep undercover, but one which manages to acquire the very first invisible agent, Darien Fawkes. Hobbes is partnered with Fawkes, and the pair get on like a house on fire.

Note: There is material missing from this transcript, ie the parts that became the interview printed in Cult Times #78. I've tried my best to make things flow; this is the rest of my conversation with Paul in order.

Starting with the obvious, how did you get cast originally?
I'd worked with the casting people once and they brought me in and I read with Vinnie. Did I go with Vinnie right away? I think I went in first, can't remember if I went in with Vinnie, I think maybe I did. Or maybe not. You know what, I can't remember. But anyway, eventually I went in and met with Vinnie and as soon as I walked in the room, y'know, he's like 6'4", pretty tall, and I'm pretty average height, 5'7", 5'8", so I just stood right up to him, within an inch of his face or wherever I could reach up to and stared up at him and said, 'Oh yeah? What's up with you? What are you gonna do, bigshot?' and they just started cracking up. And Vinnie looked down at me and just started laughing. And we tried to get through the audition and he just kept cracking up. Whatever was going on in there, I was just in his face like a little fireplug, y'know? It was just fun, and I think they tried to get other people because we kept improvizing in the interview and the first audition and they were a little concerned, as well they should be I guess because it never really ended.

Did you know any of the regulars before you started?
I knew Eddie. I'd never worked with anybody else. Eddie Jones I'd known because he lived in an old building I lived in. We were neighbours once and I just knew his face. But that's it.

So did you know any of the cast on a personal level?
Well, Eddie no. I didn't really know anybody on a personal level and I don't watch a lot of TV so I didn't know who anybody was.

What aspects did you push for in the show?
I think we made sure that it was gonna be light-hearted and pretty fun. At least the stuff that I'm in. [He laughs.] But then, y'know, there's a lot of touching and serious moments as well, [so we] sort of serve that as best we can.

It's time to bring the character of Alex Monroe into the equation. To me, her addition seems to dilute the chemistry between all the characters, but particularly Fawkes and Hobbes, which is the thing that really makes the show. Did you feel that was the wrong way to go, that she didn't blend in as well as she could have done, or that she got better as time went on?
We all love Brandy. [He starts erring and umming a lot and mumbling.] There's several reasons why she was brought on and I think… [He laughs and stops again.] Let me be a little more vague with this. No, you know what? There's too many different reasons, y'know? There were too many... Hmmm. Just say 'Paul had a real hard time answering this question. He ummed and ahhed for about 30 minutes and there went the interview.'

With Hobbes spending more time with her than the other characters, I wondered if you could relate better to what happened. I got the impression halfway through that she suddenly becomes 'part of the team'.
I, we, always try to make an effort to make somebody... I try to just dive into the work as wholeheartedly as I can, and get the most out of it. So Brandy and I came up with a lot of little things to sort of take the edge off her character, make her more likeable. They were trying to be creative, bringing another character on, the show was building, they wanted to grow with the popularity and bring on another character, maybe take the load off some of us, and they just did it in a harsh way.

You start to see a shift in the way she's dealt with but you get the impression that she's in alternate episode in an attempt to smooth things out a bit.
Well, her deal was, I think, seven... well, I don't know what it was. But it wasn't a permanent deal. She did a handful and they brought her on to finish the season because they liked her. It was just a little rough around the edges. But we love Brandy and I'd love to work with her again, she was great.

How did she cope with all the improvization?
She was great, she was great.

And how about the writers, getting their work changed?
The stories were there, we didn't rewrite the stories, the stories were all there, we sort of just served the moment. We're sitting there for 20 seconds running somewhere and Vinnie goes, 'Who's cooking pizza, that smells good,' you know what I mean? And 'cause there was pizza in the air I'd go, 'Yeah, let's go get some,' and 'After we get the bad guys, we'll go eat some pizza,' or whatever it is. I'm just making that up. Y'know, we just went with what was going on. If we were walking up stairs for an episode, 20 flights of stairs, and we're bantering about muesli, I don't know. 'Let's get something to eat.'
But [Brandy] was great. We came up with stuff and she had an idea and we'd do it. I remember she and I, we tried to be playful, because I wanted to embrace her character, not make it so harsh. I don't like watching things where people are nasty to each other. And that's where some of the writing started to go and I think that's where it was lacking in some ways. Those were just harsh and bad and offensive. And I said,' God, let's just soften this up a bit.' It's not funny. I've been doing comedy a long time and I know something about comedy.

Do you come from an improv background?
[in my early career] I guess I didn't really curb myself, I didn't edit myself too much. And I've done a lot of little films where they sort of look for you to do that kind of work. It's just kind of the way I worked a lot I guess. A little bit of studying; some of the classes I took were improvizational. I kind of trust my instincts and I just sort of go with them, y'know.

You used to pretend to be a caterer and make coffees for producers in order to get auditions. Did you find you were better remembered if it was a really good or a really bad coffee?
Hey, I don't know if they ever drank this stuff but it was fun. I forgot about those days, I used to do that. You had to find ways to sort of break in, y'know? That's from my old Brooklyn days, try to find ways to cheat and sneak. It's just the way it was, my instinct. That's where it came from.

How do you feel about the end of The Invisible Man? Are you sad to see it go?
Mixed feelings, y'know. Where's it gonna show, this article? In England or here or both?

Both. Cult Times is basically a UK magazine but it does get out to the States as well. It gets all round the world.
Cool. Well, I mean, I am sad to see it go. We were actually at a funeral on Friday, a whole bunch of us. One of the executives at USA passed away, wonderful, wonderful guy, Bob Makoff, who was very much loved by many people for many years. So a lot of the executives and Vinnie was there. Actually, he was the only one of the cast that was there but I hadn't seen him in a couple of months.
We definitely created a family; the stunt guys were down there and some of the props people, some of the crew were down there. You spend a couple of years with them, it becomes a family so you miss that family and that's one of the things that happens in this business, you create a little family when you do these jobs. And it's something that nobody else can really experience or really understand so you take to heart a little bit. So I miss the family, I miss the group, I miss all the fun times we had and a lot of the work I was proud of. But because my character was being sort of diluted, as you say, a little bit, I wasn't anxious to continue that work. And there are definitely other things on the horizon that I'm working on and looking forward to doing, so I had mixed feelings. Sure, I would love to have continued it on some basis but not necessarily forever.

Would you come back to it if another network picked it up?
Yeah, I would definitely come back. Yeah, definitely. I would go to work, of course.

There's an Invisible Man convention coming soon but none of you are going yet. I wondered if you were aware of this...
I heard about it, I heard about it. How did you hear about it?

It came through on the e-mail.
You going?

Well, it's in the States, so in all probability no, I expect I'll be here. Little bit of a money shortage going on.
I don't think I'll be attending that, but I do support it and I think I sent a few things, a few little tidbits for prizes and things like that that they asked me for. I just wanna support those guys as much as possible because they were such a huge part of the show, this fan club that was created called the I-Maniacs, I'm sure you know about them. They're amazing. It was such a huge part of the show, their support, and they wrote reviews every week and the letters were just pouring in daily and they got other people to watch. They were just a fantastic group of people and I stay in touch with several of them and they wanna know what's coming up next and they wanna spread the word. It's a terrific group of people, really great group. And bright, intelligent and informed. They make these great websites on a lot of us. They were half the show as far as I'm concerned.
Plus you really knew who your audience was. It was almost like doing a play because they were online watching the show every Friday and you could literally log on; I didn't but I had people that did and I'd find out what was being said and it was like doing a virtual live play in some weird way. You knew they were there. They had names, they had identities, you know?

How much of the fight work did you do yourself?
Almost all of it. I had a couple of stunt guys that would do a couple of falls, but no, almost all of it. Because I've done a lot of that; I'm in decent shape so I can handle a few moves, y'know? I did quite a bit; I worked with Gary Baxley the stunt co-ordinator a lot and tried to gear it more towards martial art kind of fighting instead of good old Western 'chairs breaking on people's heads'. So I would actually request certain stunt guys to come in. We did this one thing and a bunch of Asian guys came in and these guys were black belt martial artists and they showed me a few moves and I actually had a couple of them come back and worked with a few of those guys because I just liked the way a couple of them really moved and I wanted to emulate and mimic some of their work. So I had a lot to do with the fighting, I enjoyed that.

Was it something you pushed for, wanting to get more involved?
Yeah, I did. I definitely would rehearse it a lot; sometimes we were out there with our shirts off getting all worked up and sweated up, making sure the fight was tight. And I tried to sometimes make them funny and sometimes make them more brutal than they were written. I just sort of again went with my instincts and in watching it I feel it's fun for the character to be this nasty little tough guy who's also very sensitive at times, just to broaden the range of the guy.

It's a running joke in season one that he can't do karate like he claims but then it turns out he can.
He did have a big mouth though. Bobby Hobbes, speaking in the third person all the time. Bobby Hobbes, speaking about myself. That's the third person, right?

Yeah. Do you do that?
In real life? No. That was written. But I definitely would add those wherever I thought appropriate. They weren't all written. I think they were written here and there in the beginning and I said, 'This is funny, this guy always walks around talking, saying his name as if he's not there. Nobody messes with Bobby Hobbes'. And that's funny.

Were you as keen to do some of the invisible stuff as Hobbes was on screen or was it a chore?
No, it was great. I looked forward to it. It was kind of like, 'I wanna get to go on the ride'. Yeah, I definitely enjoyed it.

In Possessed it's a chance for you to go Quicksilver mad too.
Oh really? Is that the one where I go crazy? Is that the one where I pull a rope out on the Chief and make him do push-ups?

Oh, that one. Yeah, I saw that recently, I guess that was kind of wacky. Yeah, that was fun; those silver eyes are not comfortable though.

Is that contact lenses?
Yeah. They're pretty gruesome though.

Only I wear contacts, and I don't have any problems...
These are like metal plates going in your eyes. I mean, they're huge. They're no day at the beach, these things are rough. You wouldn't wanna mess with these; you can't keep them in your eyes for very long, you have to get them out.

Would you like to have had more love interest stuff?
Yeah! I definitely would have liked more of that. Sure. I haven't done a whole lot of that in my day, so I'm always looking to try to become a little more of a guy who gets the girl instead of the guy who gets killed. So yeah, it's always nice to get the girl.

Well, you did get a close encounter with Kimberly Davies' chest.
Is that that blonde girl?

Yeah. Blonde, Australian...
God, was she beautiful. God, was she gorgeous. And I tell you what happened. The day we were shooting the scene when we were working out and whatever, I was so concerned because I was in a tank top and I wanted to be sexy and I wanted to be macho and manly and all that and so I'm sitting there working weights inbetween takes to show my biceps were bulging, right? And I'm pumping up like crazy. And then we get into the scene, and if you work out at a gym for 10, 15, 20 minutes or more, you're gonna sweat.
So I'm pumping like crazy and then I go, 'Okay, wait'. 10 seconds I went outside and pumped up, pumped up some more, come back on, and then I'm playing this scene and I have to make out with this girl and I'm dripping. And I'm like, 'Why am I dripping? I just towelled off...' and then I realized that at the end of the day you're dripping because you had been pumping iron for three hours since breakfast! Every 40 seconds you were running out and doing 10 curls. I just thought I was nervous and everything; I said 'What, I'm not that nervous, we're not naked, I mean, smooch around with the girl'. And it was so embarrassing because I had to get in there; it wasn't as much embarrassing but I was just pissed off with myself that I had put so much emphasis on pumping iron instead of just chilling out, relaxing and being with the girl. And I think it worked because Hobbes is just such an erotic maniac anyway; he was dying to be with her but he couldn't, he had to save his guy and whatever. But she was lovely. God, was she lovely.

So you were keen on having several re-takes on that then.
Yeah, well, I was and I wasn't. I kind of wanted to get it over with at the same time.

So what can we see you in next?
Well, I'm waiting on a couple of things to come through, a couple of features that I'm waiting to see if they're really going to happen but the one thing that I'm most excited about is a movie I wrote called Hut Scramble and I wrote it… my mom is a playwright, and I co-wrote it with my mom and another good friend of mine who's a film writer. One was Cool Runnings with John Candy, that big bobsled movie, he wrote that. He's one of the writers on this new Cuba Gooding, Snow Dogs I think it's called.
We wrote this thing together and we're gonna shoot this I think in the next four to six months and it's just a quirky little spoof of my life that I wrote a few years ago and my best friend for 25 years, from Brooklyn, a friend of mine who's a commercial director, he's gonna direct it. My cousin, who's a producer and an advertising executive is gonna produce it. It's a big labour of love between a bunch of us and we're just calling in favours from all our friends, actors that I've worked with through the years, and we're gonna put this little comedy together and it's gonna be a blast. Loads of wacky, crazy family dramedy of some kind. But that's what I'm most excited about that's sort of immediately happening.

Would you consider doing more Sci-Fi, anything you fancy guest-starring in?
I've been a little more choosy than I have been in the past. I mean, before the show I would pretty much go job to job and go out and audition for whatever was out there, little movies, big movies, small parts, big parts, y'know, just go to work. That was my motto in life, the ethic was to keep working and I enjoyed doing that. This is the first time that I've sort of pulled back and said 'Now let's just slow down. Let's not take off and go out of town for two months if it's something that won't be a positive move for your career'. So I'm trying to be a little more choosy and look for those sweet, prime roles wherever they are. But not necessarily get involved in something that nobody's going to see or it's not really going to promote good work. I'll go anywhere if the project is well-respected and well-written. And those roles are coveted roles. They're hard to get, there's a lot of competition for those roles, so it's a bit of a change for me to sort of pull back and go, 'Wait a minute, let's just really focus in and try to get the good ones.'

Maybe you should go back to the coffee.
[He laughs] It might be time to do a little of the routine. I am doing that in my own home which is fun. What I'm doing now is I've got a new place here in town and I'm gutting it, remodelling it and that's gonna be a six-month job.

So definitely keeping busy in some form then.
Yeah. I've got a website that I'm launching with this terrific company and… what else are we doing here? Oh, I think I'm gonna direct a little short. I'm just starting work on this thing. I'll let you know more about it when it happens. I'm working with this writer friend of mine, I think I'm gonna direct this short with him and another actor, this great little play that he wrote, make a little movie out of it.

One last question, where does your surname come from?
We made it up. My mom made it up actually. I had to change it from my original name because there was another guy in the Screen Actor's Guild with the name; it doesn't matter what that is, I like to just stick with Ben-Victor. So I had to add an initial, like a middle initial to change it from what it was. So my mom thought, my dad's name is Victor and in Hebrew Ben means son of Victor, like Ben Guerion. Israeli guys use Ben, y'know. So my dad's name is Victor and Ben means 'son of' in Hebrew and she'd seen it in some phone book where somebody had taken; his name was like Mark Ben-Susan, he took his mom's name and called his last name Ben-Susan. She thought that was kind of neat, so she thought what about Ben-Victor? That sounds great. It just sounded good. It was tight, rugged… let's go with that. And I also wanted something very unique. I thought 'If I'm gonna do this acting business, I wanna have a unique name.' And it does make people raise an eyebrow. People have made all kinds of nicknames out of it. I've gotten some doozys. Pinball Victor was one. PB and J, Peanut Butter Victor, Paul Ben Dover, that's a good one. Ben Laden recently. Ben Laden Victor, whatever, you know. I've gotten a bunch of different ones.

But you've never had to change your first name.
Paul? No, no, that stuck.

That makes me happy, you see.
Exactly; that's yours, right? It's a good one.

Thanks. I'm kind of attached to it.
It's a good name. Actually, when I was a kid, you know, Paul McCartney. Everybody was in love with Paul McCartney, you know, all the guys, but that I had his name, it was like I thought I was him. 'We're the same, I'm you, we're the same guy!' Did you go through that at all? You're probably much younger than me.

Well, I'm 26, so how does that compare?
Well, I'm older than you, so I don't know. But growing up, were The Beatles big when you were a kid?

Well, obviously I'm aware of them, but it was a long way before my time.
But I was just thinking, in England, it would just be a national pastime, that you have to grow up with crumpets and tea and The Beatles, know what I mean?

I hate tea.
I don't blame you, having it shoved down your throat every day. Recently I've fallen in love with tea. But I put a ton of milk and honey in it, I don't know if you guys do that in England.

Oh, it's been known. I just stick to lemonade usually. Well, that's all the questions.