The stars of ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ talk about their new Disney+ series.
Tony Hale and Kristen Schall join their co-stars to talk about the new series that’s based on the book by Trenton Lee Stewart.
In ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ Tony Hale plays a dual role, Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain. Benedict’s lieutenant is “Number Two” (Kristen Schaal), but the real stars are the young actors playing the kids that are sent on an adventure by Mr. Benedict. The stars of the show recently took some time to talk to Moviefone about their new series.
Tony Hale discussed playing a dual role in the series.
Moviefone: Would you mind describing Benedict?
Tony Hale: Yeah. Well, kind of stepping into the show, I think what was most exciting and most challenging was kind of playing twins. So, that was kind of daunting at first. But Mr. Benedict, his whole story I'm crazy about, because as you know, the show starts off with this global crisis that's going on that's sending all this fear and anxiety. No one can kind of put their finger on where it's coming from, and my character, Mr. Benedict, sends these four kids out to find the source.
Which you might've already heard, but what I get the most excited about, these kids don't have wild magical powers, their super power is their intellect, their creativity, their empathy, and their uniqueness. I feel like after the year we've had, those are superpowers. Those are things that are going to make a difference, and Mr. Benedict is the one who encourages them to use those things.
MF: You're playing these two roles and Mr. Curtain is so elegant and straight-laced, and in the first episode, I'm watching you walk around as Benedict with your neck way out and I kept thinking that has to be giving him a sore neck.
Hale: Yeah. Let me tell you right now, your assumption is correct. It was not comfortable, because he's so full of life and so affable and a little bit Willy Wonka-esque, just kind of a little bit all over the place. I wanted his posture to be very different than Curtain's, because Curtain is very stoic, very cold, very uncomfortable, but Benedict, it was comfortable to play him, but his posture, man, was rough, because he kind of turns into this little bit of a hunchback. At the end of the day, it's like, all right, I got to do some Pilates to kind of snap it back.
MF: Curtain's got this beautiful, completely black beard, but then Benedict's got that great mop of hair. Which one did you spend more time in the makeup chair having to get ready for?
Hale: Ooh, great question. Ironically both. Both spent a lot of time. That wig is fantastic. I love that wig and I just love how free and wild it is, but Curtin, he almost had this, almost if you looked close, it was like doll-like hair. It was very perfect and they added pieces in it to kind of give it a little bit of more pompadour feel. But it took as long, because also in makeup his beard was darkened, his face was kind of a little more tanned. He's had a lot of facials, I'm sure that Curtain, so his skin had to look really good. He goes to get some work done a lot, so he had to work pretty good.
MF: What's it take for you as an actor, as you're playing these two roles in the same show, and I won't give away what we learn about them, but you're playing these two actors, is it tough for you to completely put one out of your mind so you can focus on the other?
Hale: Yeah, I love that question. I think what makes it easiest for me is if I can find parts of myself within the characters. So for instance with Benedict, I consider myself a pretty hopeful encouraging being, and that was very much a part of Benedict, so I resonated with that. There were other things I didn't resonate with, but I resonated with that. Then with Curtin, yes, he's very maniacal, but he also feels misunderstood. I've had moments in my life where I felt misunderstood, and he's very sarcastic and my humor tends to go to a sarcastic place.
So, you have to find those moments of resonance in order, I guess, to not feel like you're putting on one and putting on the other, but you're just kind of living different parts of yourself when you're doing it. If that makes sense.
Kristen Schaal talks about her character Number Two.
Moviefone: Could you describe your character Number Two?
Kristen Schaal: I can. She's very smart. She probably would've joined Mensa, but it wasn't smart enough for her. She's a little bit of a loner. I think she kind of grew up her whole life on her own, by herself, not really connecting to other people until she met Benedict and his crew. She's very capable. How else would she have so much time to learn woodworking and all these skill and hobbies and fighting crafts that she knows? So yeah, she's a very smart, capable loner.
MF: She's very intimidating in the first episode, when we see her as kind of the test proctor. Was that fun to play and mess with the kids as you're doing that?
Schaal: Yes. Really fun. I loved every second of it. There was a bit though, and it got cut out of the pilot. There's this one of the sweet little... He's so sweet. He was so little that he actually lost a tooth during the shoot of the pilot. The medic came over. Oh my God. I was like, "Could you get any more adorable?" He had a line that I cut him off a couple of times because I was steamrolling through the kids. The AD pointed out, "You keep rolling over this seven-year-old's line." I was like, "Oh!" I ran over to him like, "I am so sorry! I apologize!" He was taken aback. He got his line in, but it got cut anyway, unfortunately. He's in the first row on the right in the back a little bit. Oh my God. They were all so cute.
MF: I'm hooked, and I've read a lot of other people as adults totally hooked on this and dying for the next episodes to come out. Was that something that you expected? How is it as a cast member seeing that reaction?
Schaal: Okay, well that's good to know. I didn't know that was happening. Yay! Oh, good! I wasn't sure how it was landing. I look at reviews a little bit, but I couldn't really... you never know how people are feeling about something until you go to Comic-Con. That's the only time I see an audience and feel an audience and be like, "You watch the show, you liked it." Otherwise it's just going out in an abyss. My mom, my parents were here and they liked it a lot. So that was great. If it's something that you can sit down with your kid and watch, you nailed it.
MF: You get to do some action in this. What's the training like that for you?
Schaal: None. There was none. The training was sort of non-existent. There was a stunt coordinator. But we would do it before we would shoot the scene, he would sort of show me how to do it just because with COVID and everything, and time. But it was so fun. I mean, give me action every time. That's a dream. This face and body are usually not allowed to touch the action stuff. So when I get a little taste, I really enjoy it.
MF: But you've gotten to do that kind of stuff before. I assume you're on wires a little bit in the 'What We Do In The Shadows' bit that you're in, or maybe that's all post stuff? And as a comedian, what's that allow you to do? Or does that present you with challenges?
Schaal: It depends on what they want it to look like. If they want it to look dumb, I got it nailed. I can do that in my sleep! If they want it to look good, then I'm nervous. For this show, she is good at it. So if you were on set, you would see me just practicing with whatever that baton was. I had a bruise on the back of my legs. I'd pull it out of my boot over and over trying to just get it to look a little bit like she's done it before. Yeah.
MF: Did you have to learn Morse code for this role?
Schaal: I did not learn it, I'm ashamed to say. But I did a pitch because they said I could be in charge of my hairstyle. In the end, I wasn't because of what I wanted to do. And the reason I have hair extensions in the back is I was like, "I can?" So I had them shave the back of my head a little bit higher than usual. And then I wanted to put Morse code, shave in Morse code in the back. It was a little much. And they were right. As I'm saying it to you, they were right.
MF: I don't know, that might've been some fun stuff for people to be picking apart the mysteries.
Schaal: Oh, yeah.
MF: Like, "Oh, Number Two's got a message."
Schaal: Yeah, yeah. I think so. But maybe I was pushing her to be a little more punk rock than the people at Disney imagined.
MF: Will we ever get to learn her real name? Because I know that it gets revealed in the books eventually.
Schaal: I hope so, but I don't know. It depends on if we continue shooting another season. Which again, this could be it or it could not be it. They have told me nothing. But I like if this is all we see. It seems like a really cool story. But we don't hear it season one. I kind of don't want... you don't know why Louise wears her hat. I like that you don't know why she's Number Two.
MF: You're a parent now, so is that changing how you're viewing material that you do, especially if you're doing something that's focused for kids?
Schaal: Not so much. I'll do anything that they'll let me. I'm not being picky. I'm like... I'll take it off. But I did start developing a kid show idea. And of course they were like, "Oh, you must have just had a kid." And I'm like, "Yeah, okay." It does turn your brain on to that in a wonderful way. I'm watching kids stuff all the time because that's the kind of parent I am. But I really enjoy it.
MF: And the material that you can pick up from kids can be hilarious. Especially if you've got an improv background and you can just go along with whatever insanity they're doing.
Schaal: They're great. I used to do a children's group called Striking Viking Story Pirates, where we would take shows or stories that kids write, and turn them into sketches and songs. I think what I like about the Benedict Society though and what really turns me on about whatever kid's show I've found with Ruby, like Peppa or Ben and Holly, is the humor that they have. That is, yes, it's for the parents, yes. But also, it's for the kids too. There's no reason why you can't make a show for all ages very funny. Those are my fighting words.
MF: Yeah, and it's got this almost sardonic quality with the kids jokes in this that it's not the pandering. The kids seem to be on the edge of rolling their eyes... "Oh, here go the adults."
Schaal: Yeah, totally, like pointing that out. They've got some good zingers. The kids have made my house laugh, which, good job kids!
Mystic Inscho and Setch B. Carr talk about their characters Reynie and Sticky.
Moviefone: Mystic, could you tell us about Reynie?
Mystic Inscho: Sure. So Reynie is a kid with a great sense of morality and of what's right and wrong. He also has a great sense of logic and he's very intelligent and clever. And he can sometimes doubt his decisions, but even though he can, he cares a lot for his friends. And he's often considered the leader of the group.
MF: And Seth, could you give us a little bit about Sticky?
Seth B Carr: Sticky is a very timid character. Like conversation, socialism really isn't his thing, but he does really have a lot of empathy for people and really does care for others, which is a big trait that I love to see in him.
MF: What traits do your characters have that you personally share?
Inscho: We have a lot of similarities, but one thing is we both love to read and we both love to learn languages. And, just like I was saying, we can both doubt our decisions. We don't really know if what we're doing is good. I don't know if it's good for the environment. I don't know if it's good for me. I don't know if it's good for my family. I don't know if it's good for my friends. But that's an aspect we're similar in.
Carr: Yeah. I was thinking definitely a good memory and empathy because I really do care for other people. I feel like other people shouldn't have to go through the same things. There's so many good people out there and they just don't know how to get themselves out there and stuff like that.
MF: Was this a fun shoot?
Carr: Yeah, the shoot was definitely amazing. Definitely everybody, like the kids, they made everything so fun. Definitely in between takes, laughing and joking about stuff that happened yesterday or the day before that. But honestly when they said action, we turn it off and then turn it back on. We go straight back into working and hard work and stuff like that.
Inscho: One cool part about it is we can hang out outside of set and inside of set. Outside of set, we're just a normal group of kids just hanging out in their spare time. But on set, we're actors doing our job and also just interacting with the kids. It's also great to interact with the adults. Because you can learn a lot from the adults and they can teach you things, you can ask them questions. They're kind of like your family in that way.
MF: Seth, did you learn Morse code or was somebody coaching you to do that with the flashlight?
Carr: No, we did not know Morse code. It wasn't literally Morse code, but we did have to flash the flashlight and the beeps correctly and stuff like that. And then other teams, when we had to do Morse code, they would have a Morse code sheet, right next to us where we can do it.
MF: There's a scene with the four of you on that boat. Was that at an actual location or was that all special effects? Were you actually out on a boat in the water?
Inscho: Yeah, that's one of my favorite scenes actually, because it's really calming to just be in the middle of a huge lake. And there was a big drone that was following us and we had to put our faces up for the drone, but at the same time we could enjoy the tranquility, I guess, of everything around us.
Carr: Yeah. I would have to say the boat ride was very peaceful.
MF: Where did you shoot that scene?
Carr: I think it was somewhere down in Whistler. Because we were up by Whistler up over there. So, but yeah, it was cold, but it was very fun.
MF: Did you get a chance to do anything on your weekends while you're up at Whistler?
Carr: I didn't. We didn't stay, at least for the scenes that I was in. I didn't stay out there in Whistler, I just had a couple scenes out there and then I went back there. But I did do some stuff with them on the weekend, like go to the suspension bridge, which is really cool.
Inscho: Yeah, that was really fun.
Carr: Yeah. They said that the bridge is so high, you're on the Statue of Liberty's shoulders. So that's pretty cool.
MF: Do you guys have a favorite stunt or set piece that you got to do during your shoot across the season?
Inscho: I didn't get to do any stunts, which I kind of regret because Kate, she's the stunt person. She's quite literally the God of stunts in the show because she has so many of them, that's her character. Unfortunately, I'm more of the brainy kind. So I didn't really have any stunts, but I hope if there is a season two, I will get the opportunity to do some.
Carr: I didn't really have any stunts as well myself. But I would have to say one of the best moments is just seeing Sticky as a character develop.
MF: How was it working with Tony, especially that he plays two different roles in this?
Carr: It was very great to work with Tony, with all the adults as well. Because I really did learn a lot from them. They did really teach me really good things that I will continue to do in acting. so yeah.
Inscho: And they were all very supportive and you encouraging, especially Tony. Because he technically has three characters: Mr. Curtin, Mr. Benedict, and him himself. And it was really... We can learn a lot from him in that way. Because he has these different personalities he can switch to and he can teach us about them. And one thing he taught me is: don't overact. You always have to think of a situation when you're acting as something happening in real life. You're talking to someone, that's your enemy. Don't talk to them. Because I'm sure when you're not filming, you probably hang out with them. You probably converse with them or something. But in the scene, you have to think of them as someone who wronged you, you have to think of them as your enemy. That's one important thing.
Maameyaa Boago, Gia Sandhu, and Ryan Hurst play the rest of Benedict's team, and they all described their characters.
Maameyaa Boafo: Rhonda Kazembe is a fearless, confident, educated woman who happens to be from Zambia and has grown up everywhere. She is comfortable in her skin. She is very malleable. She can be a kid and she can pass for one. And she's the bridge between the children and the adults. She's unapologetic about who she is and she's willing to risk everything, including being in a community, to stand up for the greater good.
Gia Sandhu: I play Mrs. Perumal and she's the teacher at the orphanage where Reynie Muldoon grows up. And she's really the only person that he has in his life. He's extraordinarily intelligent and gifted and, for that reason, is bullied by his peers. So she's kind of a force of encouragement in his life. And she ends up being the reason, unbeknownst to her, that he ends up being a part of the Mysterious Benedict Society.
Ryan Hurst: I think that Milligan, at least, he's had his memory wiped, so he doesn't know exactly who he is or where he came from, but the role that he plays, I liken him a little bit to, if you remember in Peter Pan, there was a dog, a big hairy dog who played the nanny, who kind of protected the children and also tucked them in. Milligan's a little bit of that. And then also he's undoubtedly the sort of loyal servant to Mr. Benedict, a little bit like Sancho Panza is to Don Quixote. He's a willing servant and loyal to him.
MF: Ryan, Milligan tells that terrific story in the second episode. What was it like preparing for that?
Because that's almost out of a horror movie, it feels like. It's like a ghost story.
Hurst: Yeah. That was actually one of the pieces for my audition. I read that before I read the pilot. And I was just so taken by it. First of all, it's like a horror story, but it's also laden with these nice little, funny little bits the entire way. So we always try to balance things out that way. But yeah, to be totally honest, it wasn't until after I read the pilot that I started reading the books. It's almost verbatim out of the books. So I was very impressed by, the book comes off as very whimsical, very sort of timeless and it's this sort of heightened reality, but that's really just crystallized in the show.
MF: Gia, you've got a lot of scenes, at least in the first episode, that are outdoors on that set with all those cool old European cars and it's this very interesting world that's not quite our own. What was that like on set for you?
Sandhu: It was really hard to drive that car, first of all. Getting that thing into gear was, oh my goodness, a feat of its own. I mean, the aesthetic is so pleasing to the eye. It truly is eye candy. It's kind of this Wes Anderson, Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, plus Disney, this world that they've created and it really does inform the character, big time. I remember during my first fitting, I actually had such a different image of what the aesthetic would be for Mrs. Perumal. And when I was met with these bright pinks and these Chanel looking numbers, I just thought, wow, this has really helped me to shape exactly who this person is and her role in the eyes of Reynie Muldoon.
MF: And Maameyaa, Rhonda is fascinating. You almost feel like she could also have been a spy. Is there a favorite element of that character for you? And do you have to squat down so that you can pass yourself almost as the same age as the kids, kind of bend at the knees?
Boafo: (laughing) I'm a towering 5' 2", okay? So no, I didn't have to do that. But yeah, Rhonda, I just love her, especially her interactions with Number Two. And she has a lot of scenes with Number Two. She's just very confident. She's very sure of herself and yes, the way she goes about things, there's skills, there's an experience to what she's had to go through in order to be able to know that this is why I'm with Mr. Benedict, this is why I believe this mission, and this is why I'm going to stick with it. So yeah, she's bringing all of her skills with her past experiences and everything to make sure these kids are able to complete their mission.
'The Mysterious Benedict Society' is now on Disney+.