"You hear horrible stories about gossiping and fighting..."
Before AMTC, Ben Stillwell had no experience on camera. Off camera he was always a character. So at 12, Ben didn’t quite know what to expect when he and his family attended SHINE. But the results would start Ben on a life-changing journey.
Today Ben has many varied credits which include TV commercials, supporting and lead roles on Disney channel shows and guest appearances on several network television series. Having done so much at a young age, we asked Ben and his mother Traci for some perspective on Ben’s career.
How did you get into acting? And why?
I was always told by my parents that I needed to do something extra. My sister did soccer, so I tried sports but I wasn’t good at it. She was in a magnet school with a theatre program. I got into the school and I tried out for a play and realized I was having a good time. I came home from school one day and stated that I wanted to be an actor. I also didn’t want to grow up and have a 9-5 job. That really scared me!
Traci: You have to understand that whatever was on TV at the time—and this is why we limited TV in our house–Ben morphed into that. If it was a detective movie, he became a detective for the next month. At first, I wasn’t convinced that this would stick.
So at what point did you really know?
We heard a radio commercial for an open audition for AMTC
Traci (Ben's Mom) I thought “We’ll go to see if he’s serious about this or not.” We went with a little photo of Ben and no expectations. He auditioned. We left. And after that we signed him up.
Ben, your SHINE experience was pretty positive. What was that like?
I had tons of support from my parents. I signed with an agent—the same one I have right now!
What kinds of projects have you been a part of lately?
The Disney XD pilot, There Goes the Planet was shot earlier this year, and we’re still waiting for a decision. After that, I booked Attention Students [a Cartoon Network live-action pilot], but it wasn’t picked up. I'm a recurring actor on Lab Rats & Shake it Up, did the pilot Whitey and am under contract with Disney XD right now for a lead in another pilot. We’re waiting to see if that one is picked up.
With all of these shows, have you had to deal with anything difficult?
You hear horrible stories about fighting and gossiping. We really haven’t had that experience the entire time we’ve been out here. And I’ve heard the horror stories from people I know personally. It’s a stereotype that seems to be blown up more than it really is.
As far as problems on set, how do you avoid them? Is it more careful picking and choosing, or good attitude and expectations?
It’s not what I pick. I audition for a lot of things depending on the material. If the material is too explicit, I definitely won’t go out for it. The ones I audition for like Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy are shows that when I get on set I get to work with people who’ve already been on the set and there just wasn’t stuff like that there.
Can you pick a favorite among all of these great shows?
Attention Students was definitely one of the most fun to work on, because everyone was just so, so supportive of each other. We were all very close-knit, like a family, after just a day or two. But the show that pushed me the most, in a sense that really made me think, and physically and mentally grow was Grey’s Anatomy. I was put through the ringer doing prosthetics for 3 hours a day, getting all that on and off my face, sitting through that for long periods with a covering over my mouth. I could only eat crumbs and little bits of things that wouldn’t mess up my lips. It was the most pushing, but I loved it.
What about your future in TV and film?
I would love to do anything that I can get my hands on that I really enjoy, TV or film. I’ve done a lot of sitcom pilots that had great reviews, but they haven’t been picked up. So it’s become my mission for it to happen at least once in my lifetime! I want to go to the set every day. It would be the most eventful 9-5 that I can think of!
Tell me about your experience at AMTC.
I hear a lot of people going to conventions and not getting a lot of support after them. But AMTC is very supportive and I learned a lot. Like that you cannot just take a solo drive out to LA and knock on the doors of a casting director and think you’ll get in. You just can’t do that. AMTC not only showcases you, but nurtures you until you metaphorically, can fly on your own. Everyone at AMTC had great attitudes, everyone wanted to work together, to push each other but not compete with each other. What we’re doing is an art and we all realized that.
What did it do for you with regard to contacts?
I met my manager, Alan Mills through AMTC. He’s still my manager and definitely one of my most favorite people out here. He wants everyone to have a long running career, not just a spark of fame.
Anything specific that you learned at SHINE that you think helped your career?
I learned how to interact with agents and managers there. I learned how to approach the business. I learned how to do it in my own way while still being myself and still having guidelines for having a conversation with an agent or casting director. I learned about who is strong in this business.
What advice would you give to future performers who want to make a positive impact for God?
Always remember what your goal is coming in from the start. Don’t waver by the biggest money or be persuaded with money. Always remember what your goals are, what your rules are, what your morals are.
We are really in an industry where we are changing the perception of the people who look at us…and that’s basically the whole world. We need to show everyone that we have our set ways, our own morals that we want to share with everybody. We want to give them the option. Show people what you stand for. It’s putting the option out there. The more set you are in being your own person, the bigger impact you’ll make.
Traci, what about being a mom of an actor? Where have you encountered challenges?
My faith never grew stronger than when I was out here. This is a business that you really don’t have a lot control over. The only thing Ben has control over are the decisions that he makes and the auditions he takes. We always supported him. He’s actually had several auditions that he’s turned down.
Traci: All of them were content. There were some features that just weren’t right. He reads everything through. If it gets sent, he reads it.
He’s never once read a script that I’m thinking in the back of my mind, “I hope he doesn’t want to go out for that.’ Just about a month ago, he called his manager and said, “This is unnecessary violence, and there’s no plot, is there anything more to this role than what I’m seeing?” And when he [the manager] said, “no,” Ben said he did not want to do it. He’s really about the content. He understands that it’s telling a story and stories aren’t always pretty, but they have to be meaningful.
Ben, what’s it like having such a wonderful support system?
I have the most supportive people and family around me. I haven’t had pressure to do or not do things. No pressure to do certain roles or anything. There have been times where I’ve just wanted to stop, but then I realize that there is nothing that I would ever want to do beside this in my life. That’s when you know you really love something.
Traci: We know he’s in the right place and where he needs to be. At the end of the day, I pray for him and there’s nothing else we can do about it. How people do it without faith is really beyond me.