One-on-One with ‘Greenleaf’ Star Ben Patterson
It was the depth of story and complexity of issues that attracted multi-talented actor Ben Patterson to the role of Noah Kendall in the upcoming drama series, Greenleaf.
The hour-long series is set in Memphis and follows a prodigal daughter named Grace, played by Merle Dandridge, who returns home to her father, the bishop of a megachurch, after the mysterious death of her sister. Co-starring Oprah Winfrey, Lynn Whitfield and Keith David, the drama digs into the lives of the Greenleafs–a family praised in the public eye, but filled with scandalous secrets and lies behind the scenes.
Amid the lurking of darkness, it’s Noah who becomes the inherited gatekeeper of Greenleaf secrets, but like everyone else on the series, he has some drama of his own.
“His father was working with the Greenleaf family and so Noah grew up in the church,” Patterson tells JET. “Grace is actually my ex-girlfriend from high school and I also have a fiancé. So, in addition to being the guy who keeps things running and moving behind the scenes, I have this history with the lead character. So the potential for drama is right there.”
On screen, Patterson knows how to turn up the heat, as we’ve seen in his appearances shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Noah’s Arc. Off screen, the Oakland-bred talent juggles being a dad, model, photographer and musician.
We caught up with Ben ahead of the Greenleaf premiere to discuss his attraction to the project, the need for in-depth storytelling, and how his psychology background plays into his career and life choices.
JET: What attracted you to the Greenleaf story and how did you prepare for the role of Noah?
Ben Patterson: I feel like there’s a lot of content on television that doesn’t necessarily tell a good story as much as it may provide good entertainment relief. Whether it’s super violent or shows that are just kind of wild and in your face, there’s no here’s a story, here’s a lesson, here’s a plot but here’s a clever way to tell it. There are shows like that but I feel for the African American audience there are fewer of those shows. So what attracted me to Greenleaf is that being an Oprah Winfrey project, she has a level of excellence that she expects. She works hands on with the writing and casting process. So everyone that is a part of the project are genuinely gifted actors.
As for the character, I drew from a few childhood experiences. [I didn’t] grow up in church home but just having friends that did and knowing about a few people that went to church in the Bay area kind of gave me insight as to how that family dynamic is going to go down.
JET: The backdrop of the series involves the church. Was there any reservation about how audiences would receive the topic fused with the secrets surrounding the fictional Greenleaf family?
Ben Patterson: I think it will intrigue people because it’s also sort of a window into a lifestyle that some people don’t necessarily have access to. If you’re just the average person looking at it like, “This is a church in the African American community” you may not know how things are actually run. This is a view into that world and also a view more into that family life, than anything else.
JET: The roles and characters you take on seem to be very multi-layered and complex. What comes as a challenge for you at this point? What stories do you seek on the page.
Ben Patterson: Drama is something I’m really drawn to or getting more into especially after this series. It’s more attractive and challenging to find roles where there’s some type of damage within the character. It really lends itself to opening up and having all of these emotional breakthroughs on camera that people identify with who are going through these things on a daily basis.
JET: You have an array of talents. From music to acting, photography and modeling. When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Ben Patterson: Early on probably. I have two very creative parents. My mother is also a photographer. As far as music, it was always being played whether it was a Friday night after getting pizza and they’d put on Michael Jackson, Rick James, Prince or P-Funk. In high school when I really started playing the drums, I realized, wow, I can really do this, and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a forced situation. Photography came later and then the modeling came along in 2010, and it was the same thing. I enjoyed it and was encouraged by my parents and whole family. As time moves along, you want to challenge yourself and that’s where acting came into play. And so far it’s all worked!
JET: I find it intriguing that you also have a psychology background. With your various skills, what made you choose acting as your career?
Ben Patterson: It just helped me understand that whatever you choose to do for yourself, you can choose for that thing to be hard or easy. A lot of times people will automatically go, “You’re an actor oh my god, that’s so tough.” But that’s with any profession. Nobody has that easy job. Even that “easy” job has its challenges. Coming from the psychology side of it, I was like, I can do this enough to understand and I won’t make the same mistakes over again. I’ll learn from them.
JET: With the Greenleaf series, and working with such an amazing cast, what has been a stand-out moment working on this project?
Ben Patterson: I have a scene with Lynn Whitfield and she can be super intense, and off-camera she’s a wonderful person to work with. I remember one of my acting coaches’ advice was if you have no lines at all, just be there for the other actor. We have this scene and she pulled me aside afterword, looked me right in the eye and told me, “You were absolutely wonderful in that scene.” I have literally three things to say in that scene. She said, “Just thank you. You were so available to me and I was able to live off of that.” I was like, “Thank you.” After it sunk in I was like, DAMN! Lynn Whitfield just complimented me. That’s awesome.
JET: Why should people definitely tune in to Greenleaf?
Ben Patterson: One of the greatest things about this show is that it starts off explaining enough of what’s happened and why Grace Greenleaf has come back but then right away it shows you about 4 or 5 other stories that are going on. Then, it kicks into high-gear. It’s the writing, the cinematography, you really feel like you are in the south at church. It’s a wonderfully told story and I think it’ll be a long lasting story.
Catch the two-night season premiere of Greenleaf on OWN, June 21 and 22nd at 10pm.