There's talent developing in Hollywood every day - actors who are working hard to improve themselves and their craft, just waiting for that breakthrough moment. Just look at Ben Youcef, a tremendously talented and incredibly thoughtful actor who co-stars in the new sports drama From the Rough opposite Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest) and Tom Felton (Murder In The First). We caught up with Ben earlier this spring to get to know him a little better.
From the Rough tells the true story of Dr. Catana Starks (played by Henson), who goes outside the historically African-American boundaries of Tennessee State University to build a golf team comprised of mismatched students from around the world, who eventually achieve an all-time record at the PGA National Collegiate Minority Championship. Ben stars as the character Bassam, and talked with us about how the film came together.
"The story took place a long time ago, but they did it up to date for cost reasons," he said. "What happened is this wonderful human being, this wonderful coach, she recruited [Bassam] and she brought him to the United States to play for Tennessee State University. It's an interesting experience for my character, being a fish out of water. So he gets into fights a lot. That's the way he deals with his issues in life; e resolves them by getting into fights with people.
"He's very angry because of his experiences with people telling him 'You can't do this.' That was an issue," he continued. "And this coach, she reached out to him. One of the things she did, she made an effort to find out about [the meaning of] his name, and that started to break the ice and he started to come around."
One thing Ben had to learn for the movie was the sport at its center. "I'm very fit, but I don't play golf. I play tennis and soccer. And I bike from my home in Santa Monica all the way to Hermosa Beach," he told us. "Because I was doing something else at the time, working on another project, I devoted the last week [before the shoot] to golf. The weekend before, I was hitting almost all day long."
How did he take on the challenge of playing someone who actually existed? "You look the person up and then you try to do research about them," he said. "That happened once before, for Munich. I found out that my character lied about going to school. He told his mom he was going to go to school in Germany, and he didn't. He joined a terrorist group."
To develop Bassam, Ben also had the help of another international-born athlete. "He was Algerian French, and he was a boxer," he said. "He comes from the same place, from the same city, and the same kind of area where the character was from."
Not just content with being in other people's films, Ben also wrote, produced and starred in his own movie, The Algerian, which is currently making its way around the festival circuit. In the film, he plays Ali, who is revealed as a member of a sleeper cell. (You can see the trailer here.) Of deciding to go the self-made project route, he said, "Once in awhile, you want to do something that's personal. I did it because it was inspired by people in my life. And then you take liberty with imagination."
"My character comes to America [and] he has a mission to do," he continued. "I said, 'What if I had a mission to do, and I had people like that in my life, what am I going to do?' And then I started evolving that with my friend Giovanni Selko, the director. It was a really different experience. It's a unique experience when you're involved from the beginning to the end. We shot Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Algeria, and North Africa, the Sahara Desert. It was really taxing, time-wise, but it was worth it. It shows you how complex the whole movie business [is]."
He certainly deserves to have that breakout moment that propels him to the next level, because he's excelled under the radar for years. This may be the first you've heard of Ben, but he's been quietly existing in small parts in a number of big projects, whether it's on the big screen (Body of Lies, The Bourne Ultimatum) or the small one (NCIS: Los Angeles, CSI: NY). One of his best parts was playing the character Sameer Ahmed in the Law & Order episode "Great Satan."
"I got great reviews from Law & Order," he told us. "A lot of people loved my character. [He was] very three-dimensional. This character had a complete arc."
Not only that, but Ben had a pivotal courtroom scene where he held his own with one of the best actors in the business, Linus Roache. "The scene that people talked about, was the court scene," Ben reflected. "[Linus] was so patient with me. He wanted me to do my best. He was really supportive. I remember that about him."
Speaking of supportive, when he's not working, this upstanding young man is deeply involved in the world around him. He does nonprofit work with a number of religions, which you can check out if you visit the Interfaith page on his website. Ben is focused on bringing people together, whether it's off-camera by unifying people of different faiths, or on-camera by creating community through his performances.
Talented, articulate, hard-working and doing his part to make our world a better place: maybe the best role that Ben is playing is himself.
From the Rough is in limited release now. For more on Ben, be sure to visit his website (benyoucef.com).