I’ve always been fascinated by the insane lives of the super-wealthy, especially the entitled kids of the super-wealthy, so I was interested in this film by Kevin Asch (Holy Rollers) which deals with the after-effects of the recession on this privileged group. Affluenza takes place on the tonier neighborhoods of Long Island in 2008. Swept up in the heady pre-recession world of absentee parents, plentiful booze, and casual sex, aspiring photographer Fisher Miller (Ben Rosenfield) escapes his middle-class life for the moneyed mansions of the elite. With a stash of high-quality weed and a vintage camera, he gains access to his cousin Kate’s (Nicola Peltz, Bates Motel, Transformers) circle of wealthy and indulged friends just as their entitled reality is about to careen out of control. This revealing take on the hidden perils of privilege also stars Samantha Mathis, Steve Guttenberg, Gregg Sulkin, and Grant Gustin. Actor Ben Rosenfield got his start in musical theater and is best known for his roles in Greetings from Tim Buckley, Jamesy Boy, and for playing Willie Thompson on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. I spoke to him by phone.
Danny Miller: This was such an interesting look at the effects of the recession on a particular community. I know you’re pretty young, but did you follow that closely at the time?
Ben Rosenfield: Yeah, of course. I was about 16 but I was very interested in politics. It was crazy, I was very aware of the fact that history was in the making. It was scary, too — I come from a middle class family and I think for everybody there were a lot of questions as to what the future would hold.
Your character reminded me a little bit of the Montgomery Clift character in the great George Stevens’ movie A Place in the Sun. On the one hand, we want him to break into that exciting world, on the other hand, we know it will probably lead to trouble! Can you understand the appeal of that world to Fisher?
Very much so. It’s important to remember that Fisher was pretty lost at that point in his life. There were some things that didn’t make it into the film that show more clearly where he was coming from. His parents had just gotten divorced, his dad had come out of the closet, he had this strong desire to be a photographer but had no idea how to make that happen, and he had been kicked out of school for dealing pot. I think when he first gets involved with them, he sees that world for what it is but then he sort of gets seduced and falls in love with it for a while.
And the people he’s hanging out with, Kate and Dylan, certainly had their share of charisma, as the fabulously wealthy sometimes do. I wonder how the story would have played out had the recession not happened.
It probably would have been a pretty boring movie! (Laughs.)
I thought Nicola Peltz was especially good as Kate. That could have so easily been a one-note spoiled brat character.
I agree. She really blows me away in the film, I think she steals the show in a lot of ways. She brought a tremendous amount of depth to that part. Gregg Sulkind was great, too. It was such a treat working with them and with Grant Gustin who played Todd. We were all living in this apartment in Williamsburg while we were shooting and we hung out all the time, it was a blast.
Would you call the film a kind of cautionary tale?
I’m reluctant to call it anything like that because I think audiences can take all kind of different things from it. It’s kind of a strange movie because it doesn’t really fit into any kind of expected genre. I know that I have a lot of feelings about the story.
I also enjoyed the “older generation” in the film. It’s always fun to see Steve Guttenberg and Samantha Mathis even though they’re in a kind of time warp in my head so I was surprised to see that they’re now the parents!
(Laughs.) They are both so great. Steve is a very funny guy and he was so kind-hearted to me. And Samantha is such a talented actress and fun to be around. I love working with people who have been doing this practically longer than I’ve been alive. I didn’t go to college so I consider the experiences I’ve been lucky to have working with such fine actors as my training.
I mostly know Danny Burstein, who plays your dad in the film, from his work on Broadway.
Oh my God, Danny was one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with. I think he’s a tremendous actor. He’s amazing on film and he’s amazing on stage — not everyone can do that!
Does it feel very different working on small films like this as opposed to a big series like Boardwalk Empire?
Well, the hours are longer on small films like this, and the craft services may not be as nice, but when it comes down to it, the work is the work! Once the cameras start rolling, the goals are the same.
I talked to director Hannah Fidell last year about her first film, A Teacher, which I thought was fascinating. I understand you just shot her second feature. Is it as dark and challenging as her first one was?
Yes! It’s about a couple that has been together since high school. Now they’re approaching the end of college and a lot of questions come up for them. And, yeah, some stuff happens — I don’t want to reveal too much, but I’m very excited about that film. We shot it a few months ago in Austin. My girlfriend is played by Taissa Farmiga who is amazing and Hannah was fabulous to work with.
And you also just completed A Most Violent Year?
Yes, J.C. Chandor’s new film. It takes place in 1981 in New York City, which was the most violent year on record. I think that is going to be a great movie. It stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. J.C. is also a fabulous director!
Do you hope to be singing again at some point?
Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, you’ll be hearing me sing very soon!
Oh, really? In what?
I can’t say, but expect to hear more singing!