Benjamin Papac has the talent, look, and mindset to be a force in the entertainment industry. Only three years into his career, the Georgia-raised actor with the art-friendly eye (check out his Instagram!) is making bold choices with the roles he takes on and the life he breathes into them, which is currently on display in the Netflix drama series “Greenhouse Academy” where he portrays Max Miller.
We recently sat down with Papac to discuss how he turns the lemons of his craft into lemonade, why “Greenhouse Academy” is different from other teen-focused shows, and the reason he has yet to receive any grief over taking a bite out of Bob in “The Walking Dead.”
TrunkSpace: You’re still in midst of a somewhat early portion of your career. What does it mean, at this stage, to be involved with a company like Netflix and a series like “Greenhouse Academy?”
Papac: Netflix is this powerhouse in the entertainment industry. Digital shows is where entertainment is going. To be three years into my career and a series regular on a Netflix show – my jaw dropped when I booked that role, dude. I was overwhelmed by getting to be a part of something so cool, so early. Acting careers are chaotic. You’ll go from feeling like you’re on top of the world one week, to feeling like you’ve got a long road ahead the next. I’m super grateful to have gotten to be a part of something so cool. I know that there’s a lot of work to do. I’m ready to do it.
TrunkSpace: So much of the career of an actor is based on the actions or reactions of other people. So much of it is out of your control.
Papac: Yes, it really is. The one thing that I can always do is work on my art and do the best work I possibly can with whatever role that I’m getting. I’m not the one who decides whether or not I work on a job. There are so many things that don’t have to do with the ability of the actor, that decide whether or not you book. Like, is your hair a shade too dark? Are you an inch too tall or too short? Things like that really do go into the casting process. It’s really frustrating at times. I’ll get really passionate about a role and I’ll be so excited to work on it. The director and I work really well together in the room. Something else out of my control influences whether or not I book.
TrunkSpace: And from what we understand, an actor’s social media following can actually play into that these days?
Papac: Yes, that’s absolutely true. It’s not true for every job. Even as early as my first year in the industry, back in 2014, there were jobs where the breakdowns would come out and they would say, specifically, “Social media influencers.” It’s not every job, but some jobs, yes, your social media following is considered. That’s part of the teaching landscape for actors. I was really resistant towards it for a long time. I was really shy about being active on social media at all. What got me excited about it was a moment when I saw a buddy of mine’s Instagram page. His name is Dallas Hart and he’s also in the cast. I was just going on Instagram one time. I saw a shot that was really cool. Then, I clicked onto his feed. His feed was gorgeous. He had turned his Instagram page into art, at least on a certain level.
TrunkSpace: We actually just saw yours and the cool live action/animation mashups you’re doing.
Papac: Yes, dude! Turning my Instagram page into art came from this moment when I realized, “Oh, I don’t have to make this; ‘Oh, look at me. I’m Benjamin. I’m so cool and I’m an actor.’” I can be, “Let’s make art on Instagram. Let people interact with it. Let my following build from there.” That way, it’s still genuine and it’s something I believe in.
TrunkSpace: It becomes another tool in your toolbox.
Papac: Exactly. Instead of it being something that I’m intimidated by, it’s another way I get to be an artist. That whole mixed media series that I did over the past couple of weeks, that came out of that. My buddy Chris Labadie took the photos. When I told him my idea – I wanted to use bold colors and interesting objects – he said, “Whoa, dude, what if we imagine the objects and we have somebody draw them in?” I got so jacked by that.
We’ve got a couple other ideas for mixed media that we may throw out on Instagram and see where they go. I’m hoping to do more cool projects along those lines.
TrunkSpace: Jumping into “Greenhouse Academy,” we know that Netflix has been promoting it as a “new kind of teen series.” From your perspective, what is the series doing differently that other shows have yet to attempt?
Papac: When the whole cast first booked the show, we were talking to the show creator (Giora Chamizer) and he was telling us how the objective of “Greenhouse Academy” was to bring a higher quality form of storytelling to a younger audience. He felt that in younger audience television there’s a lot of comedy, there’s a lot of fun stuff out there, but that the depth of complex relationships and things not always working out the way you want and having to grow and become more complex as you get older was kind of missing.
TrunkSpace: That’s certainly true. Usually things are very rosy and everything works out in the end.
Papac: Exactly. Giora took a lot of inspiration from Harry Potter and how well that series of stories brought humanity to a young audience. That was what he was trying to do. I think we did a really solid job of that. The way the characters grow in their relationships is really interesting to watch. It draws the audience in. We don’t patronize the audience. What’s cool about that is an 11 year old can watch the show and love every minute of it, and an 18 year old can watch the show and love every minute of it, and a 24 year old can love every minute. Even a parent who is sitting down with their kid to watch the show, they’re like, “All right, here we go. Here’s another kid show my kid’s obsessed with.” Then, they watch a few minutes and suddenly they’re just as invested. That’s what I’m really happy with about the show.
TrunkSpace: It’s kind of like watching a Pixar movie. Different demographics can take different things from the viewing experience.
Papac: Yes, dude! I’m so happy you said Pixar. I love Pixar. That’s what I love most about the show – that we can do that and that audiences of any age can find something valuable in it.
TrunkSpace: What did the character Max allow you to do on-screen that you have yet to be able to do in a project before?
Papac: From a craft perspective, this was the first opportunity I got to consistently work on the same character for an extended period of time. Before that project, I worked mostly in television and when I shot a guest star, I would get the material, do the audition the next day, book it a couple days down the line. Then, I would work on the show, maybe for a week. There were a couple of exceptions. When I shot Bale for “Into the Badlands,” there was a lot of time involved, but there wasn’t a whole lot of material. Then, when I shot “Saving the Human Race” for CW Seed, I did get to do more, but again, it was like six short episodes. I got to spend a lot of time, but there wasn’t as much material to go over.
“Greenhouse Academy” let me work. We shot Season 1 and 2 at the same time. I did 24 30-minute episodes over three months. I got to work really hard on this one character for a long time. As an actor, that’s pretty challenging. It’s like you have to flesh out a full complete human being who is dynamic from one scene to the next. You’ve got to do that for 100 scenes.
TrunkSpace: 24 episodes over the course of three months sounds intense!
Papac: Oh, it was. It was incredible. It was like a huge growth experience. Super stressful. We were constantly working. To put it into perspective, we did the same number of episodes as a network sitcom or a procedural, but we did it in half the time. That was a huge experience. The next time I’m on a show, it’s going to be so much less stressful for me because I’ll be used to having to handle so much. That was really cool.
TrunkSpace: “Into the Badlands.” “Saving the Human Race.” “The Walking Dead.” That’s some serious post-apocalyptic street cred! Is that a purposeful career direction or something that has just sort of happened by chance?
Papac: (Laughter) No, it just sort of happened. It’s like Sean Bean and all of his death scenes – it’s just how my career has started forming. I made a joke one time that I think my sweet spot genre is going to end up being the Zom-Com. (Laughter) I’m always shooting these post-apocalyptic scenarios. Honestly, I would love for that to continue. I have so much fun. One of my favorite genres to work in is epic-level sci-fi. Post-apocalypse is all over that.
TrunkSpace: All the on-screen experience could lead to real-life knowledge should society ever crumble. You could be one of the only survivors!
Papac: Yes! If ever the apocalypse comes early, I’m ready. (Laughter)
I actually have occasionally considered what I would do in those scenarios. Stay away from the main road, get some simple tools, canned foods, water filter, and a couple other things. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Staying with the idea of post-apocalyptic worlds, has “The Walking Dead” fandom let you live down eating Bob yet?
Papac: (Laughter) I never got any hate for that. I actually get the most fan mail from people about that role on “The Walking Dead.” People love that show so much. I still get letters from my Atlanta agent. Every few months they’ll send me a packet. People are like, “Dude, I’m such a huge fan of ‘The Walking Dead.’ I loved your portrayal of Albert. This was the line you said and it was so cool. Can you please send me a headshot?”
It’s awesome. “The Walking Dead family” is just nothing but love. It’s one of the best fan bases I’ve ever encountered. The cool thing about “The Walking Dead” is it was my first professional job as an actor.
TrunkSpace: Not a bad first job to have!
Papac: I know! I was so jacked. I booked it right when I graduated college. I’m on campus, getting ready to walk into my ceremony, and my agent calls and says, “Congratulations. You just booked a job on ‘The Walking Dead.’ You’re going to be filming in two weeks.” It mostly films in Senoia, Georgia, or did at the time that I was working on it. To put that in perspective, that’s 15 minutes from my hometown. I grew up taking trips to Senoia every now and then to go to the local diners on the main street. It was such a cool job to have as my first job because it was in my hometown and a show that I had thought was so freaking cool. I remember watching the pilot my freshman year. That whole world of acting felt so far away when I watched the pilot. Four years later, that was my first job.
TrunkSpace: And then to go full circle when Rick Grimes puts a bullet in your head!
Papac: (Laughter) Yes! When we were filming, they were originally planning to have me be one of the people they hatcheted. Then, after I booked, they were like, “We can’t do that to the little teenager guy. It’s too brutal.” So, they switched me over to getting shot in the back of the head. But, yes, full circle, all the way.
Season 1 of “Greenhouse Academy” is available now on Netflix. Season 2 arrives in early 2018.