Eureka Day opens at the Old Vic: Actor Ben Schnetzer tells us more
Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day opens at the Old Vic theatre on 6th September. It is a witty comedy that centres around a progressive school in California and a health scare that sparks debate between the parents over the use and need for vaccinations.
We spoke to actor Ben Schnetzer (who plays Eli) ahead of the previews of the show about his role and the wider message Eureka Day holds for its audience. Schnetzer’s theatre credits include The Nap (Manhattan Theater Club), Sticks and Bones (Pershing Square Signature Center), and on-screen he has appeared (among many) in The Giant, Pride, Snowden, Warcraft and The Book Thief.
What drew you to Eureka Day?
First and foremost, the creative team was a real draw for me; I’ve wanted to work at the Old Vic since Matthew [Warchus] took over, and this play seemed like such an awesome fit. The writing is really what hooked me – it’s such a resonant piece and explores such timely themes with empathy, consideration and a great deal of humour. The fact that it was written pre-pandemic gives it a very refreshing lens through which to explore a lot of its themes.
You come from a family of actors – was your future set in stone, or were there other paths you considered?
I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be an actor… I had dalliances with other interests and pursuits, but acting has always been a central part of my life.
Of film, television or theatre, which medium has your heart?
This is a tough question! They are all so different. It’s such a trip to be back in a rehearsal room after these past two-and-half years. I’m loving it.
It’s hard to explain, but I always equate it to being a musician: screen and stage are like comparing recording an album to playing a concert. They’re just totally different processes. One thing I will say is that I definitely fell in love with theatre through doing plays as a kid, whereas I fell in love with movies through watching them. So with screen work, there was a process of learning and falling in love with the process of making a movie or a series anew, once I started working.
I’m gonna have to give you the lame answer of “They’ve all got a piece of my heart.”
What are some of your hobbies?
Running, writing, reading, watching movies.
Have you had the pleasure of working with an actor you looked up to in life?
I worked with Joseph Gordon-Levitt a while ago. I really looked up to him as an actor when I was in high school (Brick, Manic, Mysterious Skin, 500 Days of Summer), and working with him exceeded my already high expectations. He’s everything a leading actor should be. Also, I got a chance to work with Ben Foster, which was an absolute thrill. Talk about an actor’s actor! I’ve looked up to him forever and still do.
You play the character of Eli. Tell us a bit about him and what helps you to connect to the character.
Eli is a parent whose son goes to the Eureka Day School. He’s a full-time father, who retired young. Membership in the school’s Executive Committee has become an increasingly important part of Eli’s life. It’s been an inspiring process getting to dig into these characters alongside this ensemble of actors… I’m looking forward to sharing them with an audience!
Why should someone come and see Eureka Day?
Eureka Day is an exploration of discourse and how we navigate argument and disagreement. In a world in which dialogue has become increasingly limited to Twitter and social media and outrageous soundbites, we now need – more than ever – to take a step back and reflect on the roles argument, debate and logic play in our society. It unpacks these themes with humour and humanity and invites an audience to explore these questions.
Has the show affected or changed you in any way?
The show has prompted me to reflect on how we argue and debate as a society – how we speak to each other, and just how incredibly important it is to listen to one another.
What is it like working with this cast?
It’s an incredible experience working with this cast. The entire team is so talented and so, so generous. It’s been such an inspiring rehearsal process.
You have accomplished a lot in your acting career. Is there any advice you received while training that helped you along your path and any you’d like to pass to those who look up to you?
This is another great question. One thing I’ve gleaned thus far is that it’s important to look at every circumstance and situation in this business as an opportunity to learn – every audition, meeting or job you do or don’t get. It’s all an opportunity to learn. As an actor, there’s very little that’s actually in our control in show business. Timing, circumstance, etc… it’s all out of our hands, so try not to spend too much time agonising over that stuff, and definitely don’t spend any time taking it personally. Make sure you put your efforts into the small slice of the pie that we do have a say in – attitude and work ethic being chief among them. I know it sounds basic, but the fundamentals can never be overstated: do your homework, show up on time and treat everyone with respect.
Is there anyone that you’re dying to work with in the future?
So many people I’d love to work with in the future!
What do you like to do to unwind after a working week?
To unwind I love spending time with my family. Going for long runs is a definite happy place of mine. I’m also kind of obsessed with this podcast called Smartless, so that’s a definite unwind destination for me.
You played quite an important role in Pride, which, although it was a comedy, holds a much deeper and more important message for its viewers. Could the same be said for Eureka Day? Are there any similarities between these two characters?
I wouldn’t say there are too many obvious similarities between the characters I play in Pride and Eureka Day…
It’s interesting thinking of the two projects together; humour is such an important tool in storytelling and in opening up a dialogue with an audience. Jonathan Spector and Stephen Beresford (who wrote Pride) are both – and I don’t use this word lightly – brilliant writers, who have such a keen wit. They’re both so adept at navigating pretty profound subject matter in an open, welcoming way, without compromising any of the material’s gravity and nuance. I’m lucky to have worked with them both.
What relevance do you think Eureka Day has for 2022?
Eureka Day is exceedingly relevant for a 2022 audience. The play centres around a dialogue between parents about vaccines… it doesn’t get much more relevant than that!
What is next for you?
I’m working on a writing project at the moment that I’m hoping to get off the ground soon. It’s uncharted territory for me, but I’m very excited about it all – a good opportunity to learn.
Thank you for your time.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Eureka Day is at The Old Vic from 6th September until 31st October 2022. For further information information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Helen Hunt discuss Eureka Day here: