Already renewed for Season 2, the hit Showtime comedy series House of Lies closes out its first season with unexpected twists and surprises, as Marty Kaan’s (Don Cheadle) management consultant team at Galweather & Stearn fight the MetroCapital acquisition. Actor Ben Schwartz plays Clyde Oberholt, a major suck-up and voracious womanizer, who pulls his weight at work but uses his status to attract as many women as he can while he’s on his rise to the top.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Ben Schwartz talked about how excited he is to be doing a role that mixes drama with comedy and allows him the opportunity to do so many things, how he plants little things in throughout the season to enrich his character, how he’s looking forward to getting deeper into his backstory in Season 2, and what Clyde really thinks of the people he’s working with. He also talked about shooting the indie film Coffee Town with Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Steve Little (Eastbound and Down), doing the animated series Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja for Disney XD and premiering in September, and voicing a character for the DreamWorks Animation feature Turbo, with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did you initially come to be a part of House of Lies?
BEN SCHWARTZ: They actually did auditions before pilot season started. I was free to do it, so I auditioned. It was the script and it was [Don] Cheadle. When Cheadle is involved with something, you get really excited. The creator, the director and the head of Showtime met with me, after I auditioned, and explained what my character would be doing for the season, and explained how I would get to mix drama with comedy. It was just so exciting, so I had to say yes. And, I really was interested in doing something for a premium channel like Showtime or HBO, just because you get to really let loose. I think they let their storylines go wherever they want, and it’s really a special place to work.
What has this ensemble been like to work with?
SCHWARTZ: We’re so fortunate. Everybody on the show gets along together. The main four of the pod, we spent every day together for three months and we love each other. We email each other jokes all day. It’s special. It’s a huge thing. The #1 on the call sheet is [Don] Cheadle, and it trickles down. The whole atmosphere on set is this wonderful, family type atmosphere, and it’s something to be very happy about.
When you play a character like this, where there really wasn’t much backstory on him, do you develop your own backstory?
SCHWARTZ: We had a meeting at the beginning and talked about my character a little bit, but then I started doing little things throughout the show. When Kristen Bell and Don [Cheadle] are talking, or if Kristen somehow gets status in the group, you’ll see that I’m always looking evil at her. I want to be the guy that becomes the next Cheadle, or even higher than Cheadle’s character. My character never takes off his sport coat, ever. I always have a full suit on, even when everybody’s sweating. I make these little choices throughout the show. I randomly drink a lot. If there’s an opportunity where I’m at a place that I could have an alcoholic beverage, my character will have an alcoholic beverage. I plant these little things in there and [Matt] Carnahan loves them. It’s been exciting because there’s a lot of collaboration throughout the whole thing.
Were there any instances this season where you got a script and wondered how you were going to pull off what they wanted you to do?
SCHWARTZ: Not exactly pull off, but when you have a sex scene where you’re supposed to almost have anal sex with a Mormon, you’re like, “Oh, well, this is going to be weird.” In my head, I was like, “I’m going to be nervous for that scene.” But, I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to do something insane. I think I can justify everything. It hasn’t been that thing where I’m like, “Oh, my god, what am I going to do?” It’s more like I get excited. I love when I get to play all these different things. My character, Clyde, just says the things he wants you to hear. You never really know what he’s thinking or feeling or doing. It’s so cool to so meticulously think about the words you say. Other characters that I’ve played, it’s just whatever they think, in a stream of consciousness. With this guy, everything he says is for a reason. It’s so fun to play a character that has so many layers that people won’t even know, until the next season, how deep this goes.
Have you thought about what you’d like to see happen with Clyde in Season 2?
SCHWARTZ: That’s all up to [Matt] Carnahan, but there are things in my head that I would love to see. You see a little bit, in later episodes, what happens when Clyde start getting status or when other companies start paying attention to him, and how he acts, so it’s a matter of really figuring that stuff out. That’s super-exciting for me. There’s stuff that I have in my head that I’m hoping that will happen. Carnahan has even expressed that, now that we’ve established the show and people are really on board, we can really go in deep with my character and Josh Lawson’s character, and see why we do the things that we do.
Do you think that Clyde really likes any of the people that he’s working with?
SCHWARTZ: That’s so funny. The first thing that Carnahan told me, as the description for my character, is that Marty Kaan feels like Clyde Oberholt is his best friend, but Clyde Oberholt does not feel that Marty Kaan is his best friend, and he won’t tell him that. That’s a fun thing to have in my back pocket while I do this whole show. One of the biggest tools you can have in this show, as a management consultant, is that you hold back everything. You don’t given anybody any information to use to hurt you, and the second you can attack, you attack. You fuck over anybody it takes to get the job done, and that makes you successful in this business.
Did you have any idea what a management consultant was before you were cast in this show?
SCHWARTZ: I had no idea. I did a little bit of research, and then I read this book, which our show is based on, that is written by a guy named Martin Kihn, and I read all the jargon and read what they do. I even talked to Martin, the guy who wrote the book, when he came in. He was like, “The hardest question is when someone asks you what you do. There’s no real answer. There’s nothing we can tell anybody.” They do everything. They learn how to bullshit their way through every aspect of life.
Does this kind of humor come naturally for you and is it what you would typically watch yourself?
SCHWARTZ: I really like the stuff that Showtime puts out. I think that Homeland is phenomenal. I think Dexter is amazing. And, I love to do this kind of comedy because it’s fun. It’s a fun one-two punch that me and Josh Lawson have, and it’s different from other stuff that I’ve done. I do a character on Parks and Recreation called Jean-Ralphio. I did a character on Undercovers that was sycophantish and very excited. To be able to do this and juggle all those things is great. I love the idea of doing totally different types of guys for different projects. I love that I get to do this. It’s so fun. When you get to do comedy with Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, that’s the best. When they did the auditions, they found the people that they thought would be a lot of fun to work with, and who were funny people that also could juggle all this stuff. They wanted to make them a part of this show, and once they got who they wanted, they wrote for us, which is great.
When you do something like this, that’s so edgy with its humor, you have no idea how people are going to receive it. Was it nice to get such a positive reaction to the show, right away?
SCHWARTZ: Yeah, it’s so exciting to get that. I was on an NBC show called Undercovers that got canceled. I followed the ratings every week and looked at the reviews. To not have to worry about that, and to just worry about the work, is a wonderful feeling. We put so much into this. We really, really love the show. When we got scripts, we’d work out the lines together. We did everything we could do to make it as good and positive as we could. And it was a team effort. It wasn’t for one of us to be the funniest. It was to make the scene funniest. For all of us to do that work and for people to actually enjoy it is so comforting. To get a second season is amazing. Carnahan was like, “These are things that will happen with the characters,” and at the end of the season, I was like, “But, none of these things happened,” and he was like, “Yeah, it’s a series.” I’ve never done a show for more than one season, in my entire life. I was like, “This is great! We can play this out over the course of a couple seasons and really surprise people.”
Do you enjoy balancing the luxury of developing a character over time on TV with only having a finite amount of time in film?
SCHWARTZ: It’s funny because we do so many episodes that you really get to get into a groove. We did the pilot, and then 11 more episodes, and once you learn your character, you learn how your character reacts with this person, this person and this person. It’s great. It’s so fun. You learn from each other. It’s something I haven’t really thought about, but to have that much time to go through that, you get to see how your character reacts here, here and here, as opposed to in a movie. Also, you’re doing stuff without knowing what happens in the next episode, a lot of the time, so you’re acting one way, and then you find out that maybe your character is scheming the whole time and you’re like, “Well, this works perfect for that.”
Have you been keeping busy with work since the show wrapped for the season?
SCHWARTZ: I do a cartoon show for Disney XD, so I’ve been doing that. That comes out in September, and it’s called Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja. I write movies, so I’ve sold two movies. I just sold a third one that we’ll announce in the next couple of week. And then, I did an independent movie, called Coffee Town, which was me, Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny, Steve Little from Eastbound and Down, (singer) Josh Groban and Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights. We just wrapped that a week ago, so I haven’t really stopped yet. I’m hoping to take a couple weeks off, unless I grab another independent movie.
What is Coffee Town about and who are you playing in it?
SCHWARTZ: That cast is so funny. It was produced by College Humor, who I’m really good friends with, but I still had to audition. They were so sweet. And then, when they told me who was involved, I was like, “Yeah, let’s absolutely do this!” It was very ensemble-y, really fun and very independent, which I dig ‘cause I came from making my own short films. The idea of being in that independent world with only this much time to do it and this many takes, I love that world. It was really fun and really freeing. I play a cop in the movie, who’s friends with Glenn’s and Steve’s characters. We’re three best friends and the whole idea is that we’re going to screw over this coffee shop.
Do you enjoy doing voice-over work?
SCHWARTZ: I really love it! I’m also doing it for the new DreamWorks Animation movie, Turbo with Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and all of these amazing actors, and then somehow me. I love it! You get to be this huge character. When you’re acting on TV, you want to keep it real. When you’re voicing these characters, you play these huge characters and it’s fun, and sometimes they let you improvise. The DreamWorks movie let me play a lot. It’s so exciting to see your words come to life on screen. I was very, very into animation when I was growing up. The Simpsons is still my favorite show. I have a really strong connection to it. I can’t wait to see an episode of Randy Cunningham and think of kids watching it that were my age, when I was addicted to that stuff, and hopefully enjoying it and laughing. That being a part of their childhood would be a really special thing for me.
What are you voicing for Turbo?
SCHWARTZ: I can’t say. I’m one of the supporting cast members. Ryan Reynolds is the lead dude, and the cast is insane. It’s got Paul Giamatti, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, maybe Luis Guzmán. Everybody’s in it. It’s an awesome cast! DreamWorks Animation put together a great cast.
Does it feel like you’re just living the dream right now, doing film, having a TV show and voicing animated characters?
SCHWARTZ: Yeah. It’s been a lot of fun. Eight hours of sleep would be amazing. That would be the best. If I could just figure out that part of my life, it would be great. But, it’s so fun. It’s all these things that I’ve always wanted to do, so it’s really exciting to be able to do them. It’s a really fun and positive experience, so far.