In an exclusive interview, Mu-Shaka Benson talks about his new movie, Crossbreed, as well as tackling his lifelong dream of acting after having served in the military.
Mu-Shaka Benson, a U.S. Army combat veteran, recently took the time to share about his unconventional pathway to acting, and his new film, Crossbreed.
Benson had always wanted to act — it was always a passion of his, but he never felt comfortable enough to pursue it.
He ended up eventually joining the armed forces and serving this country for a time; and though he achieved prowess in the Army as a team leader, he never forgot his acting hopes.
After his service, he decided that it was his time to pursue it. And now, he has been featured in multiple films, including Crossbreed, in which he plays a pivotal role.
The thing about Benson, as an actor, is that he brings a performance to his roles that stands out like crazy — he’s good. Really, really good.
In badass roles, he’s completely comfortable. He is one, after all. But flip it around and put him in a tender, emotional role and he delivers all the same.
He’s dynamic like that. A total ace. And yet, he’s one of the most humble, down to earth guys you’ll ever meet. He’s served this country, and now it’s his time to shine as an actor.
Here’s what Mu-Shaka Benson had to say about going to acting after having served in the military.
Commyounicate interviewer – Ryan Mekkes: What was your journey like getting into acting?
Mu-Shaka Benson: So I always wanted to do it since I was a kid, but I was a really shy kid. And that was kind of a bad formula to be shy and then want to be an actor. But I never really got into it until my early thirties. I auditioned for a local horror movie and I got the part and it kind of just set everything off. I started to build relationships and I started to connect and I started to do more independent work. And that led me out to Buffalo where I worked on a film called Battle Dogs, which was on the Scifi channel, and that’s where I met a lot of the people that I worked with on Crossbreed — in Buffalo. And it just snowballed, and I’ve been pretty much working nonstop since. So I’m pretty much finally doing what I always wanted to do since I was a kid, but it took a long time to get to this point.
Mekkes: That’s so cool. So let me get this straight — did you serve in the military and then get into acting?
Benson: Yes. Yes. I served from 2000 to 2004. I deployed twice: I deployed to Kosovo in 2001 and I deployed to Iraq in 2003. So I’m a combat veteran.
Mekkes: Well thank you for your service. Seriously.
Benson: Thank you.
Mekkes: Wow. So would you say that having served — did that kind of give you the courage that you needed to pursue acting? What shifted in your psyche that allowed you to go after this?
Benson: Well, a few years I would say back in, I want to say 2003 or 2004, right after I got out of the Army, I started to sort of pursue what I thought were legitimate acting opportunities. But they weren’t. I fell for a few scams and I lost some money. But once I separated from the military, something awakened in me because I also have some creative background in music and writing. And I started writing, first, actually, I started writing scripts. Short Scripts. And I thought, you know what, I want to try to pursue acting because the desire to do that and the hunger to do that never left me. So I thought, okay, let me try this again. But I had no idea how to get into that, no idea how to pursue that. So I got online and started looking for auditions and looking on backstage.com — I’m doing research and everything came up empty. You know, like I said, I fell for a few scams, and then it was sort of a dry spell for about another, I’d say, eight years or so.
And then I saw that casting call on Facebook for a horror film, and I actually sat on that for a few days. I was sort of debating whether I wanted to even audition. And my wife at the time, she said, you should just go for it. Just do it. You have nothing to really lose. So I did it. And once I got the part, it kind of locked me in. I said, okay, I’m doing this. This is what I want to do. And I stayed with it. And I didn’t realize that it would [go this far]. I mean, I always knew that I wanted to go all the way, but I didn’t realize it would be this extensive. I’m just — I’m actually kind of impressed with how things have picked up because I didn’t anticipate it at all. I just got an audition for a part in this movie, and I thought, well, whatever. I had that attitude towards it. Just like, whatever — if I don’t get it, I’ll just go on with my life. But once I got the part, it was almost like a sign that this is what I needed to do and this is what I was meant to do.
Mekkes: I would have to agree after seeing not only Crossbreed but your other movies as well.
Benson: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Mekkes: Yeah, I mean it when I say you’re really good, man. Like any role you take. So, first of all, you’re a natural with the badass type of thing, the badass roles; but you also can take on the more tender stuff perfectly as well. And that dynamic ability is just crazy. I don’t see a lot of people that can pull both off exceedingly well the way you do.
Benson: Thank you so much.
Mekkes: Yeah, so I want to ask because — based on your performance in Crossbreed — it did not surprise me, after seeing you in that, when I looked up your bio and saw that you were in the military. Because I saw that you didn’t have this kind of aura about you that you had to prove yourself in that role, does that make sense?
Mekkes: Do you feel like your military experience is helping you [with action roles] in your acting career? Do you pull from your experience in the military in that sense?
Benson: Well, for that role I did. It’s hard to even [explain it]. Okay, so I was a team leader in The Army. I was in a leadership position when I was deployed overseas. And I kind of pulled from that. A lot of what I was doing in that role, (in Crossbreed) — I was actually emulating one of my drill sergeants (laughs) from when I went through basic training. He was just the most studious and put together guy, and he was very terrifying at the same time. And I was just trying to imitate that and also imitate what I’d learned in the military as far as being a leader. And also, (laughs) believe it or not, it’s odd, but I’m also a parent; I have three kids. So I have to take on this role of the leader with my family as well. So I was very, very comfortable playing that role. I just knew how to approach it and where to go to get the performance that I wanted.
Mekkes: That’s awesome. You said you were a team leader in The Army — what was the structure of that hierarchy?
Benson: So, the way that the ranking system goes, you have — let me try to simplify it as much as I can — you have your platoon, and then within a platoon you have three squads, and then within the squad, you have three teams, and the teams consist of three people. There’s a team leader, and then there’s the gunner, and then the driver. And that’s who would be in your vehicle. So I was a team leader.
Mekkes: Okay, awesome. Thank you for explaining that. So, for you, does your method of getting into character depend on the role? Do you have any methods for getting into character in general?
Benson: It does depend on the role for me. When I have to be emotional, I have to go inside myself and think about things that upset me or things that would upset me [if they happened]. For example, if something happened to people close to me. Or, I think of things that have happened to me or that I’ve seen growing up, you know? Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I try to pull from things that I have actually experienced and throw that into my performance. Sometimes I use my imagination; there’s a few roles that I’ve been in where I just imagined how this person would handle the situation, and I just went in that direction with it. So, again, I try to pull from things that I have experienced, or I try to do some empathizing with the character and see how I feel that they would react to a specific situation. I just go with that.
Mekkes: That’s incredible. It’s just so impressive to me.
Benson: Thank you.
Mekkes: So let’s get a little deeper into Crossbreed here. So I talked to your (Crossbreed producer and co-star) Devanny Pinn last week — she’s awesome — and she was just raving about how awesome you guys and everybody was to work with. How was your overall experience filming Crossbreed?
Benson: Oh man, it was amazing. I was on set for, I think, five days, and I loved every second of it. I loved them. I’ve worked with some of them before. That was actually my first time working with Brandon (Slagle), but I’d worked with Devanny before on a film called Dwelling. We shot that a few years ago. But it was like as soon as I walked on the set — I mean they had already been shooting for a little while before I came on board — but once I walked on the set, it was as if I had been there the whole time. They were just like breaking balls and, you know, it was like a family. And I jumped right in. It was just like we were brothers and sisters. I didn’t want it to end. I remember my last day I did not want to leave. I kind of just lingered around because I was just like, I don’t want to leave these people. There was just such a great dynamic on set.
Mekkes: Wow. It’s cool you say that because that’s exactly what Devanny was saying as well.
Benson: Yeah, it was great. But I’m very excited that I get to see them, well, most of them, next month because I miss em. You know, when you’re working on these films and you build such a closeness with these people, it’s like they become family. With Stink and Jason (laughs) Jason — he’s a clown, man. That’s like him in real life. He’s freakin hilarious (laughs). And we’re all still friends. We still keep in contact and we talk. I’m really happy that I got the opportunity to work with every single one of them. It was a blast.
Mekkes: That’s cool. Do you have any projects lined up with that crew in the future already? Or not quite yet?
Benson: Not yet, not yet. But, I mean, we’re all friends, so I’m pretty sure we’ll work together again. No doubt about that.
Mekkes: One of your big scenes from Crossbreed was with Vivica Fox and Daniel Baldwin. What was it like filming that particular scene?
Benson: (laughs) You know, they had been shooting for hours before we shot that scene. We shot that scene, I want to say it was late in the afternoon. It was late. So I had almost more than half the day to really sweat out the scene and anticipate it, and I was terrified. I remember I was so nervous because this scene was about to be a big thing for me as an actor because I’d never worked with someone of Vivica’s caliber or Daniel’s caliber. So I was really nervous. But once we got on set and we started to walk through the scene, they were just regular people. They were so down to earth, and it made me very comfortable that they were also running through their lines and that they were in the same position [as me when preparing]. That made me feel really comfortable. It was just — they made me really comfortable. And Vivica is just, like, [incredible]. I’m glad that I hid it well, but I was just like, I can’t believe I’m working with her.
Mekkes: It was a cool scene!
Benson: It was. Yeah. She was just amazing. They were both amazing. And Daniel is just — he’s another one, man. He’s hilarious.
Mekkes: Yeah? (laughs)
Benson: Cracking jokes — it was hard to keep it together a few times because he’d say just out of the blue, random stuff and just catch everyone off guard. It was really fun. Every moment on set was fun.
Mekkes: That’s awesome.
Benson: Yeah. So once we got going with that scene, I felt really comfortable. Like, okay, this is alright. I belong here. I’m obviously here because I earned that and I belong here, so let me just see them as equals and not as stars that I’ve watched on TV for years. And we made it. We got through it.
Mekkes: That’s awesome. I heard Devanny was running around like half an alien as a producer.
Benson: (laughs) Yeah, she was all over the place. It was funny because it’s like, she’s got the headpiece on and half her body — like she’s got one arm that’s covered in the makeup and the other arm isn’t. She was like half alien, half human. It was hilarious because she was still directing and taking care of things while she was still being put in makeup. It was funny because the makeup artists were kinda having to sort of chase her around a little bit. It was just funny to watch.
Mekkes: (laughs) So what did you think of the world they built for this? I saw they put a lot of effort into world-building. What were your thoughts about what they created here?
Benson: Well, first of all, I’m a huge fan of Sci-fi. I love sci-fi. And when I read the script, it was just beautiful on the page. So I’m like, wow man, if they can pull this stuff off, that will be amazing. And seeing some of the sets that I was on, I remember thinking, this is going to be beautiful — this is going to be absolutely beautiful. And when I saw some of the details that they were putting into things, like the little rings that they had us wear, the currency rings — I didn’t actually get a chance to use mine — but I was like, okay, they’re really putting a lot of detail into this. That’s something that I really love is when [producers and directors] go above and beyond to really flesh out the world, and even down to the smallest detail. And so I was very impressed with that. But to me, it was very fresh. I didn’t feel like this was familiar territory because I’ve seen a lot of Scifi films and this felt very fresh to me. So that was another thing that really drew me to it and made me even more excited to be a part of it. And, to me, I see that this can be something that could be expanded, the world that they created. You know, I feel like they can go well beyond our story in this film with the story that the film is telling.
Mekkes: Yeah, Devanny was talking about TV?
Benson: Yeah, Daniel came up with that. I remember a few times he brought that up. And I’m not really sure exactly what their plans are, but I think that’s something that they are actually thinking about and exploring, which would be great. I mean, there’s definitely a lot there they can play with.
He’s badass, he’s an American hero, and guess what? He’s hilarious as well. Want to get to know Mu-Shaka Benson a little bit better? After this conversation, he also answered 30 party questions for another magazine I write for called Hidden Remote. You can find that interview right here.
Crossbreed is set for release on February 5. In addition to Crossbreed, catch Mu-Shaka Benson in the drama/thriller The Price for Silence, and the horror movie The Shed, later this year.