Benjamin Bratt – Blessed Are the Believers
by Jay S. Jacobs
Ever since Benjamin Bratt exploded into the public consciousness in the 1990s as a detective on the long-running series Law & Order, he has been surprising us with his career choices.
Despite his leading man looks, Bratt was always drawn to grittier fare. Therefore, while he has done his fair share of big Hollywood films – like Miss Congeniality, Traffic and recently Snitch – Bratt has also shown up in a lot of darker independent films which take stark looks at some rather taboo subjects.
The latest is writer/director Anita Doron’s The Lesser Blessed, based on the acclaimed by Richard Van Camp novel. Bratt plays Jed, a modern native American living in Northwestern Canada who is dating a local woman named Verna (Tamara Podemski) and acting as a role model for her son Larry (Joel Nathan Evans), a local teen outcast who is harboring a very dark secret.
A couple of weeks before the release of The Lesser Blessed, Mr. Bratt sat down with us for this exclusive discussion of the movie and his career.
Nice to interview you again, I spoke with you a few years ago when you were working on The Cleaner. What was it about the script of The Lesser Blessed that intrigued you?
As I began reading, it was immediately apparent that it came from the hand of a true artist. It was at once beautiful and raw, and painfully familiar with the awkward, often bittersweet business of growing up as a teen. Honestly, it grabbed my attention like a slap to the head. I was so startled by its humanity I had to write Anita [Doron] a letter and tell her so. The coming of age journey of a teenage outsider is a familiar trope, but I had never seen it done with such brutal and tender honesty, let alone from a native [First Nations] perspective. I loved that Larry’s story – his entire world – was so culturally specific, yet utterly universal in its depiction of teenage angst and isolation.
Your character was pretty fascinating. When he first appears, the audience assumes that they know who he is: the mother’s selfish new boyfriend with commitment issues, but it turns out that he is nothing like that at all. Did the fact that he bucks the normal expectations make him a more interesting character for you to play?
The truth is, I jokingly asked Anita if I was too old to play Larry… the part is just that good! But Jed suited me just fine and yes, as you say, part of what makes him compelling is that he doesn’t fall into the category of the cold and indifferent boyfriend. In fact, he emerges as the opposite. He becomes both the moral and emotional anchor of the film.
Jed was an interesting dichotomy, because professionally and personally he was always trying to rescue lost people, and yet in some ways he was lost himself. Jed obviously really cared for Verna and Larry, but sometimes seemed scared by the responsibility of a potential family. Do you think that in helping Larry get through his issues, Jed will be able to finally allow them fully into his life?
That’s an interesting takeaway from the film and I can see why you might get that impression. There is much in the relationship between Verna and Jed that is left to question. What I hope remains clear is that Jed is really the only good man Larry knows and trusts. As it turned out, Richard’s novel became a treasure trove of information and insight, and I used it as a kind of character bible. Anyone who knows anything about contemporary native culture and some of the ongoing social ills that plaque our communities – drug and alcohol abuse, fractured families, domestic violence, incest, poverty, unusually high suicide rates – understands Richard’s intention in the design of this character.
Jed is the kind of man that is desperately needed in many of our troubled communities and is an even rarer find onscreen. He is a renaissance man, a role model, a world traveler who has lived a life of adventure and purpose, yet remains connected to what defines him: His Indian-ness. He is contemporary yet still tied to his traditional ways. He has humor and pathos, tenderness and strength.
In the book, Larry views him as a kind of superman. His hero worship of Jed is as heartbreaking as it is telling of his emotional need for a reliable father figure. Larry sees Jed as good for him and his mother both, but he also recognizes that it is Verna who is afraid to get too close. After all, Verna is a casualty of war wounded from years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of Larry’s biological father and God knows what else. Her soul wound has healed enough to allow her to recognize the goodness of Jed but not enough to let him in completely. There is a sense at the end of the film that in spite of the horrors of the past and the current lingering demons of the present, these three may well find their way to each other and likely to a place of… hope, I suppose.