You Star On How He Overcame ‘Greatest Insecurity’ In ‘Liberating’ New Role
Home to good schools, latte-drinking mothers and BBQ-loving fathers, it’s safe to say Madre Linda isn’t prepared for the arrival of stop-at-nothing stalker Joe and his equally murderous wife, Love.
The return of Netflix’s hit show You sees the obsessive couple attempt to settle into the quiet life with their new baby, and welcomes a whole host of characters who have no clue whatsoever about what the pair are capable of.
One such character is played by Toronto-born actor Ben Mehl, who takes on the role of library worker Dante and, as such, gets to know Joe through his passion for books. He is a ‘family man’, a ‘very good friend’ and all around ‘good peeps’, as Ben described him to UNILAD.
Though the notion of bringing a new character into a series that is already so beloved by fans was ‘a bit intimidating’, Ben said he had the advantage of being introduced to co-stars Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti at the same time Dante was being introduced to Joe and Love, meaning he could be ‘authentic’ to the introductions in his role.
He explained: ‘The nice thing is this character didn’t know them before, so I get to just meet them and see what that’s like. So while the idea of it might get me in my head and feel daunting, the [reality] is just a person meeting another person.’
Ben has a rare genetic form of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s disease, which causes a loss of central vision. After the creators of You began a search for a low-vision or blind actor to bring Dante, who is blind, to life, Ben was ‘over the moon’ to receive the role.
Having previously played characters with no loss of vision, Ben found it ‘extremely liberating’ to not have to ‘pretend to some degree’ that he could see more than he could. Unlike Dante, Ben has all of his peripheral vision and is able to navigate day-to-day life without a cane, so playing Dante allowed him to learn what it means to be ‘totally blind’.
‘It became very important to me to represent that accurately,’ Ben told UNILAD, so he prepared for the role by working with a mobility and orientation specialist and observing people at a building that houses blind people.
Observing the skill that goes into navigating the world without vision proved ‘illuminating’ for Ben, as he watched people demonstrate ‘poise and confidence’ in getting around.
He explained: ‘I wanted to make sure that I brought that, that I didn’t portray somebody who was fumbling around to find things, but somebody who actually knows how to use themselves in the circumstances that they’re in.’
Ben practised using a cane while blindfolded, but quickly realised that he wouldn’t be able to portray someone who had been blind for years if he couldn’t see anything at all. He had to overcome his ‘greatest insecurity’ about playing Dante, which was, ‘How do I play somebody who’s blind, when I am not completely blind myself?’
The actor was able to use his peripheral vision to play the character more accurately, using it to ‘portray the confidence and the skill that [Dante] already has in getting around’.
Through Dante, Ben acknowledged he is ‘part of a growing awareness of the need for representation’ as he pointed out there are ‘so many tropes’ and stereotypes that often get attached to film and TV characters with disabilities. Stephen Lang’s character of a blind murderer in Don’t Breathe springs to mind, with Ben also calling out ‘the wise, all knowing blind person’.
What Ben found ‘extraordinary’ in the character of Dante is that ‘his blindness is not being used in some way in the plot’. He admitted that prior to reading the scripts for You he thought there would have to be a ‘plot point where Dante doesn’t see something, so that’s why [Joe] gets away with it’. However, he found ‘it doesn’t offer him any particular advantage or disadvantage that he’s blind; it’s just part of it’.
Ben described Dante as a ‘real, fallible, genuine person who just also happens to be blind’ – a portrayal the actor described as ‘incredibly refreshing.’
He said: ‘He just happens to be blind, just like some of us happen to have blue eyes, so it’s really normalised. It’s not an extraordinary thing, which I think is actually extraordinary… He has his particular blind spots and other people have theirs, and we all navigate them as best we can.’
Following the advice of a teacher from his time at New York University, Ben went into work on You by being ‘as Ben Mehl’ as he could be. As an advocate for the blind and visually impaired community, he hopes people will enjoy being able to watch Dante as ‘a normal human being’ whose blindness is just one part of him.
‘I’m excited for the world to get to know Dante,’ he said.
You season three is now streaming on Netflix.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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