Where it comes to children, there’s not a lot of middle ground. You’re either an acerbic W.C. Fields (“children should neither be seen or heard from – ever again”) or a warm and fuzzy William Wordsworth (“child is the father of man”). Even American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson once posited, “A child is a curly, dimpled lunatic.” Perhaps born to rearrange those cultural predispositions is Benjamin Stockham, 14, who reveals a wisdom well beyond his years without a whiff of condescension, a playfulness that is both intoxicating and (for those of drinking age or above) instructive, and a work ethic that might make Calcutta sewage workers look like slackers.
At an age when most of Stockham’s peers consider video game high-scores their greatest ambition, the young man is amassing a formidable resume as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading men (assuming that leading man is written for an actor younger than, say, Zac Efron). A veteran of television’s Sons of Tucson and 1600 Penn, Stockham is currently illuminating living rooms on NBC’s About A Boy, based on Nick Hornby’s novel and the 2002 Hugh Grant film adaptation. On the show, Stockham brings tenderness, wit, and a dollop of scallywag to the role of Marcus, a 12-year-old misfit struggling with middle school and tween conflicts who makes an unlikely friend in his music-making, “ultimate man-child” neighbor, Will (played by David Walton). The series is a Tuesday night hit on NBC, returning with a new episode tonight.
Later this year, Stockham voices a character in the animated feature, BOO: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations, and will appear in the live-action adventure, Lost & Found. If you’re on the fence regarding your own opinions about children, why not let the preternaturally gifted Stockham help make up your mind?
Your character on About A Boy is one that a lot of people your age and really relate to – the pressures, challenges, heartbreak, and occasional triumph of being a teenager in today’s world. Does the character reflect your own life experiences?
Marcus might not necessarily be written towards my life experiences. Because of doing the show and stuff, I’m home-schooled, so I haven’t had to deal with what a lot of kids have to deal with – the bullies and all of that stuff. It can be a really hard time of life, and I’m pretty sure that my character relates with the experiences of a lot of people my age. But me? I’m cool as a cucumber.
Are you really “cool as a cucumber”?
No. Not really. I was just making a funny joke.
Bummer. I was hoping you had some wisdom to share with our readers.
Three steps to being cool as a cucumber? Sure. I can do that. There are three steps, definitely.
Number-one, always wear your sunglasses inside. I mean, that’s probably enough coolness for a lot of people, right? But number-two is always be really confident. Don’t be cocky or mean, but just really confident, like you know you can do what you’ve got to do. And number-three is… Are you ready?
I’m taking notes. Tell me.
Yep. Three steps to being cool as a cucumber. Oh, yeah, there’s a fourth step.
You’re working with an amazing and talented group of people on About A Boy. Are you taking notes?
Seriously! It's a star-studded cast, and I'm honored to be a part of it. I’m not, like, taking notes in a notebook or anything, but I’m paying attention all the time. I think that acting and being able to observe the people I’m working with is helping me mature, both as an actor and as a human being. I think I’m learning how to be better at comedy, and probably how to be better at drama too.
Which is more challenging for you as an actor – the comedy or the drama?
Well, I've done comedy more, so I probably prefer comedy, but I do definitely like to try out drama every once in a while. The drama is probably harder for me right now because I’m not that experienced.
But you certainly have some dramatic moments to play on About A Boy. How do you prepare for one of those scenes – a moment where you have to cry?
Well, I have had to cry on camera a few times, but I haven't really found a way to do it every single time. I know a lot of people think of really sad stuff, but I don’t have a lot of really sad stuff in my life. What I do is I just kind of zone out and all of a sudden my ears get a little bit hot and then my eyes get a little bit watery and – I know this sounds really weird – but it kind of works for me.
If you weren’t acting in film and television, what would you be doing?
That’d be interesting. Well, for starters, I'd still be in San Diego and not in Los Angeles. If I wasn’t acting, I’d probably just be going to school and stuff, but I like to think that once I got old enough and I could choose my career path, I'd go towards being an animator. Like, for cartoons and video game design. It might still happen one day.
Your Squirrel Entertainment stuff on Instagram is pretty amazing. You’re putting your foot in that whole animation world already, aren’t you?
Totally. Can’t you see it now? Squirrel Entertainment: The Movie – a really heart-wrenching story about the origins of this heroic, but lonely squirrel and all of the adventures he has. You just go from there.
A lot of the actors I’ve interviewed through the years – even the very, very famous, well-established ones –have told me that as each acting job they have comes to its conclusion, they begin to worry that they’ll never get another job. Is that something that ever crosses your mind?
This is a wise thing somebody told me once, and I wish I could remember who it was. They said, “There are roles that you’re going to really, really want, but you’re not going to get them. So instead of thinking how another actor ‘stole’ that role from you, think about how badly they must have wanted it and how happy they must be that they got it.” If somebody else got the part, then it wasn’t my part to begin with, right? I like to look at things like that.
How the heck are you so wise? Do you read a lot of Dr. Wayne Dyer books, or what?
I think it’s because I hang out with my mom all the time. We’re together 24 hours a day. I’ve got a great mom.
Let’s imagine you’ve got a time machine.
That’d be really cool.
Where would you go and who would you want to meet?
Oh, wow. Let me think about this. All right. Okay. All right. I've thought really hard about this. If I could go back in time and meet anyone from history, it would be Benjamin Franklin. It's not just because we have the same first name. He just seems like a really cool dude. Also, I could tell him that one day he’ll be on the $100 bill.
So let’s use that time machine and flash-forward 10 years. What is Benjamin Stockham doing in the year 2025?
I’m either still acting or I’m working in animation, or maybe I’m doing both. I think I’d like to be doing both. And I’ll probably be working on Squirrel Entertainment Part 11!
Excellent! Who’s someone in the entertainment industry you’d really like to work with?
Leonardo DiCaprio. I’d love to work with him. I really look up to him a lot.
Maybe he could play the squirrel in Squirrel Entertainment.
Yes! Yes! Maybe he could.
He’ll win an Oscar!
You’re an avid reader. What are you reading these days?
It’s weird because I won’t even glance at a horror movie, but I love reading scary stories. Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe are the coolest. I don’t like to see all that stuff on my TV; I like to see it in my mind. It’s better in books too because there are no jump-scares in books – like, when everything gets really, really loud all of a sudden or they cut really fast to something scary so everybody in the audience freaks out. I hate that. Jump-scares are the epitome of evil, I think.
I’m with you on that.
But I’m reading The Shining right now, and I’m going to read It after that. I like psychological horror.
I’ve heard you’re also an amazing teller of jokes. Have you got one for us?
I do. This is a joke of my own construction, and I must say it is positively genius.
Lay it on me.
Where do monkeys work out?
I don’t know. Where do monkeys work out?
The jungle gym!
You seem to have an awful lot of wisdom. I’m wondering if you happen to know the meaning of life.
Well, that’s easy. Are you ready?
That’s a nod to Douglas Adams and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, right?
Well, Douglas Adams wrote it down, but I don’t think he made it up. I think he just told everybody about it. That’s definitely the meaning of life: 42.