Ben Bray came to acting through his career as a boxer. He got his start 23 years ago when he was asked to audition for a part. “It was all an accident,” he said when talking about how he got started in the business. “I was very lucky,” he said. “I was very fortunate.”
This acting role led him to be trained by the big stunt coordinators like Ron Stein and others. “They took me under their wing,” he said. “23 years later, I went from stunt man to coordinator to now–I’m a second-unit director.”
In “The Grey,” Bray plays Hernandez, a character that has an interesting dichotomy. “I think what’s interesting about the Hernandez character is that he’s a bad guy with a good heart,” he said, saying that Hernandez is essentially a good guy who was tainted by being around the wrong people, leading him to make bad decisions. “He’s got a soft heart. A soft side, I should say,” he said.
Working with Liam Neeson was a great experience for Bray, even though his nerves got in the way at first. “It was nervewracking in the beginning,” he said. “It was like being in the ring with one of the great fighters, like Muhammad Ali. Liam is the total opposite from the ‘alpha male’. He’s very generous as an actor, very generous as a human being.”
“The Grey” was filmed in Smithers, Canada, a place that more than set the ambiance for the the film. “It was 30 below zero with 70 to 80 mph winds,” he said. “I didn’t have a nice wool hat, I had no gloves, so a few minutes into filming, I couldn’t feel my hands. Then I had a virus for about three days…three days in the Smithers hotel. It was rough.”
But Bray’s personal story brings home a point about the film’s authenticity. “The elements are all real. That’s all real,” he said.
The element of reality is something that follows Bray throughout his career as an actor and stunt coordinator. One such story involves his time on the film “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington. “I was playing Joey Giardello,” he said. The two had spent months practicing their boxing choreography, and during the filming of the scene, Denzel did something unexpected; he improvised. “He decided to add an extra punch and forgot to tell me,” he said. When the unrehearsed punch came, it came hard. “I was seeing stars. It was wild,” he said. “When we were finished, he rushed over and asked ‘Ar you all right? Are you okay?’And, you know, it’s all good. That’s why we do what we do. I took one of Denzel’s best shots and I’m still standing.”
For those just starting out in the stunt world, Bray said to hone your specialty. “Most people get in with a specialty,” he said. “Something that sets you apart from everything else–track; swimming; if you’re into gymnastics, then you’ll have a good air sense; motorcycling; or if you’re an all-around athlete, that’s fine too…find your specialty and really hone it and be good at it. Then really get out and meet the people.” Once in the business, he said, the more experienced stunt coordinators will begin to teach you the ropes, like fire burns, driving cars, and more.
Bray can be seen in the upcoming film Oliver Stone’s “Savages,” starring Benecio Del Toro. “I’m playing one of the drug cartel [leaders],” he said. He is also in the process of co-developing a pilot. As for his current work, “The Grey,” Bray said, “Please go see it. You won’t regret it. It’s a guys and girls film; it’s for everybody. It’s a very heartfelt film.”
Written by: Monique Jones