Montclair Raised Actors Come Home

See more information about the Montclair Film Festival and all its great events at MontclairFilmFest.org. View more photos at the MontclairFilmFest Flickr.

Article and Photos Below by Tonight at Dawn (Kimberly Cecchini) Homegrown: A Conversation with Kristen Connelly and Ben Rosenfield was screened on May 3 at MFF14

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Is it surprising that Montclair, which was ripe for a film festival that has already demonstrated success in its toddler years, was also the childhood home of two more rising stars? Actors, Kristen Connelly, known for her role as a Congressional staffer on Netflix’s House of Cards, and Ben Rosenfield, who joined HBO’s New Jersey based period drama, Boardwalk Empire, returned to town on Friday to participate in an aptly titled conversation, Homegrown. The young performers discussed their Montclairian roots and the trajectory of their burgeoning careers.

At Home

In addition to growing up in a town where they could cross paths with talented people everyday, both Kristen and Ben found inspiration in their families. Kristen’s brother has found success both as an actor and now as a playwright, whereas Ben’s mother is an actress and therefore the art form has always been a part of his life. They also each took advantage of local acting opportunities; for instance, Kristen and her siblings participated in Essex Youth Theater and Ben took acting classes before they got their first break.

Fittingly, Kristen earned her “first little break” at home when a film location scout rang the Connelly’s doorbell. She was a bit taken aback when her mother informed the scout that her daughter was an actor. Thankfully, an uncomfortable moment blossomed into a fortunate fluke because the scout provided her with an audition through which she earned her first paid acting role in the film, Mona Smiles.

On the other hand, Ben asserts that his first break was the biggest he will have as he made his debut in 2011 as part of the Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company’s four person cast, Through the Glass Darkly, directed by Tony Award nominee, David Leveaux. This was certainly was a pivotal moment in Ben’s career as it led to a connection with his current agent.

Between Set and Stage

Rosenfield and Connelly appreciate the prevailing freedom in the entertainment industry that allow actors to move somewhat fluidly between mediums. Having credits in film, television and the stage, they have been able to enjoy the flexibility to experiment with their craft in a variety of ways. The public will soon be able to view them again beyond the small screen; Kristen will be featured as Desdemona in another Shakespearean production in an outdoor arena and Ben can be seen on the silver screen in the fall.

Although they each have a multitude of projects in development, they are still currently in steady television roles (given that Ben’s Willie Thompson character does not get killed off in the volatile prohibition period of the Atlantic City crime series) and they expressed significant admiration for the veteran actors in their respective casts.

Ben spoke about the professional atmosphere on Boardwalk Empire’s set and commended his fellow, seasoned actors for their dedicated hard work. When asked about the show’s lead, Steve Buscemi, he simply replied, “He’s the man. He’s Steve Buscemi.”

Similarly, Kristen shared her deference for House of Card’s Kevin Spacey; she not only regards him highly for his acting abilities but also for his conduct on the set. She appreciates when people not only fulfill the expectations of their roles, but also demonstrate a respectful character in interactions with all of their colleagues. To her, Spacey exemplified this particularly when he refused to shoot at a point when the crew had been overworked.

Aspirations

During the Q&A, Connelly and Rosenfield provided novel advice for an aspiring actress in the audience. Ben prescribed that she find a strong acting class that will provide her with an opportunity to network and Kristen lauded the benefits of being a member of an artistic community such as Montclair. The featured actors also exalted the value of the internet in forging a path into the field. Ben advised, “Don’t be held hostage by the idea that you need to audition; make your own work,” which is what Kristen did with her peers after graduate school when they created their own web series on YouTube.

Kristen Connelly and Ben Rosenfield are no longer aspiring actors themselves as their resumes are certainly growing. Although they may not yet be as recognizable in Hollywood as other Montclairians, they already have fans at home. This was voiced by a member of the audience at the conclusion of the Q&A; “It’s not a question; I just want to thank you for coming home. We are your biggest fans.”

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