Laurel Springs Alum Ben Cook Forging His Own Path in the World of Film
In the performing industry, New York City is always calling. “The City That Never Sleeps” is also the city brimming with on-stage opportunities. Years ago, Laurel Springs School alumnus Ben Cook answered that call, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Ben, who grew up in Northern Virginia, knew from the moment he stepped foot on stage that being in the spotlight was what he wanted to do.
“I was lucky,” Ben recalls of his easy likening to his career path.
“I’ve never really thought of doing anything else,” he explains. “When I was a kid, being on stage felt like home to me, and it still does. I just love everything about the process of creating and performing.”
Cook Takes the Stage
The 2016 Laurel Springs graduate is savvy in front of and behind the camera. At 11 years old, Ben was filming Nerf War videos. At the same time, he moved to New York to perform in the Broadway revival of the musical “Ragtime,” and has primarily lived in the city ever since. He went on two national tours: “Billy Elliot the Musical” and “Newsies.”
Finding time for school can be tricky for a teenager who was in three major productions before he was even old enough for a driver’s license. That’s where Laurel Springs enters stage left.
“It was a hectic time,” Ben says of his pre-Laurel Springs years. The alum joined us in his junior year of high school. From 6th through 8th grade, he attended the Professional Performing Arts School. The following year, he was tutored while on the road for “Billy Elliot.” Come sophomore year, Ben returned home to Virginia and spent one grade in public school while he trained at his dance studio, the Metropolitan School of the Arts (MSA).
As his 10th-grade year came to a close, Ben was cast in the national tour of “Newsies.” Coincidentally, MSA had recently opened a private academy that Laurel Springs partnered with for academics.
I knew other kids who had taken courses with Laurel Springs while out on tour, so my parents signed me up through MSA,” Ben says. He spent his junior and senior years at Laurel Springs. “It was a real juggling act, being out on tour in a very physically demanding show and studying at the same time, but the teachers, my tutor, and the folks at MSA were really great at keeping me focused on the academics.”
After “Newsies,” Ben returned to New York to perform in “Tuck Everlasting” during his senior year. Following “Tuck Everlasting,” during which he graduated from high school, he filmed an episode of “Law & Order: SVU” and spent two years in the ensemble of “Mean Girls.” He also played the character Mouthpiece in the Steven Spielberg movie remake of “West Side Story” and Riff's character in the same musical’s Broadway revival.
While he was a student, Ben says his on-stage aspirations and his schoolwork were a huge combined workload. He made it through with the help of his MSA family and his twin sister, Emma—and with a bit of grit of his own.
“If you’re not resilient, you’re not going to succeed in this business,” Ben says. “One thing I had to learn quickly is that you have to deal with rejection and disappointment, especially as you start auditioning for different parts. My parents were really good at emphasizing that auditions were an opportunity to learn something new and build my skills, and it’s true. You take what you learn from one audition—or 50—and bring it to the next one.”
Betting on Ben
After graduating from Laurel Springs, Ben didn’t go to college. While he affirms that luck has been a factor in the production of his life, much of that luck he manufactured for himself.
“I’ve been working professionally, and pretty steadily, since I was nine and have been fortunate to build some solid credits along the way,” Ben says. “Because this is what I have always wanted to do, and because of all the training I received on the job, college did not make sense for me, so I don’t have any regrets.”
In his roles for “Newsies” and “Mean Girls,” Ben worked with casts close to his age and received training from some of the best professionals in the business. He sees those two productions as a highly personalized post-grad educational experience.
“Again, I’m lucky. I’ve had some opportunities, and I’ve had a lot of support, especially from my family,” Ben says. One of four siblings, Ben, and his oldest sister, did not go to college, while the other two did. While it was a tough decision for his parents to accept, being education professionals themselves, Ben says they allowed their children to forge their own paths.
“They’ve been very supportive in helping me turn my passion into a career, and they’ve kept me looking at the long game,” he says.
Ben’s advice for young people looking to find a fulfilling career, particularly in the performing or entertainment industries, is to understand what you’re up against.
“If you don’t have a professional resume and need opportunities to work on building your skills, then college is a good option for many performers,” he says. “If you go straight into a career, you’ve got to understand that auditioning is your job, and getting a role is your paid vacation. Don’t be afraid to take any job in the field you choose as long as it’s a safe environment, you can learn from the experience, and you can pay your bills.
All the World is Ben Cook's Stage
While he’s learned something from every project he’s worked on, Spielberg’s “West Side Story” had the most impact on Ben. He calls the experience a “magical once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with one of our greatest filmmakers,” as well as Spielberg’s top-notch cast and crew.
“It was quality from beginning to end, and you see the result in the final product,” Ben says.
He describes the making of that film as a beautiful experience. Spielberg’s film was nominated for seven Oscars and Best Acting Ensemble at the Critics Choice Awards.
“Our cast became family, and it has been so great to see the movie get such a strong reception from critics and audiences,” Ben says.
In terms of five-year goals, Ben hopes to see his work opportunities continue to surge. He’s ventured away from musical theater into the television and film realms and wants to continue to develop his on-screen skills. Injured on stage during the Broadway revival of “West Side Story,” he recovered and took on the role of Steven Ford—a “small role in a massive production with a fantastic cast,” Ben says—of the Showtime series “The First Lady,” which premiered on April 17. He also recently filmed a Netflix movie, “Happiness for Beginners,” with “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star Ellie Kemper and will appear in the HBO Max reboot of “Pretty Little Liars” later this year.
“I’ve been fortunate to be part of several interesting, different projects,” Ben says. “It’s been great to learn new skills and stretch myself as an actor. That’s what I want to keep doing.”
When he’s not on stage or in front of the camera, Ben likes to spend time with his friends, explore Central Park during the warm months, and explore the world as much as possible.
Have you joined Laurel Springs Alumni Connect yet? Reconnect with classmates like Ben Cook, expand your professional network, and give back to students through mentorship and other opportunities through the platform.
Share on social media