Being adorable is boring to Ben Snyder. Sure, he’d take a role on a Disney or Nick Jr. show. But darker content – cops, crime, death and grief – gets his acting juices flowing. At only 11 years old, Snyder is finding his niche in films and TV shows that tackle adult subject matter.
Snyder’s 2016 appearance on CBS’s “Blue Bloods” was followed by roles in “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith and “The Dinner” with Richard Gere. In 2017, Snyder landed a recurring role on SyFy channel’s new hit show “Happy!” with Christopher Meloni. Snyder currently appears as Jon in “A Doll’s House” at Arden Theater. The production runs through Feb. 25 and is his first stage performance.
These stories share a theme: majorly dysfunctional adults. “Collateral Beauty” features a grief-stricken and hallucinating Smith. In “The Dinner,” Snyder’s character is subjected to seriously bad parenting at the hands of his mother, played by Chloë Sevigny.
But “Happy!” takes the cake for craziness. Based on a graphic novel, “Happy!” features a booze-addled, mentally unstable, cop-turned-assassin played by Meloni. His mania manifests as Happy, a cute and completely imaginary horned horse. While Meloni’s character loses his mind, he pursues a demonic Santa Claus who kidnaps kids, one of whom is played by Snyder.
Meloni perfected his tough guy persona on “Oz” and “Law & Order: SVU,” but in this dark comedy, his performance is over-the-top lunacy. Snyder, however, plays it straight with two feet firmly planted in reality. Sharing scenes with Meloni took a good deal of focus. “When I’m in that zone, I ask myself, ‘What is true for my character and what isn’t?’” Synder says. “It’s almost like I’m a baby and I know only a little bit of information. So, I knew that Christopher’s character is going crazy and that he has an imaginary friend I can’t see. That’s it.”
Snyder says the same thing about “Collateral Beauty,” which he didn’t know was about death until he attended the Philadelphia premiere and saw the whole film. “When I was playing the role, I knew Will Smith was going crazy, but not much more,” Snyder says.
Smith is now an idol of Snyder’s; the two bonded over their Philadelphia connections. But Snyder hadn’t heard of Smith before he got the role. Snyder’s cultural prism is understandably age appropriate. “Blue Bloods” and its stars, Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg, were unknown to Snyder until he filmed the TV show. And Snyder still isn’t exactly sure who Gere is. “I’m told he’s famous and one of the best actors in the world,” he says politely.
Snyder says that he learns from each actor he works with, including his mother. Now an accomplished attorney with Dilworth Paxson, Jennifer Platzkere Snyder had her own career as a child actor. In addition to a slew of national commercials, she was in Philadelphia and off-Broadway theater productions, and had a recurring role on “All My Children.” When the University of Pennsylvania beckoned, she chose academics over acting. Twenty-odd years later, a Penn classmate connected the Snyders with a manager. Then 8 years old, Snyder did two commercials, then landed the “Blue Bloods” role.
Snyder never took an acting class but worked out his own process of memorizing lines and developing characters. “I read the descriptions of the character that my manager sends me, then have a conversation with my mom about it,” he explains. “I begin to get in the flow with the information and get the feelings of the character synced into my head so I can express them.”
While he aims to get every role he auditions for, Snyder already has thick skin that helps him deal with the rejection that is part of the business. “I get less aggravated about losing the hard roles, the ones that have a lot of dialogue to memorize in a short amount of time,” he says. “As for my looks, it’s not like I can be taller or shorter. Or they may have the parents cast and I don’t look like I could be their kid. I don’t get self conscious about it because that part is out of my control.”
Snyder can control his performances, though. While his Arden theater role is a great exercise in live acting, Snyder says that TV and film often require 25 takes per scene. “But I don’t know how many takes I’ll get to do, so every one counts,” Snyder says. “Each take is a one time thing, so I have to put my best into it.”
Snyder’s not sure what he’ll do after “A Doll’s House,” but more PG-13 TV and film roles are likely to be in his future. Snyder’s angelic, wholesome face is making him a favorite for directors who want to cast against type for darker roles. Snyder would be a perfect fit for a film directed by fellow Main Liner, M. Night Shyamalan. “I see dead people,” would be wonderfully spooky coming out of a wide-eyed Snyder. Then again, Snyder’s never heard of the “The Sixth Sense.” He’ll have to ask his mom if he can watch it.