Scott Speedman made the hearts of millions of teens flutter as Ben on the WB’s college drama Felicity. He returns this week with a supporting role in The Vow, but as he tells Ramin Setoodeh, continuing to act in Hollywood has been an uphill battle.
On most days, Scott Speedman—the ex-dreamboat from the WB drama Felicity—spends his mornings hunched over a laptop at a local coffee shop near his home in Los Angeles. A lot of the other patrons there are working on screenplays, but Speedman doesn’t see himself as a writer because he struggles with narrative structure. “I have my green tea and l look at scripts,” says Speedman, who is now 36. “I can’t read at my house.”
He’s looking for that elusive, meaty part all struggling actors dream of one day finding. But Speedman’s story is different, because in the late '90s, he was at the doorstep of movie stardom.
Speedman was an integral member of the WB Brat Pack (along with Dawson’s Creek sirens Michelle Williams and Katie Holmes, Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar, and 7th Heaven’s Jessica Biel). In living rooms across America, while adult viewers drooled over George Clooney on ER, their teenage kids were madly in love with Speedman. As Ben Covington, he played the chiseled athlete who prompted Felicity (Keri Russell) to drop out of Stanford at the last minute and enroll in a New York university, just so that she could gaze at her high-school crush between lectures.
Once the show became a hit in 1998, Speedman not only looked like an A-list star—he was also living the life of one. “It changed my life in certain kinds of ways,” he says. “All of a sudden I was in Los Angeles. It was a big show.” He reportedly dated Gwyneth Paltrow after her split with Brad Pitt. When Pitt had to drop out of Duets, directed by her father, Bruce Paltrow, Speedman was cast in his role. Even though critics hated the movie, Speedman has fond memories. “It was a good group of people,” he says. But he concedes, “If I had to sing in that movie, I wouldn’t have gotten it.”
After Felicity wrapped in 2002, many of his costars graduated to bigger projects. Keri Russell’s filmography includes Waitress, The Upside of Anger, and Mission: Impossible 3. Jennifer Garner starred in Alias. Speedman’s on-screen nemesis, Scott Foley (who play RA Noel and vied for Felicity’s affection), was on The Unit, did Grey’s Anatomy, and was recently cast in the next season of True Blood. On the other hand, Speedman spent his late 20s in New York, slacking off. “I was always ambivalent about this thing,” he says. “I just wanted to have fun for a while.”
Perhaps as a result, his career has been a little more scattered. He appeared in the big-budget vampire franchise Underworld: Evolution and the spooky home-invasion thriller The Strangers with Liv Tyler. This week, he surfaces with a curious supporting role in The Vow, as the ex-boyfriend of Rachel McAdams, a woman with amnesia who forgets she loves her husband (Channing Tatum).
The film’s director, Michael Sucsy, says he cast Speedman because “I think Scott is a leading man. In the nature of the love-triangle dynamic, you don’t want to telegraph the end of the movie. You need a formidable rival.”
And yet, Speedman admits that he’s yet to anchor a film.
“I haven’t really done a big-budget movie where I’m a lead, where I’m leading a film. I’d love to get that done.”
“Hey, man, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it’s been some of that ambivalence. It’s very competitive. A lot of it is in the meetings, auditions, and all that, and you know how those go. I’ve been around for a long time. I’m making a little bit of a comeback of just trying to get good stuff down.”
When asked when his comeback began, he lets out a laugh. “I don’t know, dude. You can’t ask me stuff like that. I have no idea. It’s not like a comeback.”
At last year’s Toronto Film Festival, Speedman’s other film, Citizen Gangster, premiered to little fanfare. He plays the Canadian World War II folk hero and bank robber Edwin Boyd. “It was interesting to take a leap and do that. It’s a pretty good movie.” And then, with absolute sincerity, he adds: “It’s a pretty good performance, too.” That performance landed him a Genie Award nomination, for best actor in a Canadian film. His girlfriend, the Australian model Teresa Palmer, recently tweeted him a congratulations. “SO well deserved,” she wrote. “Very proud.”
Speedman is polite and dreamy sounding, but he’s the first to admit that he’s not good at talking about himself in interviews. “Personal stuff I have no idea how to fucking answer,” he says. “I got to be honest. I just shut down, when it becomes about me. Like anything to do with, ‘What do you do day to day?’ I don’t fucking know, man. How do you answer that?”
After a few gulps of silence, he comes up with a short list. “I do a lot of hiking. I play a lot of basketball. I do a lot of hanging out with friends. I manage to fill my time, although that’s the challenge of being an actor in Los Angeles. I keep busy. I’m busy finding work. You get there and start hustling.”
Speedman was raised in Toronto, where he trained in high school to be an Olympic swimmer. When an injury prevented that from happening, he fell into acting instead. He actually wasn’t interested in doing Felicity, until an agent slipped him the script, and he saw how good it was. “Even as a younger actor, when I had no business turning stuff down, I wasn’t really that into doing crappy things that had no feel to them. I could see there was something there for sure.”
For his audition, he paid $50 to use a video room in Toronto and put a few romantic scenes on tape. A 16-year-old boy read Felicity’s lines. “A couple days later,” he remembers, “they called and said they wanted me to come down. I got the job on the spot. They were so close to shooting, they had no choice.”
He still stays in touch with the cast. “We have this ongoing joke that we’re going to do a Felicity TV movie. I think that would be hilarious. It could go so many different ways.” The series, created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, was certainly groundbreaking, especially with its final episode arc that had Felicity travel back in time. “At first, we didn’t know what was going on,” Speedman says. “It seemed sort of random, but I think it worked out very well. If you now look at J.J.’s stuff, it’s a constant theme.”
He hasn’t seen many episodes of Lost. In fact, he doesn’t watch any TV, although he’s open to returning to a regular series. He’s ready to devote himself to his craft, to the point where he’s even taking acting classes at night. “As you get older, you evolve and want to take more risks,” he says. “I’m much more into it now.”