'Superstore' Star Ben Feldman on Why He Was Afraid of Being a 'Disaster' in Directorial Debut (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Ben Feldman is now a director.
The Superstorestar takes his turn behind the camera for the first time in his career for Thursday’s episode of NBC’s quirky workplace comedy. For the 37-year-old actor, who has played the dorky but lovable Cloud 9 sales associate Jonah for three seasons, the transition from acting to directing went from a pipe dream to a reality during the show’s second season, when he made his desires known.
“Last season, I had expressed a lot of interest in directing and the producers were like, ‘Yeah, you should!’ I don’t know if they meant that or not, but I took their word for it,” Feldman told ET, chuckling at the memory. “As soon as we got picked up for a third season, that was the first discussion that I had with them.”
While Feldman has made a name for himself in front of the camera with memorable roles on Mad Men and Drop Dead Diva, his first introduction to Hollywood filmmaking came during his childhood, when he'd put on the director's hat and wrangle his friends together for impromptu shoots -- many of them involving his beloved dog, Fred.
“I would steal my stepdad’s video camera and direct all my friends in these ridiculous home movies -- noir films that I made as a 14-year-old that always involved someone losing their dog because my dog was always around and came pretty cheap as an actor," Feldman said with a laugh. "I remember making my friend Justin lay over my dog, Fred, and sob because Fred was supposed to be dead in the scene I was shooting, which is a ridiculous thing. I wish I still had the video."
"I was never in front of the camera when I was doing those things, so it’s actually kind of bizarre that I ended up making a career [being an actor] and only now am I getting around to directing," he noted. "Fortunately, there weren’t any dead dogs in this episode.”
Feldman's directorial debut, the Superstore episode titled "Lottery," afforded him the rare opportunity to step outside the box -- literally -- as it's one of the few times each season where the show moves outside the confines of the Cloud 9 store for a significant amount of time. To prepare for his directing gig, he shadowed directors and editors on the show for weeks, took a mandatory directing course held by his pal Fred Savage and, over summer hiatus, even flew to Canada to follow frequent Superstore helmer Victor Nelli on The Bold Type set.
The crux of the episode kicks off with lottery mania sweeping through the Cloud 9 store, prompting Dina (Lauren Ash) to incentivize to sell as many tickets as possible; meanwhile, Jonah helps Amy (America Ferrera) track down the new district manager to lobby for a raise. Sounds like a pretty standard Superstore episode, right? Not so. As Feldman pointed out, there was a full day of exterior locations at a golf course, a giant night shoot and a massive stunt involving a big piece of machinery. You read that right: stunts!
"If anyone’s ever seen our show, we’re essentially in a store all the time and it’s two or three people talking and that's pretty much it. We’re rarely outside or doing anything wild or different," Feldman said. "I was given far more opportunity to put my stamp on this particular episode than I expected and probably more than I wanted. It’s terrifying if you’ve never directed anything before. I really got thrown in the deep end with this episode.” Watch an exclusive sneak peek featuring Feldman and Ferrera below.
Feldman admitted he was "horrified" of being "a complete disaster," revealing that his nerves were on another level the night before he was to start his week-long stint as director.
"I could barely sleep the Sunday night before my first day of actually directing," he confessed. "When you've never done it before, it's this blurry, vague cloud of things you can't picture or things you can't imagine, and all that does is stress you out. Or, at least if you're me, it does." But after successfully tackling Day 1, the outlook was much rosier. "A lot of that has less to do with me and more with [working with] the greatest crew ever. The fact that it was doable was surprising to me," he said with a chuckle. "I think I was terrified the whole time."
Earlier in the season, Ferrera took her turn directing an episode of Superstore; Feldman said the biggest thing he learned from that experience was the calm "demeanor" she had throughout the entire process. "She transitioned very well from being one of us to one of us and also the one in charge of us. It was seamless the way she did it," he said. "You never felt like she put on a different hat and was suddenly on a power trip. She still felt like one of us. I learned a lot watching that and reminding myself how to conduct myself on set so that people were interested to hear what I have to say."
For his first time as a director, Feldman was surprised by how closely aligned his original vision was to the final product. "It looked pretty similar to how I imagined it, which is kind of a crazy thing -- to think of something inside your brain. You feel like God for a second, and then it just becomes a reality!" he said. "It was very helpful to come home to my unimpressed wife and screaming baby every night to remind me I'm not God." As for how he juggled directing himself, Feldman joked he "likes himself more as a director." "I don't know if my wife does," he quipped.
Directing his co-stars was another challenge, but not for the reasons you'd expect. Feldman shared that leading the ensemble cast, which includes Colton Dunn, Mark McKinney, Nico Santos and Nichole Bloom, in the break room scenes -- of which there are a few in Thursday's episode -- was particularly trying because it was difficult to keep the laughter at bay. "Everybody's being goofy and improv-ing. On a day like that, you have to keep the energy up, kind of like a warm-up guy with an audience."
Feldman zeroed in on Dunn, who plays wheelchair-bound Cloud 9 associate Garrett, as the lone castmember consistently busting his balls while he attempted to keep things moving. "Any time I was giving direction, he was listening but he was also videotaping it. I saw him a couple of days ago and he was like, 'I've been watching you all day,' and I was like, 'What are you talking about?' 'Oh, I'm putting together a short of you as a director,'" Feldman hilariously recalled, adding one bit of warning: "So look for that. It's not awesome. Don't expect it to be accurate. It's just going to be a crucifixion!"
As for what fans can expect from his Superstore episode, Feldman said fans will feel a lot of emotions. "It's a special episode to me, even if I remove myself from it and the fact that I directed it. Just watching it back a bunch of times, it's a good episode. It's a funny episode," he teased. "It's funny, it's different and you get the super feels in the end. It ends bittersweet, romantic and sad all at once."
Check out more exclusive photos of Feldman directing Superstore below.