'Superstore' Star Ben Feldman Says He Was 'Terrified' Before Spinal Surgery (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
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Days after Superstorestar Ben Feldman revealed on Instagram that he underwent major spinal surgery, he opened up about the experience. The actor, who stars on the long-running NBC workplace comedy set in a big-box store, admitted he was "terrified" to have the surgery -- something Feldman said needed to be taken care of to fix recurrent back issues.
"I've had back issues for a really long time, and about a year ago, I got it looked at. The doctors were kind of like, 'You should do this. But if you're operating without much pain in the world, there's no rush.' And then when quarantine happened, my wife [Michelle] was like, 'What better time to go through surgery? You're not going to work or anything,'" Feldman told ET's Lauren Zima over Zoom to promote Superstore's virtual Comic-Con@Home panel on Thursday. "So I had more imaging done and the doctor was like, 'Oh, never mind. This is really bad. You need to do this immediately. You're this close to irreversible cord damage.' So I went and they put a hole in my neck, drilled a bunch of calcified bone out of my spine, took out some bad disks and put in fake disks to little silver balls into my spine."
"Had I had not gone and been like, 'Yeah, why not? Let's let's get some more pictures taken of my insides.' Had I not done that, I could have gone skiing, someone could have bumped into me from behind, and I would have had irreparable damage done to my spinal cord," the 40-year-old actor explained, agreeing that quarantine was a blessing in disguise. When asked why he was having back problems that resulted in surgery, Feldman deadpanned, "Because I'm 89 years old."
Feldman was open about his recovery process following the surgery, revealing that there have been physical changes to his body as he continues to heal. During this time, he's also discovered comfort TV shows, such as the original Love Island, to binge.
"First of all, I sound different," he said. "My wife can't believe I'm doing an actual interview because when I first got the surgery I sounded [voice changes] like this because your throat is this big. So they usually don't say anything... [I've been] super invested in garbage reality TV, which never has been my thing before, and it's definitely not my wife's. I think in less than a day, I'm on episode nine of the same season of Love Island, which is a great show." Feldman joked, "They're my friends -- my only friends right now."
Feldman confessed that, in the days leading up to the procedure, he was "absolutely terrified." He recalled staying at a nearby hotel with his wife, and the uncertainty prompted him to make a drastic decision the night before the surgery. "I was writing my will on the [hotel] stationery. I sent a picture of it to a friend I was in the middle of a conversation with, and then she just stopped," he remembered, downplaying the moment. "She clearly had something else to do... But I was scared enough that I wrote an actual will out to my wife and my family the night before on [hotel] stationery."
Fortunately, the surgery was a success, as Feldman originally wrote on Instagram, accompanied by photos of him at the hospital and recovering at home with his eldest son, 2-year-old Charlie. "It was horrifying but I’m alive & lots of friends/family sending me food that I can swallow, which is a v underrated category of food (slippery)," his caption read in part.
While he recuperates at home, Feldman is looking forward to this year's at-home version of Comic-Con, where he and his Superstore co-stars (minus America Ferrera) will be reuniting virtually to discuss the series and possibly what the post-COVID norm may look like for sets.
"This is our second year at Comic-Con, and it's crazy that we somehow slipped through the cracks and get to hang out with all these crazy superheroes and nerds. So we're just trying to keep a low profile and hope that nobody kicks us out," he quipped, before offering a preview of the fun activities in store for Cloud 9 fans. "We did some, like, skits, sketches -- not sketchy things. But these are sketches and they'll be cut together, and we're doing the best we can from our bunkers. I'm having a lot of fun just watching TV, seeing everybody else's living rooms and bedrooms and dens."
Though Superstore showrunners Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller didn't commit to the upcoming sixth season -- the first without Ferrera -- as one that would be reflective of a coronavirus-affected reality when ET spoke with them in April, a lot has changed in the country since. Feldman was more forthcoming about the new season most likely having to address a new normal, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racial inequality.
"It would be massively irresponsible for us not to. What a crazy letdown that would be if this is the one season we're going to take a break from politics," Feldman said. "What's funny is, at the beginning of this whole quarantine, the pandemic and everything, there were a lot of legitimate conversations to not just our show but most shows -- hospital shows, doctor shows, anything that takes place in the present -- people were really like, 'When is this going to end? When will we ever be on TV again? Will people want to see these stories? Can they be funny? Will they be tragic? Will everybody be exhausted and just want to escape?'"
"And that continues because we still have no idea what the world is going to look like because things seem to be getting worse," he continued. "We're trying to write towards that and there have been a lot of conversations, but we have really, really talented, smart writers in the room who are excited to be telling this story and to figure out how to tell it through our unique lens."
Feldman shared that there is currently a date for Superstore to, hypothetically, resume production, if everything is deemed safe for cast and crew. (Season 5 was cut short by one episode due to the pandemic, prompting producers to push Ferrera's final episode to the season 6 premiere.)
"In a month and a half, supposedly," he said. "I'll be interested to see if that all pans out, and there's going to be a lot of new rules -- everything from what they're talking about [like] putting plexiglass in between actors when they act. Our show is unique and specifically adept at working in this new world because with these wide open stages, we have these long lenses that you can shoot 30 feet away from an actor, so there's already space and distance built in. So if anybody can do it, I think we can. But who knows what is going to happen."
When Superstore is allowed to begin filming again, Feldman said the plan is still for Ferrera, who is currently quarantining in New York, to return to wrap up her character, Amy's, storyline properly. And Feldman promised that Superstore's central couple, Amy and Jonah, are staying the course -- even if Amy relocates to California for her new gig.
"Job offers still exist in a pandemic and potential life changes... and our relationship and her kids, it all still exists. It's just that there's a new backdrop, which raises the stakes a little bit for us," Feldman said. "It's an interesting thing. I hate to say... anybody has benefited from this awful thing that's happening, but as far as storylines on Superstore, I think it definitely adds spice."
"We, in this weird, goofy way, have been treating grocery store workers as heroes for five years and then overnight they became heroes in real life," he added. "The last day of shooting we just kind of dropped everything and abandoned [ship]. We all ran home to hide in our houses through this thing and the people we portrayed on TV continued going to work and became these giant, incredible, amazing people who are risking their lives every single day. So it's pretty amazing to see the people you portray on TV become so much more important than you ever could have imagined they would be -- the bloodline of American society."
Watch the Superstore cast and producers reunite for a virtual Comic-Con@Home panel on Thursday at 3 p.m. PT on the official Comic-Con YouTube page.
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