Scott Speedman landed on the walls of teenagers across America in the late ’90s as the star of coming-of-age TV hit ‘Felicity’, when his role as Ben Covington made him one of the decade’s defining pinups. The battle between edgy Ben and safe choice Noel Crane, played by Scott Foley, to win Felicity’s heart split the nation into two teams, while Scott’s real-life romance with Keri Russell, the show’s title star, added to the intrigue. And this was all before ‘Twilight’ was a glint in an author’s eye.
The huge success of that series saw fans, and TV and movie execs, falling at the feet of the actor. But he has since picked his path carefully, often seeking out nuanced roles in thoughtful films, like 2010’s excellent ‘Barney’s Version’ alongside Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman, over cashing out his heartthrob status.
These decisions are currently paying off for Scott, who is now experiencing perhaps the busiest period in his personal and professional life since he burst onto the scene more than 20 years ago. Now aged 46, he can be found on Netflix in the new series of ‘You’, one of the streamer’s buzziest shows, on network as Meredith Grey’s love interest in evergreen ABC hit ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, and will soon be in theaters with roles in two eagerly-awaited new movies by exceptionally talented filmmakers, ‘Crimes of the Future’ by David Cronenberg, and ‘Sharp Stick’ by Lena Dunham.
He has also entered the next act of his story at home, recently becoming a father for the first time to daughter Pfeiffer, with his designer girlfriend Lindsay Rae Hofmann. Here he discusses his exciting new projects, and evolution from teen idol to devoted dad.
Tell us a little about your upbringing. You’re British by birth, is that right?
Everybody in my family apart from me was born in Scotland. My dad worked for Marks and Spencer, and was a big part of introducing food to their stores, then they moved to London with that job for a couple of years which is where they had me. And then he took a trip to Toronto and loved it, and he was put in charge of opening up some Marks and Spencer stores in Canada, so we moved there and that’s where I grew up.
That’s so cool. As a Brit living in LA, I miss Marks and Spencer’s food! So tell us how you got into acting, and how you got the role in ‘Felicity’.
I started to act in Canada, and was doing pretty well. But I dropped out of that scene to go to theater school in New York. I didn’t really like it. I love New York, but I didn’t like the school. So I dropped out of there, no agent, and was living on my mom’s couch. Then I got a call to put myself on tape for ‘Felicity’. I said no, actually, I didn’t want to be on the WB network, which was sort of a big teen thing, I was too cool for school. But then an agent in Toronto found out that I’d said no, got me the script, and said, “Just read it!” And when I did, it was clear the part was tailor-made for me. So I put myself on tape for this show, which was JJ Abrams first show, and got the part. I wasn’t legally allowed to work in America, so they had to place me in a school in Pasadena to get me into the country. After we shot the pilot, I had to go to school for three months and sit in the back of class and pretend I was a student! The show was very much of that time, around that era of shows like ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and ‘My So-Called Life’, and it did very well. It was beautifully shot, shot on film which you don’t get to do much on television any more.
You’ve done lots of great work since, but this feels like a particularly busy time for you, four big projects coming out in quick succession.
I’ve taken intermittent breaks throughout my career — some forced, some not! And I didn’t have an agent for a while, and kind of dropped out to reassess what I was doing. But I’ve started to work a lot in the last couple of years. And I now have some interesting stuff coming out at a similar time, from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to a David Cronenberg movie, so very different things.
The Cronenberg project is a real return to the body horror genre and the movies of his roots. It’s a very out-there premise and movie. And being from Canada too, he was high on my list of people I had to work with. I’d heard he had retired, but that’s very much not true. The guy was on fire on set and super into it. Contrary to what you think he might be from his movies, he was really affable, hilarious and very warm. I got there on my first day and watched Kristen Stewart and Vigo Mortensen do a scene, and they were really going for it, which made me a little nervous and know I had to step it up big time. But they were amazing, and it was a thrill to work with that director and cast.
And ‘You’ is very zeitgeisty and part of pop culture, and I hadn’t done a show like that for a long time. My girlfriend was obsessed with the show, and I’d watched it over her shoulder, and was fascinated with how they were able to pull off a show where a male stalker is kind of the hero, in today’s climate. And I liked the photography, which matters to me more and more as I get older. So when it came around, I jumped at the chance. What was really interesting about that role was playing a very buttoned-up, type-A personality, a well put together company leader, who descends into madness a little bit. That was fun to do.
In the Lena Dunham movie I play a porn star, it’s a flashy little part. It’s exactly the kind of part that a number of years ago I would have ran away from, but I’m now more willing to go and take a shot. And Lena was amazing, really very cool.
In ‘You’ you play a tech mogul, are you a techy guy? Your Instagram looks like you’re dipping your toe in tentatively.
Very tentatively! It’s been a long time coming, and I’m giving it a go, but Instagram is a weird fitting shoe for me. I’m not [tech-savvy] at all, which was very funny for my friends that I was playing that part.
And you’ve just become a father for the first time at 46. How is that?
It’s good! At 26, or even 36, I was not ready to be a dad by any stretch of the imagination. I was a nightmare. But I feel more relaxed in the chaos of it now. It’s definitely wild, and it’s hard for sure, but not as hard as I thought it might be. This was the right time, and the right person, and all of those things. Little things have surprised me about myself. I thought I’d be nervous about her every move, but have found myself just feeling very confident that she’s going to be okay. I’m not really a calm person, but I have definitely found some calm to help me through this experience, and being this age has helped with that.
Do you have a routine to help you find that calm and keep yourself in a good mental place?
I started transcendental meditation about seven years ago, and that changed a lot of things for me. It didn’t happen overnight, but the accumulation of the routine, doing it twice a day for 20 minutes, keeps the beast at bay a little bit. And I’m a big outdoors person. There are lots of things about living in Los Angeles I don’t particularly like, but I do like being able to jump down to Topanga, or jump up to the St Gabriel Mountains, and getting out in nature. And if I feel I need to really get away, I go to the Big Sur or Kauai. I grew up a long distance swimmer. From probably too early an age, I was training far too long and far too hard. This built up a need to exert myself physically. And the older I get, being in nature feels like a real need for me.