Steely blue-eyed Benjamin Rigby, he of the gruesome first death in Alien: Covenant, has always had a good ear for characters, mimicking terrible local ads on TV to entertain his family.
"There was one for the Australian Psychic Expo," he grins, switching into character in the corner of the Carlisle Street, Melbourne cafe where we've agreed to meet, much to the bemusement of the baristas. "Fantabulous," he enthuses, insisting it's a Queensland thing.
Paving the way
Despite this youthful zest for performance, Rigby's pathway into acting wasn't a straight line. Though he was a regular in school productions on the Gold Coast, including playing a pirate in Space Jump to Bethlehem, other obsessions included competitive swimming, equestrian and surf life saving.
A high school drama teacher suggested seeing Lars von Trier's Nicole Kidman-led Dogville while the class was studying Brecht. "Fourteen-year-old me got a ticket, went by myself and sat there in awe whilst every other Gold Coast 65-plus pensioner walked out," Rigby chuckles. "That's when I decided that's what I'm going to do, and to blend theatre and film."
Rigby eventually applied to the University of Queensland's drama school in Toowoomba while on a gap year in the UK. Three years of study later, Rigby relocated to Melbourne, initially in inner-northern suburb Carlton, where a quick Google search threw up Lygon Street independent haven Cinema Nova. Soon he was working at the box office and was soon in touch with the city's vibrant short filmmaker scene. "I hadn't seen short films of this calibre ever and I just fell in love," he says.
Stepping behind the scene
Putting his hand up to act for free, Rigby eventually got an agent, but bit parts and TV ads weren't enough to satisfy his passion, though a keen eye for photography was one creative outlet he had full control of and continues to pursue to this day.
Joining forces with best friend Belinda Misevski, they formed independent theatre company Exhibit A, and Rigby continued to offer his services for short films, including one called Rigor Mortis, by writer/director Eddie Diamandi, which screened at the Palm Springs Film Festival. It set Rigby's mind to writing his own short, Bridge. Directed by friend Bonnie Moir and shot on a budget of $700 with a crew of five, Rigby also starred as a closeted man cruising a gay beat.
With over 70 audition tapes sent out in 2015, joking that it was practically a full-time job, Rigby finally received the call from his agent last January telling him that he had landed Alien: Covenant. He was manning the Nova box office at the time and dreaded he was about to be dumped by his LA agents, having spent stints there without booking a gig. "It was psycho," he grins again. "I thought I was going to have a stroke for like two days. Friends came up to me and said, 'we saw you the other day, are you OK?'"
Waking up at 4am most mornings, Rigby would frantically check confirmation emails to reassure his spinning brain that this was real. It wasn't until they moulded his body for the gruesome special effects that it finally sunk in. Shooting the movie with director Ridley Scott and stars Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup was even more surreal, Rigby says. "It was out of this world. I mean, Alien and Blade Runner are just such seminal films of the 20th century. To be a part of that in any way is crazy … People on Instagram have contacted me for memorabilia."
Rigby has packed his bags and is about to head back to Los Angeles, like so many of our young stars-in-the-making, to pursue the dream that's tantalisingly close now. "I thought at the time, 'this will open up doors,' and it undoubtedly has, it's like I've come really close to some big films now," he acknowledges. "I'm slowly realising that if you're getting in front of directors and producers and getting to the last five-ish people, then you're doing something right. You just have to keep waving your hands at them."
Part of that is embracing LA culture while not losing his roots, Rigby adds. "I remember when I first went there, people were telling me, 'you have to sell yourself.' It's not something that I'm very good at, but I've learned to become a lot better. I think that's good for Australians. We're so self-deprecating at times, then I go to a place like America and it really forces you not to be ashamed of being confident."