NEW YORK — It wasn’t hard for Benjamin Stockham to figure out his role as Marcus, the title character of NBC’s new sitcom About a Boy.
“It was pretty obvious from the script that he was kind of a nerd,” said Ben during a recent chat. “Well, not a nerd. Sorry. Kind of an oddity.”
And an interesting oddity, Ben hastened to add: “Part of what makes it so easy to play Marcus is that, as a kid, you might have his same problems: being bullied, being an outsider. But you always have someone there who cares about you.”
On About a Boy, airing on Tuesday, Marcus is cared about, to excess, by his high-strung, overprotective single mom (Minnie Driver).
Meanwhile, he enlists as surrogate dad his new next-door neighbour, Will (David Walton), a footloose, freewheeling bachelor who is alternately charmed by Marcus’s pluck and annoyed by his frequent, often ill-timed intrusions.
Will knows he must establish some boundaries for Marcus. But Marcus can’t help asking, “Why is hanging out with me any less exciting than hanging out with those women with bathing suits that are wayyyy too small?”
This bromance between boy and man is at the series’ heart, raising the question: How does Ben like working with a co-star two decades his senior?
“It’s great!” he replied. “David’s really fun. He has this pen and he flips it around his thumb with one finger. I have no idea how he does that. He also boxes. But not professionally. He’s probably the world’s most interesting guy.”
How does Ben see himself? What’s different about him from the character he plays?
“Other than the devilishly handsome good looks, the charm and the humbleness,” he cracked, “everything!”
Including his advanced years. Ben is baby-faced with a china-doll complexion, and a bit small for 13 and one-half.
“I look maybe 11 or 12,” he readily acknowledged.
This served him well in landing the role of 11-year-old Marcus. But does being a late bloomer ever bug him in his personal life?
“My friends don’t care,” he said. “And if my friends don’t care, I don’t care.”
As Ben enters his teens, he can point to credits that include not just his new sitcom, but also two short-lived predecessors: the 2010 Fox comedy Sons of Tucson and last season’s 1600 Penn on NBC.
“But why did you want to be an actor in the first place?”
“I was watching TV one day,” he recalled, “and I’m like, ‘How did those people get on TV? I’m gonna try that. Hey, mom, I want to be on TV!’ And she’s like, ‘OK, let’s get you an agent.’
“That’s exactly what happened, word for word.”
That was about six years ago. So by the time he was signed for About a Boy, he felt like an old hand.
“I’ve done two other TV series, so I’ve got this one in the bag,” he laughed. “Sure, the other two were cancelled. But this one won’t!”
Maybe not soon, anyway. About a Boy is off to a good start, having grown its audience in its most recent airing to a robust 8.7 million viewers.
In the meantime, Ben said he’s growing as an actor, thanks to the bona fide veterans he works with on the show.
“They are teaching me. Not verbally. But with their example. And as for what they learn from me,” he added, deadpan: “how to be very, very, very immature.”
“Is it easy or hard for you to learn your lines?”
“It depends how they’re written,” he said, explaining that it’s tricky when dialogue is written too formally. “Like with ‘this’ and ‘will.’ Most people just say ‘this’ll.’ So it’s definitely hard when there’s whole scripts written like a robot. But the writers on About a Boy are very good.”
Unlike adult actors, Ben doesn’t get much downtime while shooting his Los Angeles-based show, even during long delays between scenes: “When I’m not on camera,” he noted with a roll of his eyes, “I’m doing school.”
But once the workday is finished, he spends much of his spare time drawing, “which I like a lot. I do this weird thing, where I see something completely regular, like a chair — and then I make it into some sort of monster.”
Having said that, he shared a few of his creations on his iPhone screen. They were remarkably inventive, the sort of whimsical Goth that Tim Burton might applaud.
“I might become serious about it someday,” Ben said, “if the whole acting thing doesn’t work out. But it will be a hobby until further notice.”