Close-up: An Interview With Karolina Benefield

Karolina Benefield is a Polish born actress who is set to make her mark with one of the lead roles in Jason William Lee’s horror film Funhouse.

Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Karolina for a fascinating chat about the film and her journey so far.

Q: You were born in Poland and grew up in Austria. Can you tell us more about your upbringing?

A: I was born in central Poland to two amazing parents, youthful and exuberant, yet strict in that ‘teacher’ sort of fashion. My parents had me when they were very young and in many ways, were still kids themselves. As such, they were, and still are, the perfect mix of best friend and mentor.

During my first 10 years, I spent a lot of time in Northern Poland on the sea with my grandparents. As the first grandchild, I was admittedly a tad spoiled, but I was able to benefit from the teachings of my extended family.

When I was 12, we moved to Vienna, Austria. I was excited because my other grandmother lived there and I had visited her often and fell in love with the city. That said, it was a challenging adaptation because I didn’t speak German. I made it a priority to learn the language quickly so I could excel in my studies and social life.

I chose to attend a music school because I had learned to play violin and piano when I was 7 and really enjoyed the power of music. While I was able to play many instruments, I unfortunately was not born with the ability to carry a tune. I was so bad that during public performances, the teachers/conductors would always sit me in the back of the orchestra as far as possible so the instrument could be heard, but not my voice.

After graduating with my matura, I attended university in Vienna briefly before moving to Los Angeles to continue my studies and pursue modelling and acting.

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Q: What led you to modelling? And, what has that lifestyle given back to you as a person?

A: For some reason, I have always felt comfortable in front of a camera. Much to the embarrassment of my parents, I found every reason at every time to ‘strike a pose’.

However, at the same time, I am a very shy person when it comes to meeting new people or being in crowds. While a picture or video may reach thousands, or even millions, I only ever saw the camera as one person, so my shyness was not a factor early on.

I’ve always loved the arts and while some may disagree, I feel photography and by extension, modelling, are strong ways to express art. I couldn’t agree more that a picture is worth a thousand words. A portrait of a model can mean so many different things to each person and that fascinates me.

All that being said, I don’t believe I have modelled enough to consider myself ‘a model’. It is more of a hobby that I really enjoy. Yes, as a person, it has really helped me express myself in different ways. When I’m in front of the camera, it’s almost as if I’m able to portray different sides of myself or even a different person all together. It has also helped me overcome some of my shyness as more and more people are needed for the best ‘shoots’ and I’ve had to find comfort in expressing myself in larger and larger groups of people.

Perhaps more than anything else, modelling has taken me to new and exciting places. In addition to frequent travel throughout Germany, I was able to travel to Ibiza, Mallorca and other exotic destinations.

Q: You will step into acting with a lead role in Jason William Lee’s ‘Funhouse’. What interested you about this project and the role of Ula La More?

A: For as long as I can remember, starring in a leading role in a movie has been a dream. As a child, a student or model, I’ve always loved imitating others and there is no better way to express this desire than to actually play another person in a film or TV series.

The Executive Producer, Henrik Santesson, had been searching for someone to play Ula, someone that looked like me with an accent… and I REALLY have an accent. I was able to relate to the role in many ways, yet in others, Ula is completely opposite from my natural character – you can determine in which ways!

Ula is a bombshell in yoga pants that is portrayed as a stereotypical self-absorbed dim female….but with a good heart. While she does things for show because she believes people expect it, it’s not who she is inside. Because we live in a world where social media is so prevalent, it was easy to relate to the fact that her character does things that she believes are expected of her, that people will ‘like’ and will generate more popularity. Yet how many of us truly share our natural character, flaws and all, on social media?

I liked the Funhouse project because while a traditional horror movie in the typical ways, it is much more culturally and socially relevant with an international aspect that really interested me.

Q: I saw that you went on a fishing trip to bond with Jason William Lee, Valter Skarsgård, Khamsia Wilsher and Christopher Gerard. What was it like being part of the team working on this project? Any fun memories from that time?

A: Oh wow, that fishing trip was the first of many bonding trips and experiences we had throughout the time we spent filming Funhouse. With such a short time to complete the film, we literally spent 24/7 together. With myself and Valter not being from Vancouver, the local cast ensured we had plenty to do while not on set and made us feel at home in the city… or near the city I should say.

One of the most memorable moments was another weekend excursion, this time to the mountains to camp, tent and all. I’ve never been much of an outdoor person, so sleeping in a tent and searching for a place to relieve myself in bear territory were ‘interesting’ experiences to say the least. The Funhouse horrors were nothing compared to my wild imagination in the mountains without cell service.

I honestly cannot think of a better team. I still can’t believe we bonded so quickly, even though none of us knew each other before the filming. Part of the reason we had such great chemistry was that we all shared a similar sense of humour – and not one to which most people can relate.

If anyone heard our conversations during breaks, they’d think we were freaks. Every person was so unique, with completely different interests. Yet at the moment we came together, those differences were very complimentary and enabled us to have a lot of fun and understand each other.

I was also super impressed with the talent and experience of the other cast. I was concerned I may let them down given I had less experience, but they were all so supportive and selfless, that I was able to deliver my best performances.

Q: There are also some fun pictures on Instagram of you having an axe fight with Jason. What did you most enjoy about your first lead acting role and being a part of this project?

A: That axe fight was certainly one of the highlights for me with this role. I was actually able to use some of the skills I learned on set at a recent axe throwing competition in Minneapolis. I now know what to do in between shoots!

As much as I love being in front of the camera, everything was so new to me having to speak at the same time. I have incredibly high expectations of myself and I was literally cooking inside each evening wondering if I was doing well. I wanted to badly to exceed everyone’s expectations and each night, I would lie in bed thinking about things I could have done better.

Yet everyone morning, I was greeted with positive reinforcement from the entire cast and crew and I was so grateful for it. Which is why the thing I enjoyed most was being able to see how many people and how much work goes into making a movie from the perspective of a lead actor. I was there nearly every day, witnessing the tireless efforts of dozens of people acting as a unit with the sole focus of making a great movie.

Q: What type of roles would you like to get in the future?

A: Please don’t judge me, but I’m currently obsessed with the role of Villanelle from Killing Eve. Yes, the sociopath assassin. No, I would never kill anyone… but playing the part of someone that was powerful and deceptive, yet playful, would be a lot of fun.

I also love how the role allows her to utilise different languages and accents to provide drama and unique plot angles. I speak multiple languages and can imitate accents, so finding a similar role that utilised this skill set would be of strong interest to me.

I also feel like I was a queen or empress in a past life – that or I was simply born a few hundred years too late. As you can probable tell, I have a strong interest in powerful women and am fascinated with history. I would jump at the chance to play a Queen, Princess or a Witch in a period film.

Q: There are some majestic videos and photos on your Instagram of you in the jungle. Can you tell us about your passion for the jungle?

A: Is it that obvious my biggest passion in life is the jungle? I grew up watching animal planet on TV and have always been fascinated with the jungle, including the wild animals, the density of the vegetation, the colours, the noises….simply nature at its best.

That said, I was not the most adventurous person as you can tell from my attempt at camping. Yet, not unlike playing another person in a movie, I become Indiana Janette in a jungle. I have no problems jumping off plateaus, using a machete to wade through dense forest or wading through water in search of the next great sighting. Perhaps I was not meant to be Cinderella in a castle, but queen of the jungle?

The photos you mentioned were from a recent trip that my husband and I took to Africa. Given the long journey from Los Angeles, we tried to see as much as we could. Our original intention was to just take safaris in the Masai Mara and Serengeti, but knowing my passion for the jungle, my husband built our whole trip around a visit to Uganda and Rwanda to explore the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

So while we did see hundreds of animals over two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania, including all the Big 5, the highlight of the trip was my close encounter with a gorilla in Uganda.

For the entire month leading up to the trip, I was envisioning seeing a gorilla up close. I was literally watching videos every day of Dian Fossey, even trying to imitate gorilla language. Our gorilla expedition was a unique one where only 2-4 ‘adventurous’ souls are taken by a guide, ranger and protector to habituate a gorilla family – or help them become accustomed to humans.

Five hours of driving on barely passable roads and another 2 hours hiking into the forest, we found the gorilla family in a tree. We’re not supposed to be closer than

15 feet from them, for our safety and theirs, but I just had a feeling. An hour into our ‘visit’, a young 10 year-old male descended from the tree and as I took a knee, came closer and closer to investigate. Next thing I knew, he came to me, put his hand on my leg and then softly touched my hair before being chased off by the ranger. It is an experience that has changed my life and will forever make the jungle my imaginary home.

I have a big birthday coming up and I’ve made it clear to my husband there is only one place I want to go.

Q: What are your hopes and plans for the future?

A: There is so much to see and explore in the world and yet so little time. I really want to see as much of the world as possible and be able to show my son all of the possibilities it has to offer. And that includes acting.

I’ve only just begun exploring the possibilities for my acting career and my experience with Funhouse has only increased my desire to delve deeper into the possibilities. I want to continue learning from the best directors, producers and fellow actors to refine my talent and bring pleasure to those that watch movies and TV series.

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