Mr Ben Rosenfield
We spend a day in the Bohemian life of the Boardwalk Empire actor and folk musician as he models the latest collection from Tom Ford
We’re sitting in the sunshine on a New York sidewalk outside Mr Ben Rosenfield’s favourite bottomless coffee spot, The Hungarian Pastry Shop, a wonderfully eclectic café so beloved of students and professors from neighbouring Columbia University, it’s practically part of the campus. They’ve had a pot of bottomless coffee on the go for more than 50 years – and the décor clearly hasn’t changed much in that time.
It’s the day before Mr Rosenfield’s 23rd birthday, which seems an appropriate occasion to reflect on the actor and musician’s past 12 months. On this day last year, he was in the midst of filming the final series for Boardwalk Empire at HBO’s Brooklyn Studios – he played Willie Thompson, Nucky’s (portrayed by Mr Steve Buscemi) nephew – and had to beetle up to Rhode Island to film a cameo in Mr Woody Allen’s latest film, Irrational Man, starring Mr Joaquin Phoenix and Ms Emma Stone.
“Getting a Woody Allen movie was a literal dream come true – a very specific dream of mine,” he says. “And it happened on my birthday. I only had a few lines but it was intense.”
Since then, Mr Rosenfield has recorded and released an EP of his folk music, spent the winter on stage in an off-Broadway production called The Nether and played the lead in 6 Years, a loosely scripted, largely improvised independent movie about the painful last days of a disintegrating long-term relationship. “There wasn’t really a script – they called it a ‘scripment’.” It proved a hit following its premiere at South by Southwest, where it was snapped up by Netflix. “And I also met this girl who has sort of become the love of my life, so that was cool,” he says.
Though he lives close to Columbia, Mr Rosenfield never made it to university. “Boardwalk Empire was my college,” he says. “I barely graduated from high school. I was an unhappy kid, I didn’t go to class very often.” All of which made him a surprising choice to return to his alma mater, Montclair High School in New Jersey, as the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation ceremony. “I only left five years ago so I didn’t have this huge well of wisdom to draw from,” he says. “I just talked about the fact that I hated high school but that I always knew what I wanted to do with my life. Acting was the one thing I really excelled at without having to work at all. Everything else felt like a struggle.”
Mr Rosenfield has had this assurance for as long as he can remember, “since I was about four”. He was born into it: his mother, Ms Kate Redway Rosenfield, is an actor and his father, Mr Stephen Rosenfield, is the founder of the American Comedy Institute where he teaches stand-up comedy, having previously worked as a theatre director and political speechwriter. His younger brother, Nate, is a writer and occasional comedian.
Mr Rosenfield currently shares a house on the Upper West Side with three friends he grew up with in New Jersey – a director, a gaffer (lighting specialist), and an actor/ musician. He keeps his own hours, gets up when he wants – sometimes well into the afternoon – and spends his short days and long nights reading scripts, recording audition tapes and composing songs on his guitar and harmonica.
So the previous day’s photoshoot in a Brooklyn brownstone, in which he lounged around the house reading, smoking and drinking coffee, wasn’t a million miles away from how he might have otherwise spent the day. Except that he wouldn’t ordinarily be wearing head-to-toe Tom Ford, which launched on MR PORTER this week. Mr Ford, who is perhaps best known for his sharply silhouetted and generously lapelled tailoring and eveningwear, has introduced a complete wardrobe for FW15 that mixes formal and relaxed together. It runs the gamut from casualwear, denim and sneakers to statement leathers and shearling jackets to monochrome hound’s-tooth suiting that is much softer and lighter to wear than it looks.
He bears a striking resemblance to Mr Tim Buckley – so much so he played the cult folk musician in the 2012 film Greetings From Tim Buckley. There is also an air of Mr Bob Dylan about his demeanour that comes through in the smoky, folky poetry of his music. “He’s a huge influence. I’ve probably written 40 or 50 songs. The way I write is to improvise, record my improvisations, then tighten it up and edit after the fact.”
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, what is in store? He plans to record and release a full album of new material and he has just finished filming Indignation, a movie adaptation of the novel by Mr Philip Roth. More immediately the time has come to move out. “I feel like shaking my life up,” he says. “I want to get my own place, move to Brooklyn.” But after that? “The future is wide open,” he says. “I know where I went to get to but I’ve no idea how I’m getting there – and I don’t want to know either. I like the spontaneity.” They call that a “scripment”.
6 Years will be available on Netflix from 8 September.