Scott Speedman was late. At the time of his scheduled Observer interview, the 32-year-old actor was still in transit from J.F.K., coming in from Los Angeles on a nasty, stormy night. He had already missed one flight early that morning (he overslept), and since Mr. Speedman doesn’t have a publicist (was that a breath of fresh air we just felt?) a man from Rogue Pictures—the studio behind his new horror film, The Strangers—lurked in the lobby of the Regency, waiting to “tackle” the actor and drag him immediately to his interview. Forty-five minutes ticked by. When Mr. Speedman did eventaully arrive at the Library Bar, wearing a soft faded green T-shirt and jeans, looking sleepy and sheepish and cute, all was instantly forgiven.
After all, this is the man who played Ben Covington, the heartthrob of Felicity, that Keri Russell-helmed show about faux N.Y.U. students. Ben was the perfect late ’90s crush: WASP-gorgeous, damaged, mostly unattainable and seemingly always on the brink of uttering something emotive and profound. Mr. Speedman was the perfect crush, too.
Felicity ran for four years, and it seemed like a fait accompli that Mr. Speedman go on to a career in the movies. He co-starred with Gwyneth Paltrow in 2000’s Duets, and did the indie weepie My Life Without Me with fellow Canuck Sarah Polley. Later, he was the dreamy, well-behaved werewolf in Underworld and its inevitable sequel, Underworld: Evolution. But somehow, as the Jake Gyllenhaals, James Marsdens and James Francos of the world had careers shoot off like rockets, Mr. Speedman’s hit a lull. He has the look (those eyes! That jawline!), and he’s proven his chops, so … what happened?
“It’s a good question,” Mr. Speedman said, picking at the salted nuts in front of him, well into his second glass of Merlot. “I don’t know the answer. Don’t get me wrong—I get frustrated when I see people who I would say have lesser ability doing better roles, and because of those better roles go on to do well.” At the same time, he didn’t capitalize on whatever opportunities would have spilled over from Felicity. (“I didn’t embrace it. I closed the door,” he said.) Growing up in Toronto, he was a swimmer in training for the Olympics when he was injured and had to leave the sport, and still considers himself deeply competitive. “That’s why I get so nervous at auditions,” he said. “I don’t know where the competition is.” He looked to his left and to his right, laughing. “It’s me! It’s complicated.” When does one get to the point where they no longer have to audition? “I don’t fucking know, but I can’t wait,” he said. “The one thing I do know is that it never ends. … There’s always somebody better, there’s always somebody who intimidates you. You just have to say fuck it and have fun, keep trying to do a good job, and then if shit doesn’t work out, just keep going.”
Still, at the moment, Mr. Speedman is in pretty good shape. First up, there’s The Strangers, co-starring Liv Tyler, opening as a non-estrogen alternative to Sex and the City on May 30. The movie is really, really scary (“I got up and locked my door,” said Mr. Speedman, on reading it for the first time) and is actually pretty well written, with decent dialogue and actual character development. “That was always the key for me,” he said, of how The Strangers stood out among the numerous other horror scripts he has been sent. “Getting The Strangers was a big break. Getting Atom’s movie was a huge, huge deal.”