Square-jawed, tall, and almost cartoonishly handsome, Ben Koldyke looks every bit the classic leading man. But in the last few months, the 40-year-old actor has begun to make his name with a pair of high-profile parts that use his all-American appearance to somewhat subversive effect: On Big Love, he was Dale, Alby’s closeted (and tormented) trick-turned-lover; on How I Met Your Mother, he plays Don, Robin’s goofy, pants-averse co-anchor/future boyfriend. He called Vulture from Los Angeles to discuss his double life. (SPOILERS.)
So, you’re on two hit TV shows. Yet, somehow, you’re not on Wikipedia ...
Truth be told, I am a relative newcomer. I was a schoolteacher and a coach in Chicago, and I didn’t come out here [to Hollywood] until kind of late in life. I sold a couple of scripts, made a couple of short films, and then, only about a year and a half ago, I was interviewing to be a writer on a comedy pilot for Fox and they asked me to come in and read as an actor. I did, sort of on a whim, and I got the job. That shifted everything.
It’s unusual for an unknown actor to break through simultaneously in both a comedy and a drama — how did that come about?
My general sensibility is most certainly comedic. But when I signed with my manager, he said, “I think you could do dramatic stuff as well.” So, rather than making the choice to do it, I sort of agreed and deferred. By no means does it feel close to home, but I was willing to explore it. Big Love was the first dramatic audition I ever had.
There was a scene on that show in which your character, Dale, is sleeping, and Alby takes a cell-phone picture of the two of them in bed. The audience, knowing Alby, instantly thinks “blackmail,” but later it becomes clear that Alby really has feelings for Dale, and vice versa. Do you think Dale ever saw Alby for what he really was?
I don’t. [On tonight’s show] Bill gave Dale his version of the Alby reality, but when Dale confronted Alby on those things and he told him that he isn’t that person, Dale’s reaction was one of relief and welcoming. I think he loved the guy! I wish I’d had more time to explore that — it felt fast. There is so much going on in that show that it’s tough for them to let things unfold a bit more slowly, so I think the net of it is that you end up with a more sexually-oriented sense of the relationship. But what Matt [Ross, who plays Alby] and I worked for was just two people who really dug each other.
But Dale’s delusional about Alby, right?
Yes, I think he was tricked. Doubtless he would have ended up finding out and being crushed by it, but we all have our sides. What Dale saw, and what he felt, was only a part of Alby, but it was a real part nonetheless.
Why do you think Dale decided to hang himself?
I think that he had just run out of gas. He was facing, for the first time, the reality that this [homosexuality] was not going to change. He’d spent a life of therapeutically trying to address it, and when he realized that it was just futile, it was too much to confront.
Related: Big Love Recap: Let Me Admire You
Well, it seems like your run on Big Love is over. Unless you go back as a ghost.
Alby is the king of odd visions, so I suppose you never know. Frankly, I’m not sure how the character is landing, in terms of significance. I’m getting far more attention from the How I Met Your Mother stuff.
Really? In what sense?
Well, certainly my college teammates did catch the man-on-man kiss [on Big Love], and that was big news in a locker room sort of way, but when I appeared naked on HIMYM, that was by far the bigger splash.
And it does seem that you have a future on HIMYM — the narrator has implied that Don’s going to be around for a while.
They write these things by the minute, so that could change at any second. There’s a lot of this guy in the next few episodes, but the tricky part is that it’s happening in the middle of pilot season, so there’s been some tension between my being on the show and being able to get out [for other auditions]. For instance, I just tested for a network on Friday, to be the lead in a comedy, so if that happens, it’s going to make [staying on HIMYM] pretty tough. But it’s hard for me, too, because I absolutely love working on that show.
Yet you don’t want to be, say, ninth on the call sheet forever.
That’s right. I don’t want to shortchange what’s going on with How I Met — it’s a blast to play such a goofball, and for the first time they’re getting a sense of the character in my voice, and they’re writing for me — but it would be nice to be the lead.
Maybe you’d finally get that Wikipedia entry.
Yeah, let’s get that going, right?
Related: Big Love Recap: Let Me Admire You