“The grind is real:” Work ethic is helping Civic Park native find success as an actor

FLINT, Michigan -- Ben Cain, an actor in the new Hulu series Cruel Summer, says there is “a certain level of admiration that automatically comes with being from Flint.” 

Ben Cain grew up in Flint's Civic Park neighborhood and has embarked on a successful acting career.Cain, who plays Rod Wallas on the show, recently wrapped up season two of the popular thriller, and is already preparing for his next role. In 2021 Cain has also appeared in two Amazon Prime shows – Panic and the final season of Bosch. He has another project set to be released by year’s end. 

“The grind is real; it doesn’t ever stop,” Cain said. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cain found several ways to continue working, including doing voice work. Although there was a “learning curve” to recording audio, such as choosing the correct microphone and learning how to mix, the determined actor prevailed. Still, he admits however that “is a harder job” than acting. 

“If you worked a lot (before the pandemic), then you were frustrated because you’re not working,” he said. “Most of the people I know did any little thing to keep their minds sharp and make themselves better for whenever the pandemic ended.”

True to his blue collar roots in Flint, Cain, 50, has never shied away from doing whatever it takes to chase his dream. He’s worked as a security guard, as a waiter, and done landscaping.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the seed money going toward what I really want to do,” he said.

The Flint Northern High School graduate also found time recently to complete a course at Harvard and take up two hobbies: practicing meditation and playing the harmonica. The latter reminds him of his high school marching band days.

And it is those memories of 10th grade when he decided to become an actor that Cain is most fond of. He recalls how teachers genuinely encouraged him and his peers to strive for greatness and be willing to out-work others in life. 

“I remember them (teachers) being so influential in making sure that I am the best I can be,” Cain said. He noted that he had teachers who reminded him and his classmates to prove people who don’t expect great accomplishments from inner-city kids wrong.

Furthermore, there were mentors outside of school who helped foster him and discourage the young artist from joining the street life. Everyone from church elders to the some of the toughest guys in Flint constantly pushed him to be better. 

“You gotta be tough coming from Flint,” he said. “But it was one of the best places to grow up. I love Flint. It gave me the arts, and if I didn't have the arts, I wouldn’t have any of this. It set the foundation of who I am and gave me the understanding of what it takes to be a great artist.”

Cain, who is based in Los Angeles, isn’t able to return home as often as he’d like, but still remembers some of the city’s landmarks fondly, including The Torch, La Azteca, Blackstone’s, and the old CLC skating rink. He also made local industry connections in Flint who he is still in contact with now, including Lamar Taylor, Armani Soul, Alex Grossman, and Tom Hall. He hopes to one day team up for projects that will help the city financially and otherwise.

For now, the former Civic Park neighborhood resident is simply trying to focus on his many different roles. In Cruel Summer, Cain’s character is Rod Wallis, a caring stepfather of main character Kate Wallis (played by Olivia Holt). In the Panic series, Cain portrays a hardcore parent who harbors a secret. Additionally, he is also reciting lines for the role of a rival basketball coach in Long Slow Exhale, an upcoming Paramount women's basketball drama series. 

Cain says that no one role prepares him for the next, but some of his personal dating experiences did help him fit right into the role of Wallis. “I’d already dated women with kids and a biological father in the picture, so I already knew that dynamic,” he said. “I’m a big fan of relationships … so I always bring that into each character.”

The interracial relationship theme of Cruel Summer, though not an intentional focus of the Freeform Network, is also a familiar part of Cain’s life, which he feels are starting to become more acceptable on television. 

“It mirrors what is going on in real life,” he said, adding that the entertainment business is finally embracing more diversity and representation by showing couples of different ethnicities. 

As for the major shift toward online streaming shows, Cain believes that it has allowed more opportunities for performers to find work because of the multiple platforms that now exist.

Cain calls his career an “adventure” and he plans to continue pursuing his biggest dreams, which are to inspire other Flint residents and provide support for his family.

And Cain's message for people worried about the future of Flint is simple: “You don’t have to worry about us giving up!” 

Read more articles by Omoro Collins.