The alt-rock icon dives deep on playing a "twisted dream version of myself" for multiple episodes.
The Wilds
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about The Wilds season 2 finale.

Even Ben Folds doesn't really know how he ended up on The Wilds.

The iconic alt-rocker, best known as the frontman and pianist for Ben Folds Five, literally popped up randomly in the jungle in the middle of the night halfway through season 2 of Prime Video's teen drama as a hallucination for Leah (Sarah Pidgeon), one of the teen girl castaways. As she starts to doubt her own mental health on the island, she sees the subject of her first intense crush: Ben Folds. He throws some quips at her, plays the piano for her (including a beautiful new arrangement of "Brick"), but ultimately helps her come to the epiphany that if everyone sees her as some "lovesick child," then she should use that to her advantage.

It's the pivotal turning point of the season, as Ben's advice motivates Leah to manipulate everyone around her after the teen girls get "rescued" and interrogated by the shady Dawn of Eve organization members. It's how she's able to work behind their backs to get a tip to the FBI, ultimately causing Gretchen (Rachel Griffiths) to flee the island and go on the run with the rest of her team, leaving all the teen girls and guys stranded together in the season 2 finale cliffhanger.

Folds literally changed the direction of the entire series. No one could have seen that coming, least of all the musician himself. "I'm used to music. There's no spoilers there," he tells EW with a laugh. "I'm not an actor, but I did my best."

While Folds is no stranger to playing a fictionalized version of himself after appearing on TV shows You're the Worst and Billions, he says this cameo was something totally new for him. Below, EW got Folds to explain how he ended up on The Wilds, what it was like filming all three of his episodes, and more.

The Wilds
Credit: Prime Video

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It was such a surprise to see you pop up on The Wilds. How did you end up on the show?

BEN FOLDS: Gosh, I don't even know what's the story behind the scenes. I couldn't tell you. These things start with a call from my manager, and it sounded super interesting, and I was in Australia anyway [where The Wilds films]. I was coming out of 18 months of being in Australia during all the lockdown time, and I was open to it. It involved me going up to Brisbane from Sydney, and being in quarantine for two weeks in a hotel without leaving. And I recorded the two songs that they needed for this in the hotel with a one-octave little controller keyboard, a microphone, and my computer. It was pretty nutty. And then I just prepared for the part, which obviously is me, but a twisted, dream version of myself.

Did you watch season 1 before filming season 2?

I did once they asked me about this, but I don't watch TV. I'm really pathetic. I don't know any TV shows. I'm not selective about what I don't know. I'm an equal opportunity ignoramus. But I know good stuff when I see it, and I really liked the threads of this show and the psychology of essentially kids growing up now. Almost everyone in that cast is younger than my kids, so I saw it maybe from a different perspective than one might think. I really applaud The Wilds for taking a lot of empathetic things into account when writing a show that is for a pretty tough age group, whether or not you're in limbo on an island or just back home trying to make it all work.

What conversations did you have with the showrunners about what your part would entail? Because this was way more involved than I think anyone would have expected from a simple cameo.

Yeah, they let me read the script and figure out for myself what that was, and then we talked about it. It seemed to me that it was Leah's dream, obviously, but representing the old way of thinking, things that kept her young and from growing, all kind of caught up in a random cross of just what she happened to hear on the radio. This guy is the voice of that age, and that voice has an ego with it inside her that's like, "Stay here. It's safe." And we all feel that. There's a really radical-sounding line of psychology that is basically about killing off your parents in your mind. You make a world without them and so you can make your own way, and until that happens, you're bound up in all these earlier thoughts you have to bust out. And I think that's what it was. The struggle is like, "It's nice, I'm back where I used to be," and then it's like, "This isn't nice. This son of a bitch is not letting me grow up. I want to grow up."

The Wilds Season 2
Credit: Prime Video

How did you prepare to film all those scenes as a different version of yourself?

It's a matter of looking at the dialogue. There's a little bit of a creepy edge to it because it's creepy in the jungle, in the water and stuff. I'm a little bit in there because certainly the person who sang those songs is in there, and there's a little bit of a parental voice. I think it's interesting that the Ben Folds dream character begins as more assuring and dad-like, and becomes slightly less secure. And that's because he's being let go. I'm not an actor, but I think like with singing a song, you look at the nature of the dialogue, and it sounds right when it comes out, and what feels right when you've got fine actors like Sarah Pidgeon across from you who is actually putting everything into it. I'm like, "Dude, I don't want to keep you out here all day. I'm going to try to get this right for you so you don't have to work too hard." It's acting, and you could do it without being a parent, but that's what I put in. I saw her the whole time as, "Do your thing, you're my daughter, you're going to be fine." And then, like, "What? You're leaving the house? No, no, no. Stay here. I'll take care of that."

What was your reaction when you learned you'd be playing that beautiful version of "Brick" on the beach?

That was pretty neat. It's funny because the order in which these things happened is that version that you hear was done in my hotel room in quarantine with a $100 mic on my laptop. If you're not a musician, you wouldn't know how bizarre it is that I did that. Especially when I'm listening to the playback on these big speakers [during filming], and all this money being spent on this crane and people running everywhere, and I'm thinking, "Jesus, we're all out here working to my little lone recording. Holy s---."

When you first wrote that song, did you ever imagine it would end up on a TV show like The Wilds?

You don't think those things when you write it. You don't think it will ever come out. If you go back to the analogy of parenthood, you don't see your kids growing up and going out in the world and doing things, really. You see them s---ing their pants and trying to get through their phases and years and stuff. And they go out and they make their way and they do things. That's because you had them, but they're not yours anymore. That's the way it is with songs. You let them go, and they take on a whole life. I've written things on stage free styling before, that ended up being things played with orchestras, and I'm on a stage playing something that I just crapped out one night at a show joking around, and suddenly it's a thing. That's the beauty of creativity.

Is playing "Brick" on a piano on the sand on a random beach in Australia the weirdest place you've ever performed that song live?

Oh, I've played the piano on the beach before. I've played that song on New Year's Eve on a birthday cake that's revolving for this A-list party in Las Vegas one time. That made me seasick. That was pretty weird.

The Wilds Season 2
The girls on 'The Wilds' season 2
| Credit: Prime Video

What was it like filming such a big, dramatic scene fully submerged in the water?

I'm not a big fan of the water. When you're told it's going to be 12 hours in it, in a wetsuit, and then there's this body warm suit over that, and then a suit and tie, yeah... I can't say it's the most comfortable thing in the world. And everything you do doesn't make it to the final cut, and it was quite a bit in the water that was written and then edited down after the show. There were hours upon hours of me popping up out of the water, trying to spit out a line, and that's just not the kind of thing I ever thought about when someone said, "Hey, you want to try some acting?" I wouldn't have thought it involved trying not to swallow water when you come up out of it and then spit out lines when an actress is screaming, "F--- you, f--- you," over and over again. It's pretty fun for an hour or two, but after you go to lunch and come back, after a while, the divers are all beginning to take bets on who's going to be seasick first, because they're over there with these barrels making the water super stormy. But it all worked because it looked good in the final cut.

And I was just a big fan of Sarah. She was so super stoic and had been working more than humanly possible. Look, I grew up working multiple jobs and trying to put myself through school. When I started on my band, we were moving our own piano and sleeping four hours a night. I know what work means, and I'm looking at this kid going, "She's working as hard as a human can work, cramming lines every single day, and to be in the water on top of it with some dude that doesn't know the ropes..." I mean, I was clinging to her. I was depending on her to take care of me because I don't know how to act. I was like, "Whatever Sarah does, I'm going to do."

You say you don't know how to act, but you've now done multiple TV show arcs as a fictionalized version of yourself. You're making a nice little side career out of it —

[Laughs] That's so weird.

Is that something you're looking to do more of in the future?

My initial knee-jerk [reaction] on playing a weird version of myself again was no, because it seems like a weird thing to keep doing. From my perspective, I don't assume that anyone's ever heard of me. So if the shtick is dependent upon knowing who I am, I would say that was a pretty thin shtick. But in the case of You're the Worst and this, it's predicated on something else. This is subconscious. It could be anyone. They could've made up a fictional character that she grew up knowing that was in a band that no one's heard of. It worked either way. I didn't seek the idea of doing myself again. And honestly, my few actor friends I have say that's actually not such an easy thing to do. I don't seek that as a career, but now, hell, I've done it enough times, why not? Let's put it out there. Someone has another version of me they want, let's try it. What could go wrong?

This is not about this show, but it's one of my favorite recognition stories. People usually know who you are, and they're like, "Would you write on something, or take a picture?" Typical stuff. Some people will say, "You're Ben Folds?" "Yes." "No, you're not." "Yeah, I am." "Oh, come on." My favorite by far was, I had been going to this local coffee shop for a year. This chick had been making me an espresso every day for a year. One day she goes, "Now I know where I know you from." And I'm thinking, "Oh, okay, she knows who I am." She goes, "You're the guy that plays Ben Folds on You're the Worst."

No way!

I'm like, it doesn't get any better. That's it. I was like high-fiving myself all the way down the street. It's the greatest thing I've ever heard. I loved that.

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