He’d love to win acting awards. But it’s social justice that drives this ‘former homeschooled cowboy’

Ben Whitehair reclines  in a theater, foot kicked up in the foreground.
Ben Whitehair is an actor in “Vengeance” and “9-1-1: Lone Star.”
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Ben Whitehair gauges his success as an actor by this standard: “Ultimately, am I happy and living my values?’”

“Personally, my core mission statement is to be a champion for social change through art and business,” he said.

A man stands in front of a theater curtain.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Whitehair grew up in Colorado as a “homeschooled cowboy.”

“I lived on a ranch,” he said. “I was a bull rider, a champion sheep and dairy cow showman, a team roper and calf roper.”

Since he was a kid, he’s always had an abundance of drive — an essential quality for a working actor. When he became passionate about technology, he sold his champion sheep to buy parts to build a computer. When he discovered an interest in business in college, he started a company to help out-of-state students qualify for in-state tuition. His interest in social justice led to a summer internship in Congress.

By the time he graduated, he was debating whether to work for the government in D.C. or pursue his love of theater.

“I joked that I heard there was a shortage of actors in L.A., and I headed west,” he said,

He credits a quote from author Howard Thurman for his decision: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’”


What made him come most alive was performing, he said. The theater community also represented an accepting, inclusive space he craved, because he grew up in an environment that didn’t welcome vulnerability, he said.

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But choosing to pursue acting as a career didn’t dim his other passions.

When he was figuring out how to navigate Hollywood, he wanted to help others by sharing the lessons he learned. He eventually co-founded (pronounced “Working dot actor”), which publishes guides on how to create your marketing materials, get representation, build relationships and ultimately book more gigs.

A man stands in a photo studio holding a script.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

He got his SAG-AFTRA card after playing a protestor in “CSI: Miami.” As he continued to build up his film and TV résumé, he also became very active in the union. He founded the organization’s NextGen Performers Committee. After serving on the local and national board, he was elected as SAG-AFTRA vice president in 2021.

He’s not sure if his volunteer work in the union hurts or helps him when it comes to booking acting gigs. But he continues to be guided by a greater mission.

He was recently in charge of updating the new SAG-AFTRA Member Toolkit. He co-hosts the oranization’s podcasts and YouTube livestreams, as well as industry panels for his digital marketing company TSMA Consulting. He’s also been focused on addressing actors’ challenges with self-tape auditions and the threat of AI.


The reason he’s dedicated a lot of his career to helping actors understand the business of acting is because he thinks it gives actors more control.

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There’s so much that is out of your control as an actor, he said. He’s been told he is too good-looking for a role. He’s been told he was not good-looking enough for a role.

“I got cast as a big role in a Civil War pilot years ago, the network said it was the best pilot they had seen in 20 years, and it didn’t get picked up — for reasons that have nothing to do with me,” he said.

Of course he has the same aspirations of many actors, he said. He’d love to tell bigger and better stories and eventually win awards.

But he already has the lifestyle in Los Angeles that he’s always wanted. He’s surrounded by sunshine and dreamers. And though there is undoubtedly more glitz and glamour in Hollywood, it still reminds him of his blue-collar ranch life in Colorado.

“The parking lot of a set looks like the construction lots I grew up on,” he said. “There’s pickup trucks. There’s equipment.”


“And I don’t know of anything that brings together so many different types of skill sets,” he added. “You need masters of lighting, costume, production, design and sound. You’re constantly surrounded by people who are at the top of their profession.”

Photo editing and design by Calvin Alagot.