Robby Benson’s Son Follows in His Famous Father’s Footsteps

PHOTO: Zephyr Benson, the 22-year-old son of actor Robby Benson, has written, directed, and produced his debut film, "Straight Outta Tompkins." Dana Patrick/Courtesy Lyric Films
Zephyr Benson, the 22-year-old son of actor Robby Benson, has written, directed, and produced his debut film, "Straight Outta Tompkins."

If you haven't yet heard of Zephyr Benson, you soon will.

The 22-year-old writer, director and actor makes his bold directorial debut today with "Straight Outta Tompkins," a film about a middle-class teen heroin addict in New York City.

And if Benson -- who plays Gene, the teen who befriends a Lower East Side drug dealer while battling his own addiction -- looks familiar, that's because his father is 70s and 80s heartthrob Robby Benson.

But the younger Benson didn't make the film because "I'm Robby Benson's son," he told ABC News.

"I did it because I had a compelling story to get off my chest," he said. "I lived through a lot of that stuff."

The film, which opens in theaters in Los Angeles and New York, parallels the young filmmaker’s real-life teenage years when he dabbled with selling drugs and using heroin.

"When I was writing it, I had just rehabbed myself and I was very angry," Benson recalled. "There's a heroin epidemic. Everybody is using. I have friends who have died, friends who OD’d in front of me. It's a huge problem and people are ignoring it. It's so taboo that they don’t even want to address it."

By addressing it on the big screen, Benson said, "I feel like I did kind of save myself."

But first, he had to convince his parents, who supported him through his recovery, to let him drop out of New York University film school the first semester of his freshmen year to make the film.

Benson's father, the star of such cult classics as "Ice Castles," "Ode to Billy Joe," "Running Brave," and opposite Paul Newman in "Harry & Son," was open to the idea. His mother, Karla DeVito, a singer who once toured with Meat Loaf and is best known for her role in Broadway's "Pirates of Penzance," was not as open to it.

"I went to them as if I was going to producers," he explained. "I had this college fund set aside and I could use that money to go to NYU or [make this film]."

For Benson, who had been "raised in the business," growing up in New York City with his famous folks and a sister, Lyric, now a musician, and sitting through his father's senior-level thesis film class at NYU for three years in a row, the answer was clear.

He shot the film in 17 days on the streets of New York City with a budget of $150,000.

The elder Benson, who has directed countless television episodes and the Billy Graham biopic, "Billy: the Early Years," starring Armie Hammer, signed on as executive producer of the film. An accomplished musician, he also composed the music for the film.

And he called in a favor from an old friend, Whoopi Goldberg.

"All of sudden, she's doing a day for 100 bucks," Zephyr Benson said about Goldberg, who plays his landlord in the film.

The film forged a new chapter for father and son.

"We're both very artistic and butt heads, but it just made our relationship so strong," Zephyr said.

PHOTO: Zephyr Benson and his father Robby Benson are seen during the making of the film Straight Outta Tomkins. Kyle OTain/Courtesy Lyric Films
Zephyr Benson and his father Robby Benson are seen during the making of the film "Straight Outta Tomkins."

For Robby Benson, now a film professor at Indiana University, it allowed him to see his son in a new light.

"The teacher became the student," he told ABC News. "Zephyr is brilliant."

And he's just getting started. Benson just wrapped a supporting role in the upcoming J.D. Salinger biopic "Coming Through the Rye," opposite Chris Cooper. And he's in the midst of writing a new film about the east side of Detroit. He's also ready to make the move to Los Angeles, away from the negative influences of his teenage years.

But filmmaking is not his only aspiration. "I want to open up an opiate-specific rehabilitation," he said.

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