Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with MiraJeff's interview with Sir Ben Kinglsey. He did the interview to promote LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, but MiraJeff does manage to bring up the notorious Dr. Boll as well. Watch out for spoilers as MiraJeff and Kingsley talk quite a bit about the ending to SLEVIN. Enjoy!!!
Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with a 1-on-1 interview with Sir Ben Kingsley, who stars as The Rabbi in this week’s Lucky Number Slevin. When I first told my Dad I was going to be interviewing ‘Ghandi,’ he excitedly repeated my words verbatim to everyone in his office and was absolutely shocked when a co-worker took him aside and broke the news to him that sadly, Ghandi was dead. Seems my old man took me literally and thought that the real Ghandi was actually going to sit down for a chat with AICN. “Lucky,” for us, Sir Ben’s still kicking ass and taking names, including mine…
MiraJeff: Hello, my name is Jeff Sneider.
Sir Ben Kingsley: Hello Jeff, how are you?
MiraJeff: Good, thanks. I’m with Ain’t It Cool News and the Washington Square News which is the NYU student paper.
Sir Ben: Excellent! Great school.
MiraJeff: Thank you very much. Alright, I guess we’ll start with an NYU-sort of question. In very basic terms, what kind of career advice would you give to an aspiring actor, because there are so many actors at NYU. So what would you tell them?
Sir Ben: Do you mean advice in the rehearsal room? Because I can only give advice in the context of work. I can’t give strategic advice like who to meet, who to be with, you know, that side of their lives. They’re gonna have to look after that themselves. And it also depends on what characters they’re exploring and playing and what portrayals attract them. But sooner or later I think they’re going to have to understand and accept that they must know more about their character than anyone else. That is the only thing that will empower them and give them the stamina to get through a performance and to fully appreciate and grasp a role. But you have to, so thoroughly, I don’t mean search, I mean thoroughly, fully investigate the character and along with that; movement, motive, dreams, aspirations, fears, longings. They all have to connect to a sense that you know more than anyone else in the world because eventually you get to a point where nobody can tell you anything about your character because you know already.
MiraJeff: What was it like playing a gangster?
Sir Ben: Gosh, it was wonderful. That’s the quick answer. Certain roles are very empowering. But he does go from the king of the underworld to a complete victim and that journey is a wonderful journey for an actor. And when death is near he sees the logic of the journey- that he’s on the receiving end of this great act of revenge on the part of Josh’s character. Beautiful, like a work of art, this revenge. So it was really delicious to get inside that great writing and to be with those other actors. Very invigorating and enjoyable and the more you do it, the more you find in the character. And there’s a lot of digging because gosh, look at the space that my character occupies. And Morgan’s space too. These bunkers in the sky. So the actor’s peripheral vision is fed by the designer, the costumer, the wonderful direction of Paul, and Jason’s really extraordinary writing. It’s the closest I’ve got on film, apart from Sexy Beast, which was also rhythmic writing, to poetic drama, like a Jacobian tragedy. Both were really exhilarating.
MiraJeff: In the film you play a rabbi who obviously, advocates violence. How do you think the Jewish community will respond to this character?
Sir Ben: Do you think that honestly crossed my mind while the cameras were rolling?
MiraJeff: Probably not.
Sir Ben: No, it didn’t cross my mind at all and it doesn’t cross my mind. It’s a great film about revenge. It’s a study of an act of revenge on the part of a young man who suffers horribly as a child. Unbelievably. And what we have to present in the midst of the avenging hero- the dark forces that you have to come face to face with. And that they’re very unexpected which I think elevates the film beautifully. Morgan Freeman’s character having such grace and gentility and intelligence; His walking stick, his dress, his love of chess, his taste. And then there’s my Talmudic side which is so surprising and wonderful as an ingredient to put against our avenging hero. We’re there so that he can slay the demons and be an avenged hero at the end of the film. That’s our role in the film. That’s why we’re there. We’re there to throw light on what it means to go on a quest for revenge and how that quest can become a work of art and towards the end of the film, the artistry of his revenge is revealed and it’s flawless. What he does, what he sets up, who he impersonates, whom he’s become, whom he has to destroy, it all comes at you like this grandiose work of art. And we’re all individual components in the film. So my concern, therefore, is what do I have to present to Josh in order to illuminate his character. And the intellectual debate that might take place, or not, about my character, it’s actually not really relevant to the work. What I have to do is understand my character and his place in the piece more than anybody else and bring that complete paradox. Because the hero says ‘don’t you see a contradiction there?’ So it’s built into the piece and it’s a conundrum that the hero has to work out for himself, or not, as the case may be. So those are the kinds of really ultra-sophisticated demons that he has to deal with on his journey towards revenge, as opposed to just finding the baddies and shooting them. What kind of a thrill would that be, you know? So he wants to energize and provoke and exercise the clean play on our audience. That’s what drama’s for, you know.
MiraJeff: I liked that the film seemed to be saying, “revenge is complicated.”
Sir Ben: And also, I think at the end, I think at the end, it’s not particularly sweet. There’s a wonderful- we talked about this on the day when we were filming the scene, and Josh is very brave in that scene. The way he says “fuck you,” it’s so empty, it’s so bleached out of all rage. It isn’t the great “FUCK YOU” which you’d expect from a lesser film. It’s Josh and he’s a very clever actor and he’s thinking, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for the whole of my life. Here it is. But what now? What now? Fortunately, I think, if you know a great, chivalrous myth about avenging heroes, he gets the star maiden at the end.
MiraJeff: During that climactic scene with you and Morgan back-to-back and Paul’s putting a plastic bag over your head, what were you thinking?
Sir Ben: Oh, I’m completely in character. Completely in character. I cannot deviate from character, otherwise, it would puncture the tension of the scene. The director says action and cut, so you don’t have to sustain this near-death experience for too long, otherwise, by definition, you’d be dead. And also, you’d have experts with oxygen and you give foot signals when it becomes intolerable. I had absolute trust in Paul and he needed the footage to make the act of revenge great onscreen and real. So I was completely, completely inside the beautiful writing, with Morgan, hearing his voice behind me. He with his passion, me with mine. If I worried, it would be insulting and completely unfair to the character. But only between action and cut. After cut, we relax, we breathe, we refresh ourselves, we talk to Paul, we check that Morgan’s okay, that I’m okay, that the safety procedures are working, that Josh is okay, that we’re giving the best angle of our faces and heads for the camera, technical things. And then, take’s called again and we do it again. But I must stay completely inside character otherwise as I said, the tension would go and if I was outside my character, I would lose touch with Morgan and Josh and they need me to be in character.
MiraJeff: I remember when I interviewed Jonathan Glazer for Birth, he said that you stayed in the character of Don Logan when the camera wasn’t rolling during Sexy Beast.
Sir Ben: That might’ve been what people thought. Actually, I just went very quiet. If a man is very quiet in the corner and you don’t know whether he’s in character, he’s scary. It’s a kind of compliment from Jonathan to think about something like that. I was completely in character between action and cut for that film and this one. But I did find both men immensely empowering to play, in as much as if you’re riding a beautiful racehorse. The jockey must feel extremely empowered knowing that that horse is a well-trained and beautiful racehorse that will respond to the rider. And good writing and a well-crafted character and a great director and fellow actors- it’s very empowering because you know that you can try and make your love of acting into something that will hopefully be exciting to watch and exciting to play.
MiraJeff: At this point in your career, when you’ve won awards, you’ve made your fortune and all that, what kind of roles are you actively searching for? What excites you? What are you looking for in a script?
Sir Ben: I think what’s fascinating us now cuz I have, we’ve got this small company the five of us, have formed a company called Bipolar Pictures. And what we see as fascinating is we can try to come across a footnote of history and it’s that little footnote that you almost would miss turning the page, but we would love to have been there for the whole story. By focusing on that footnote of history you throw light on this huge sweep of history that you see as it affects two people rather than 30,000. And it’s through those two people… rather like that beautiful novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Phil Kaufman’s film where you sort of [see things] through the eyes of two people. And that’s what I mean by the little incidents of history that are connected to massive sweeps of history.
MiraJeff: I read that you were attached to new movies from directors Ethan Coen and John Cameron Mitchell. Can you talk about some of your upcoming roles?
Sir Ben: Well I’d love to know their titles then I can tell you whether I’m attached or not.
MiraJeff: I know the IMDB is full of garbage but I think the Ethan Coen movie is called Gambit.
Sir Ben: Oh I’d like to do that but I don’t know what’s happening to that right now but I would love to do it eventually.
MiraJeff: The other one is Oskur Fishman?
Sir Ben: That one, I have to be very careful because I don’t know what stage of development these films are, what the latest script is, whether or not they’re still alive and well. I hope they are. They’re both very, very interesting projects. Whether or not, given our new company, I’ll be able to do them is another matter. But I am not actively engaged in them right now.
MiraJeff: What kinds of films is your company looking to produce? Will you be starring in them?
Sir Ben: I would be starring in the majority of them because I myself am not a producer but I’m the actor on the team and we are looking for these footnotes of history that will illuminate a whole sweep of history. We’re looking for the incidental that triggers the monumental shifts. We’re looking for stories of great historical crisis and how it affects individual men and women rather than how it affects a whole group of people, so, very specific.
MiraJeff: With the issue of movie piracy becoming a bigger and bigger issue in Hollywood, how do you feel when you see something like this? (At this time I show Sir Ben the 4$ bootleg copy of Lucky Number Slevin that I bought on Fulton St. several weeks before the film’s domestic release.)
Sir Ben: Well it’s theft isn’t it?
MiraJeff: Of course. I bought this after I’d seen the film in the theater and I think people are doing themselves an injustice by seeing movies that were made for the theater on poor-quality DVD’s.
Sir Ben: Well it’s theft. It robs us our artistic integrity and it also robs us of our just rewards. Because we do work quite hard, some of us. We really do work very hard. I remember an opera singer saying, “I earn my money with the cells of my body.” Cuz obviously you have huge demands and it’s just completely terrifying. You have one bad show one day and you could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in preparation. But I think that all the actors- Josh Bruce, Morgan, Lucy, and me- I think we’d all agree that we do earn our money with the cells of our body. We’re very dedicated and committed. It’s a modest budget film, actually quite low, so we all initially made sacrifices anyway in order to do it, and then to be further robbed of what compensation we should’ve had through normal channels, it’s quite upsetting. And it’s a growing problem and I don’t know what to do about it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I can only discourage it by broadcasting through you what my opinion is. But I hate theft. I hate theft.
MiraJeff: Who doesn’t? I asked you earlier about Bloodrayne. Ain’t It Cool News is kind of like Uwe Boll hatred central. We love to get our kicks hating on Uwe Boll, but I feel like sometimes his films aren’t given a chance because of his reputation as a schlock director. And you talked about how audiences have pre-conceived notions and often won’t give a film its just desserts. So what would you say, speaking directly to those Talkbackers who won’t see Bloodrayne or give your performance a chance because it’s in a Uwe Boll film?
Sir Ben: Well I don’t think we can make a big deal of this question because I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen the film.
MiraJeff: But you know what your performance was like.
Sir Ben: I might know but then again I might not because I don’t know how it’s been edited, I don’t know how my voice is being filtered, I don’t know what special effects or digital effects have been added. I haven’t had an opportunity to see it. We tried but it wasn’t possible. So I can’t really add much to that, I’m sorry.
MiraJeff: Well how was he to work with as a director?
Sir Ben: He was pleasant to work with. He enjoys the genre he works in. He’s quite light-hearted and pleasant. I wasn’t on the film for very long in Romania. But I didn’t have a bad time making it. Honestly, I can’t comment on the finished product because I haven’t had a chance to see it.
MiraJeff: This film and your performance walk a fine line between film noir and dark comedy. Because even though this is a revenge film, I found myself laughing at several points.
Sir Ben: Well fortunately the difficulties are minimized. It’s not easy and it’s dangerous and it’s thrilling. It’s thrilling to walk a tightrope. That’s why tightrope walkers are tightrope walkers. Because they love it, not because it pays the mortgage. There are other things you could do. But the tightrope here is Jason’s writing and Jason’s writing is extraordinary. Out of a beautifully crafted speech can come a line of poetry that you can interweave with the character’s voice and the scene so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb as a line of poetry. But it sure does have a resonance. And then you place a very simple line in a scene discussing North By Northwest and the simple line on the page is ‘hey you know that movie?’ But because of the energy of the scene and the greatness of the writing, that’s the line that jumps out as one of the funniest lines in the film for some reason. All I did was say it in character but I knew that my character is this strange patriarch who has a natural affection for people of Josh’s age and clearly he loves his son and is devastated when his son is killed. So there are these flashes of fondness that both Morgan’s character and my character have for Josh, a fondness and a fascination for this young man. So if I play that fondness and fascination as my character then the dark comedy and the film noir- they’re sort of gonna take care of themselves. And Josh is also on the same page so stylistically, your helmsman is the director. He has to get the writer first and then collaborate him with a director, a very, very important second not in terms of importance but in terms of how the film evolves, and then the director will also add his visuals and editing to the film. And eventually you’ll have this really wonderful, symphonic film where the rhythm is flawless from beginning to end. And it’s also a natural juxtaposition isn’t it where you get lines and actions and reactions from one another to great comedic effect while also being dangerous and frightening at the same time. So stylistically, I think Paul McGuigan is a great director.
(At this time Sir Ben’s publicist has to end the interview).
MiraJeff: Thank you very much.
Sir Ben: Thank you.
MiraJeff: It was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for having me.
That’ll do it for me folks. Although at first I thought Sir Ben would be intimidating to talk to, it turned out he was very friendly and receptive, not to mention articulate. The man is the consummate professional. Just don’t get on his bad side and steal his movies, or else he’ll go all Don Logan on you. I’ll be at the Ivy League Film Festival at Brown University this weekend, just in time to hear Michael Showalter speak and conveniently miss a screening of Take the Lead. I couldn’t review Lucky Number Slevin for AICN (had to go with the mag that pays me), but I do recommend seeing it because it is an entertaining thriller with a great sense of style and humor. I’ll be back next week to kick off AICN’s Tribeca Film Festival coverage, beginning with reviews of Puzzlehead and Iowa, two solid films from last year’s fest that I missed out on. ‘Til next time, this is MiraJeff signing off…