Oscar Actors: Kingsley, Ben–Portrait of a Serious Artist (Part 2)

Interview with Brilliant Actor Ben Kingsley, Oscar Winner for Gandhi and Multiple Oscar Nominee

Role of Music

BK: Sometimes music helps me in unexpected ways.  I can recognize a certain cadence of notes that is appropriate to my character.  When I played Dmitri Shostakovitch we did play his music on set and that was immensely nourishing to me as an actor and there is a little bit of music in one of my scenes where I’m listening to Argentinean music but what I did listen to and it’s a very odd coincidence when I was at home in Beverly Hills with Dani, my wife, I suddenly clicked onto you probably remember this bubba, I clicked onto the Horse Vessel which is a disgusting song and I was – the Horse Vessel, the Nazi anthem, and German.  My German’s not as good as yours  That’s the one and I was absolutely mesmerized not only to hear the song sung by a choir.  This is probably filmed in the late-30’s but also the innumerable masses of people who are also joining in and singing that song and it was that horrible tune that sometimes used to drift across my mind that these men and women had an anthem almost like a hymn to their atrocities so I’m afraid it used to occasionally invade me.  I didn’t invite it in as I told your colleague but it would occasionally drift across.  It would occasionally drift across.  Horrible.  Thank you.

 

Impact

BK: When I was working intensely in theatre I did have the great pleasure and excitement of working with Peter Brook with whom you may have encountered Peter and I was with him quite recently within the last year and he did respond to a very similar question that you’ve posed and I think he put it very succinctly and modestly.  He said perhaps audiences will have thoughts after the film that they would not have had had they not seen the film and really I think that’s all as film-makers we can aspire to.  If we go beyond that simple mandate we begin to create propaganda and propaganda would be resisted by an audience but if we unfold the story modestly and truthfully the modesty of nature as Shakespeare called it in Hamlet’s speech to the players then I think that maybe one or two doors will as you say will open and thoughts will come in that would not have come in had they not seen “Operation Finale.”  That’s all we can hope for but I totally agree with everything you posed in your question, yeah  Thank you.

 

What’s Common to Bad Directors?

BK: One commonality amongst directors who are not fully equipped to occupy that role is that they can’t let go of the auditioning process.  You never feel that the part belongs to you.  There will always be some odd test or some questioning or they keep you uncertain.  It’s a form of manipulation and I assure you that in the end it doesn’t work.  What does work is Martin Scorsese and others like him with whom I’ve worked who say look, it’s your part, it’s your role so the note that I remember from Martin Scorsese on my last film with him which was “Hugo” Martin used to – he’s in a black tent and he comes out of the black tent having watched his monitors.  He’s as blind as a bat because the lights are a bit too strong.  He’s led across the floor by his assistant.  He stands face to face with me after a take and he says “do you want to do another one?”  That’s it.  That’s all he says and of course you take advantage of the opportunity to do another one and you do another one but the manipulative ones who say keep them uncertain, put them back in the audition room, make sure that they feel they haven’t quite got the part and that’s very bad.  That’s not Chris.  Thank you.

 

Acting Getting Easier or More Challenging?

BK: Imagine the extraordinary collection of dilemmas that faced me in playing this man.  The challenges are beautiful.  I love them.  I love my job.  I don’t actually see it very much as challenging, I see it as releasing.  I will never stop being nervous and my body chemistry will never stop changing when a director says action and it does change.  The whole of my metabolism changes. I love it and I’m a portrait artist and as long as people are walking into my studio to say paint me I’ll paint them.

Passions and Hobbies

BK: I have a beautiful, intelligent wife and we talk a lot.  I like to work with my hands so I garden and I cook.  That’s it.

 

Manipulation

BK:  There’s bad kind of manipulation from a director that will keep you uneasy and therefore you’re always trying to catch up or please and you’re always given the feeling that you’ve never quite got it right and I think some bad parents can be very manipulative towards their children in that they keep their children guessing and they always leave their children with that indigestible lump at the end of the day where what have I done wrong?  What have I done wrong?  So I think manipulation can result in the distortion of a person’s life for life unless it’s corrected very early on, unless it’s healed.  I would say as an actor that I try to present a portrait of my character and certainly my character in this film is manipulative and therefore if I in my attempt as an actor to allow Eichmann as a character to manipulate Peter Malkin it should be inevitable that the audience also feel manipulated in some way if that echo bounces into the auditorium and I think that your feeling of unease at being manipulated is one of those little doors that opened and probably shut very quickly when you realized that his violent side which you see when he grabs his son by the throat and there’s a case of manipulation where I’m sure that son feels he never quite got it right which is why when he puts the flag up on the house at the end of the film he’s saying this will please dad even though dad isn’t there.  He’s conditioned I think for life.  Oh my goodness he could not stop writing, he could not stop speaking.  There are miles and miles of tape recordings of him, of the Essen House tape recordings and in prison there’s a pile of writings, yeah.

 

Watching his Own Movies

BK: I am not very retrospective.  I tend very much to live in the moment.  There are – there may be one or two films that I watch like a Christmas special of mine.  One of them is Silas Mariner which I did for the BBC years ago which is an adaptation of a George Eliot novel.  Beautiful and I just watch it as a lovely piece.  It’s like a symphony.  I just watch it like a symphony unfolding but I am not very retrospective.  I don’t have screenings of old movies for friends (laughter).

I think what I took pains to point out earlier in answer to your question that as a portrait artist you see when I was a theatre actor I considered myself a landscape artist.  In other words, when the actor walks onto the stage he has to bring the whole of the landscape with him and try and project that to the audience.  Shakespeare’s prologue to Henry V says, you know, the vast fields of France in your imagination but the film actor has that landscape all around him or her and therefore can focus on the portrait of the individual so now in cinema I do consider myself a portrait artist rather than a landscape painter but sometimes as a portrait artist I must have the generosity and the urgency to convey that person onto canvas to the audience in all their shades, colors, darknesses and either for feel as a portrait artist that if I see a little kink in the eyebrow I have to put it on canvas.  I have to.  It’s not me doing it.  I mean, any actor who is confused by being thought of as a racist by saying the n word needs to go back to drama school (laughter).

 

Variety of Roles

BK: When I was with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford On Avon my first year, my second year with them, third year with them, most of my years with them in any one given week I would be in 4 different plays.  In one season I was in “Julius Caesar,” Berthold Brecht’s “Baal,” “Merry Wives Of Windsor” and “Cymbeline.”  4 plays.  Therefore, it was absolutely imperative for my energy, for my focus, that’s 4 plays in my head at any one time and they weren’t small parts either.  Brutus in “Julius Caesar,” Giacomo in “Cymbeline,” Frank Ford in “Merry Wives Of Windsor” and Baal in Berthold Brecht’s “Baal.”  So I’ve learnt – I’ve acquired a skill whereby I cannot get these roles confused.  I must keep each one in a watertight compartment and, therefore, working with those wonderful directors Peter Brook I alluded to earlier made it imperative for me to say well, I take that costume off and I put this costume on and I mustn’t – and I won’t get confused so I think it started even before I became a film actor.

 

Being 75

BK: Last year we had a lovely birthday gathering at our house in Oxfordshire where a lot of the people – we live on the edge of a very small village and a lot of the people from the village came, our friends from the village and 1 or 2 people from close by, from villages close by and it was just a lovely and we had food and wine and there’s lovely caterers who came round with the trays.  We had fish and chips (laughter), we had some curry served in lovely little cups and it was a really delightful evening.  It was lovely.  Lovely.  I don’t know where we’ll be this year but probably in L.A. but, yeah, yeah, yeah.  It was lovely.

Socializing

We’re trying to socialize more.  We’re trying to get into the outer world more but we do adore each other’s company and, you know, the kitchen and cooking and the garden is so beautiful that we, you know, but we are getting better at being sociable but I really treasure my privacy.  I really do.  It is absolutely imperative for me whenever I’m acting to bounce out of me not some distorted version of me that’s lost its privacy, lost its security so I don’t, you know, subscribe to any social media at all.  I am just very much private.  Privacy is very underrated.  We love being here but we’ve had a goal. We’ve had a mandate and I am not very – we’re not very good at being on holiday because there’s nothing to do.  I don’t think we’re very good at being spectators.  I think we’re better at being doers.

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