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February 2010
SHUTTER ISLAND | An Interview with Sir Ben Kingsley

An Interview with Sir Ben Kingsley

By Wilson Morales

February 15, 2010


For much of his illustrious career, Sir Ben Kingsley has worked with the best filmmakers. From his collaborations with Richard Attenborough on ‘Ghandi,’ which he won the 1982 Oscar for Best Actor, to Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, and many others, Kingsley has always brought something different to the table. He’s never the same character or doesn’t give the same persona to the role.

For his latest film, ‘Shutter Island,’ in which he plays Dr. John Cawley, head of a high-security mental institution, the British born native gets to work with another legendary director, Martin Scorsese.

Set in 1954, the film revolves around two federal marshals who come to investigate the disappearance of a murderess from a mental institution off a secluded island.

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Kingsley spoke about his role, working with Scorsese, and his upcoming projects, which includes trying his hand at producing films.

What approach did you take to play Dr. Crawley?

Sir Ben Kingsley: I read him from the script and I approached him as a healer and there’s a huge debate in the film as to the path he takes to be such a man. There’s also a debate how one dives into the mind. I approached him as simple and straightforwardly as possible. The film itself is so complex and multi-layered; I felt that if I can offer Martin Scorsese a clear, simple silhouette that was committed to doing his job as a psychologist. If you could interpret that, then that would be the best way forward. It was Martin who engineered those amazing shots where I’m perceived differently by so many different people in the film and I believe by the audience too. To see this film, you have with an opened mind.

  Had you read the book prior to taking the role?

Kingsley: No. I dipped into the book prior to taking the role but I didn’t really study it. The first step was to listen to Martin on the telephone and eloquently describing the character and inviting me to join him, which of course was a joy. Then I received the script, which became my bible. It never left my site until I walked off the set, which is wonderful.
With as many films you have done, have you taken on the role of such a complex character?

Kingsley: If I don’t embellish and if I don’t judge or sentimentalized any moment in front of the camera, or comment on it, then I know that I’m free and clear and allowed to edit me and film me with choice of light and wonderful ways to shoot one action from many different angles. I was utterly consistent with the way I looked in front of the camera. It was Martin who worked the magic and allowed the audience to perceive me in many different ways.

How was working with Mr. Scorsese different from other directors you’ve worked with in the past?

Kingsley: Well, I have had the joy of working with the cream of the crop as you know. Martin shares with other great directors one very special gift; and of course, my experience with him being so recent, it’s very close to my heart. Whatever an actor offers on the set, between action and cut, Mr. Scorsese will see and decide if it’s needed or not for the film. He perceives more on the set than what is humanly possible. He allows us to practice take after take and that makes the actors extremely confident in that what they are doing will never be wasted.
  How was with someone like DiCaprio, who comes into the film having worked with Scorsese on numerous occasions?

Kingsley: The generous thing about Martin Scorsese is that as well as being a great director, he’s simply by nature, a wonderful teacher. In the realm of pure enthusiasm, he’s contagious; and therefore, the conversations he has with the actors, the films that he screens for us, and the debate about scenes, it’s always an opportunity to learn. Everything he did was in public so that there was never a chance for anyone to be excluded by a certain clique or club that had been in operation for a few films. On the contrary, nothing was whispered on the corner and everything was shared. Anyone on the set would have had the impression that Scorsese and DiCaprio working together for the first time. No secret agenda and no clubby atmosphere whatsoever. That was a generous choice on the part of Mr. Scorsese.

What excites you these days as you continue to work?

Kingsley: I don’t really know until I open the script. I really enjoy being surprised by some things. I have no idea that I was looking for this particular role or that particular role; the script arrives on my desk, I open it, and if the voice in mind says, “There it is; I’ll do it.” If the voice says, “I think someone else can do this, I pass on it.” I am producing films that I will star in myself and there’s a certain amount of design and this is unusual for me.

You have another film coming out this year with ‘The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.’ How much fun was working on that film?

Kingsley: Well, that is very much the script. It’s very much a plot driven film in the hands of director Mike Newell. He transformed it into a character driven film and it was a very pleasant, very rewarding, and very rich experience. He didn’t alter the script but he allowed us to be character driven rather than let the plot dictate the film. I did that immediately after ‘Shutter Island’ and it did not come like a shock. It was one great trip.
What’s next for you?

Kingsley: Next for me is probably filming in the UK and in Italy on two different projects and producing my own slate of films. Producing films is a learning curve and I also realize through the movies I’ve been happy enough to make, I’ve made some really good friends and colleagues.

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