Produced by Laika and based on the children’s novel Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, the stop-motion animated feature The Boxtrolls is about a young orphaned boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright), who is raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors who he must save from evil exterminator Archibald Snatched (voiced by Ben Kingsley).
While at Comic-Con for a presentation in Hall H, actor Ben Kingsley spoke at a roundtable interview about why he was so taken with this film, how freeing he found the voice recording experience, voicing the leopard Bagheera for Jon Favreau’s live-action feature The Jungle Book, starting his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company, how much he enjoyed playing The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, how Sexy Beast changed people’s perception of him, what he learned from the experience of making Gandhi, being a part of Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, where his desire to keep working comes from, and how he’s always wanted to play a man in uniform. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
BEN KINGSLEY: It explores vulnerability, it explores separation, it explores triumph, it explores absurdity, it explores vanity, it explores ambition. It’s very human. It has loads of human layers to it, that so many people can engage with and study and be amused by. I was very, very impressed with the detail of the animation and the psychological layers of the character.
Have you worked on animation before?
KINGSLEY: I’ve had a very small experience with it, a long time ago.
How do you feel about only having your voice to work with?
KINGSLEY: I think it’s very freeing. My physicality on screen – the puppet – is very unlike my own silhouette. Also, the movement and the mannerisms that you see on screen are not human. They start with humanoid silhouettes, but they have extraordinary movements. I tried to echo that with stretching vowel sounds and my accent and playing with my voice, from a very relaxed starting point. I actually was lying down for most of my recordings. I know the recording studio quite well and I’ve got some good mates who work there, and they rigged me up a reclining chair, so that I could lie almost horizontal and do all of my recording like that. I wanted it to come from a very relaxed part of me.
Did you get a chance to visit the set of The Boxtrolls?
KINGSLEY: I’m afraid not. I didn’t get a chance. They offered me a chance, but I was filming so many other projects, at the time, that I couldn’t make it. But seeing what was built and knowing all of those costumes were made, it was quite beautiful.
Has there been a conscious move, on your part, to do more films aimed at younger audiences?
KINGSLEY: I honestly have no strategy at all, in my career, and very little say in it. It’s random. But it’s very gratifying, not only to play to a different demographic group, but also to suddenly find myself exploring so many different ways of being an actor. I’m in The Jungle Book soon, playing Bagheera, and that’s thrilling for me. All of these different diverse outlets, stages, platforms and arenas for an actor to work is very exciting right now.
And that’s Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book?
And you’re playing an animal?
KINGSLEY: Yes, Bagheera is the leopard.
And how will you be doing that?
KINGSLEY: I think it will be computer graphics, based very closely on real animals. Mowgli is a real child, and he’ll be surrounded by computer generated animals.
Will it be your voice?
KINGSLEY: It will be my voice. That’s what Jon wants. I offered him all sorts of different things, and even an Indian accent, but he said, “No, I want your British voice.”
KINGSLEY: Ages ago, but not recently. But this script is probably a lot closer to Kipling than the original Disney one was.
Do you feel the shadow of the Disney movie, or are you going to explore your own thing?
KINGSLEY: I’m going to explore my own thing.
Is doing animation and using only your voice to create a character like going back to the basics of acting?
KINGSLEY: If it is only the voice, you’re thrown back onto resources and exploring sounds. I never went to drama school. I went straight into the theater. But fortunately, my first few years were with the Royal Shakespeare Company. We had, in that company, the most extraordinary voice teacher. She’s quite famous, and I worked with her when I was starting out in my career. How to place my voice from a very relaxed position was all wonderfully reminiscent of going back to the basics. But I always like to do that with any role that I do, to dismantle it and put it all back together again.
Which is your favorite of Shakespeare’s works?
KINGSLEY: I think Hamlet is an amazing piece, and I was very fortunate to play that. It was one of the Attenborough family that saw my Hamlet and said, “Okay, dad, when you get the money for Gandhi, that’s your man.” And it worked out that way.
When you do films that are based on literary sources, are the books valuable resources for you, or is it different with each project?
KINGSLEY: With House of Sand and Fog, I thought that Vadim Perelman’s screenplay was so beautiful that I didn’t even read the book. I tend not to go back to the novel because the screenwriter/director has taken such pains to turn an internal experience into an external one that I don’t want to go back to the internal. He or she has worked so hard to turn it inside out that it’s the finished product – the script – that I’m fascinated by. That’s where I get my energy from and my inspiration from.
Do you think people’s perception of you changed when you did Iron Man 3?
KINGSLEY: I think the biggest corner I turned was probably Sexy Beast. There were people who thought I was bipolar because I could play both Gandhi and Don Logan in Sexy Beast. They were like, “This man’s not sane!” But paradoxically, that violence was so amusing to some people, with a nervous laughter, that it has led to playing more comedy.
Did you enjoy playing The Mandarin?
KINGSLEY: Tremendously! The Mandarin and Trevor were such a double act. They were tremendously enjoyable. And Robert Downey Jr. is a wonderful man to work with.
Have you ever done a role where, when you finished, you were glad to be putting it aside?
KINGSLEY: It wasn’t the role. I actually burned the script. I had a ceremonial burning of the script. The director was such an awful person who was so discourteous to the cast and so amateurish. It was a colossal waste of good energy and time. All actors want to do is please and get it right, and it was so difficult. I burned the script.
KINGSLEY: [Shakes head no]
What did you learn from the experience of making Gandhi?
KINGSLEY: Creating and painting that portrait of Gandhi was so absorbing that I literally walked away from the picture. Maybe some things stick. I honestly don’t know. It’s very hard to tell. Having played in classical theater for about 15 years before I portrayed Gandhi, and stretching myself into extraordinarily roles like Hamlet, it’s in the telling and the doing that you grow. I don’t think it’s in the philosophical reflection afterwards.
What other films do you have coming out?
KINGSLEY: Stonehearst Asylum, Selfless, Exodus, Learning to Drive, Life. There are loads to come out. There are about eight to come out, that I’ve shot over about two years. I’ve been working very hard.
And Exodus is the Ridley Scott film?
KINGSLEY: Yes, and it’s beautiful. I’ve seen little bits of it, and it’s amazing.
Was it very special to you to get to tell the Exodus story?
KINGSLEY: Very special, indeed. It’s an extraordinary story, and Ridley is going to make it so modern. He’s going to make it tangible and completely about us. Of course, it’s set in ancient Egypt, but look at human nature. Not a lot has changed.
Where does your desire to keep working come from?
KINGSLEY: I love storytelling. If you strip all the bits away, what you’ll find at the center is a storyteller. As I warm to my career and love it more, I have a sense that storytelling is healing, in many ways. You can reach an audience and heal, and by heal, I mean entertain and provoke. It’s a wonderful life.
You’ve gotten to play such amazing roles. Is there any type of role that you haven’t gotten to dive into yet?
KINGSLEY: I’ve created a production company with my wife. We’ve got six films on our slate, and one of them is about a naval admiral. I want to play a man in uniform. I’ve got tremendous respect for that life that they lead. We know so little about it. It’s never discussed or talked about, when they come back from battle. I want to examine the choices that have to be made in those terrible times. That’s one of the films on our slate. I’ll get to wear a uniform. It’s about the first World War and the Battle of Jutland.
Do you have a particular interest in World War I?
KINGSLEY: I do. I always have. I don’t know why.
Is that a production company that you established to make films that you’ll be in?
KINGSLEY: In some, I’ll play a supporting role. In some, I’ll play a leading role. One of them, I’m not in, at all.