With Walt Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time getting released this weekend, a few days ago I got to do a phone interview with one of the best actors in the world: Sir Ben Kingsley. As most of you have seen the trailers and know what the film is about, I’m going to keep this intro brief. But if you’re not familiar, here’s a bunch of clips from the movie and the synopsis.
Anyway, since every actor promoting their movie does a lot of interviews on the same day and most are right after the other, I decided to start off the interview by talking about The Wackness. As some of you might remember, I spoke to Ben Kingsley at Sundance a few years ago about The Wackness as it was a film I truly loved and his work as Dr. Squires was completely out of character. Thankfully, he seemed to remember me and we reminisced about the film. Of course we also talked about Prince of Persia and he also told me how he’s currently preparing to work with Martin Scorsese again on his first 3D movie called The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’s a great interview so hit the jump to check it out:
Sir Ben Kingsley: Hello, Steve Weintraub. How are you doing?
I’m doing well. How are you, sir?
I’m just going to put myself into the interview for one second. I spoke to you at Sundance a few years ago for your amazing performance in The Wackness.
Kingsley: Oh yes.
I’m trying to break up the monotony of all the people you’re talking to today.
Kingsley: (laughter) Great Steve. Good thinking.
You’ve got to add the personal connection even if you lose a minute off the interview, just because I’m sure you’re doing a lot of press.
Kingsley: But you know, Steve, it’s very personal of you to say that. I bring the same degree of perfectionism, if that’s a flaw or it’s a gift I don’t know. I try and bring the same degree of perfectionism to Dr. Squires as I do to Nizam. One budget would perhaps pay for my trailer on the other film (laughs); it might pay for my trailer and my tissue paper in the trailer. You can make The Wackness for on a Bruckheimer film, but I’ve got to bring the same intensity to both projects.
No, absolutely. But I definitely want to start by asking you have you found…that film obviously didn’t do incredibly well at the theatre but you know people that have seen it love it. Have you found a lot of people coming up to you in the last year, year and a half saying…talking to you about that performance?
Kingsley: Yes, I do but it’s regrettable. I think that we…if you’re going to make an independent film, you’ve got to have your distribution and your P&R, you’ve got to have your campaign sewn up. It’s got to be part of your budget. You can’t throw it under the bus. I’m not blaming anybody but I do think that that film should have done a lot better than it did. And it’s nice that people come up to me and say, “O,h I saw that movie,” but it shouldn’t be like a rare event. It shouldn’t be as if they found it somewhere by accident, you know?
Listen, I agree and I obviously told you back then how much I loved that film and your performance in it.
Kingsley: Yeah. You did. You did.
But getting into the reason why I’m on the phone with you today, your fantastic performance in Prince of Persia. But you’re always great. My first question for you is, when you’re dealing with a historical figure like this or with your performances in general, how much do you prepare in advance, how much research do you do, you know specifically for this role but also for your roles in general?
Kingsley: It accumulates. For example, I had a wonderful experience in the House of Sand and Fog playing a Persian who was completely related to an ancient Persian warrior. He just wore a suit. But that’s who he was. And that pleasure of being him in The House of Sand and Fog was immediately attachable to Nizam. And also I could say my 15 years in the theatre—15…one-five—15 years in the theatre as a Shakespeare actor is immediately attachable to my performance of Nizam. So I don’t need to go off and research. It’s all inside me waiting to come out. I’m a walking library. I’m a walking research library. There’s very little I need to do outside of myself because of my varied career, especially in Shakespeare, for 15 years there is so much that I can attach to Nizam effortlessly. Now the research I did, it wasn’t research it was hard practice with my stunt crew, with my stunt double, with the fight trainers, the horse trainers. All that stuff I did and it was new and it was joyful and I loved it, but the character: no, I don’t need to research. It’s there. I can recognize character. I have a GPS system called William Shakespeare. It applies to every script I read. And can I give you another Wackness example?
Kingsley: Wackness is the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part 1. It’s the same relationship. So it’s not a question of me being “Shakespearian” I just recognize certain archetypes. I recognize certain paths through scripts and Nizam is Richard III. It’s the same person.
The physical demands on you as an actor are much different filming Prince of Persia when you’re in the heat of Morocco in the middle of August. So how did you sort of prepare for that or did you not prepare and you sort of…
Kingsley: I’m just fit. I mean my daily routine is eating well. I don’t do any abusive substances. There’s none in my bloodstream. I walk miles in the English countryside. I have a pool at home. I swim every day, when I’m at home. I’m not always at home. In the trailer, I will have my weights. I weight train every day in my trailer. Not obsessively. I just love to keep fit. So I’m always ready. It’s not a preparation. I’m always ready for any physical challenges that come my way as an actor.
Obviously Prince of Persia based on a video game, did you ever say, you know I think I’m going to have to spend the day today playing a video game just to get ready for this movie?
Kingsley: (laughter) No, I didn’t, but Jordan [Mechner] though, the inventor of the video game was on the film set. He was so delighted to see his dreams come true. What was inside his head is now this massive film set with thousands of people. But my starting point was the script. Absolutely. I didn’t chain myself to a video game for hours. It’s just such a beautiful script and a great director and to have it externalized by Jerry Bruckheimer, to have it realized and externalized and brought to life by him, it’s wonderful. You don’t need anything else. You walk onto a set and there it is. There is ancient Persia. There is a camel corps. There is a Calvary corps. There are thousands of foot soldiers. There is a servant. There are 5 servants for every person sitting at the table in the movie. It’s amazing. It’s all there.
You recently worked with Scorsese on Shutter Island and I believe you’re going to work with him again on Invention of Hugo Cabret?
Kingsley: Correct, yes I am. I am going to do it. I start so soon. In fact, I’ve already started work on it.
Kingsley: I’m watching the footage of the character I’m playing. I’m playing George Melies. I’m sure you know about his work. And I’m watching all the wonderful surviving black and white footage at the turn of the last century that he made and just enjoying watching his body of work. And I’ll be playing…he was a magician, an acrobat, dancer, producer, chorographer, writer, actor. He was everything. And just loving watching his work. And then of course, I’d walk on to the set and Martin Scorsese will provide us with the perfect ambiance to tell our story and there it will all be.
Well, is this going to be…I heard it’s going to be in 3D and I’m curious is this—
Kingsley: Yeah, it’s going to be in 3D. It’s his first family film, which is amazing. It’s going to be so exciting.
Well, I’m curious, so they’re filming in 3D or do you know if they’re doing it in post?
Kingsley: I don’t know the technique involved there Steve, because I’ve not literally walked onto the set. I’m just in preparation with Marty and working on certain aspects of his look, the costume etc. But I’ll be on the set shortly and then I’ll see what kind of camera he’s going to use.
You’ve worked with tremendous directors over the course of your career, how exciting was it for you working on Shutter Island and what do you…I mean could you talk a little bit about working for Martin Scorsese and how much you’re looking forward to doing it again?
Kingsley: Well the great thing about Prince of Persia is that I received the script whilst I was working with Martin Scorsese. So my appetite for big glorious film making was very sharp because I was working with Marty. Now I’ve just opened Prince of Persia, which I read whilst working on Shutter Island and I’m about to go back to Martin Scorsese. I love these patterns of being able to work with Marty on his films and work with Jerry Bruckheimer on his films. It’s terrific to be so mobile as an actor. It’s fantastic. Marty directs like a lover.
(Laughter) Have you already thought about what you’re going to be doing later this year, or are you sort of taking one project…for you do you like doing one project at a time?
Kingsley: No, I’m always producing my own projects because my wife and I have our own production company now, so I’m always….as soon as I finish my press for this movie today, I’ll be back in my office, which I carry in my luggage and back to producing my projects. And talking to my script writers, my directors and refining the roles that I’m going to play for my own company, so yeah, it’s round the clock.
Obviously you’re so recognizable as you’ve been in so many movies, what do you find that people when you’re at an airport or just out and about people want to come up to you. Do you have people coming up about Ghandi, Dave, Sneakers–
Kingsley: Sexy Beast.
Kingsley: Yeah, a lot of people. Especially in the U.K.
That’s an interesting…I think you’re great in that but that’s an interesting movie to be the one that’s recognizable.
I wanted to know, obviously Jerry Bruckheimer—huge career, made tons of movies. Do you have any favorite Bruckheimer movies as a fan?
Kingsley: I thought Black Hawk Down was amazing. And anything with Bruce Willis in it is amazing. And Top Gun. So many of them. It’s just great to be part of his process, you know? To be on the film set, to be part of it is so exciting.
Obviously, Morocco….I’m curious if you could go back there for a day or two or if people were going there for the first time, what would you recommend them doing? Or what would you go do if you had another day for yourself there?
Kingsley: We went back to Morocco for the New Year, so we actually returned—my wife and I—to have a quiet winter holiday there. It was beautiful. It’s very interesting. Apropos to the Prince of Persia what the Moroccans say about their country says a lot about them and their attitudes to life. The Moroccans say “If you want to get to know the real Morocco, bring a child.”
Kingsley: Which is beautiful because it will just reveal to you that the Moroccans love children, respect the special years of childhood and will greet a child from France, from America, from England. Greet a child as if that child is a prince or princess.
I have not heard that expression before, actually.
Kingsley: “If you want to know the real Morocco, bring a child.” That’s what they say.
I know I have to wrap with you, but I definitely want one other question. You were in the movie called Teen Patti?
I wanted to know, could you talk a little bit about who you play in that and what that film is about?
Kingsley: It’s an Indian…it’s a Bollywood film and I play a British mathematician. It’s a cameo. I spent 2 days filming it and they took my 2 days and stretched it like a piece of elastic, so it looks like I’m in the film from beginning to end. Very clever.
(laughs) So you didn’t know that when you were doing the 2 days?
Kingsley: Yeah, I sort of guessed they would, you know? But it was great to work with…to have my one Bollywood experience. It was fun.
I was just going to comment on…Bollywood movies are huge in India. They seem to be expanding also into the States. I was just curious if you could talk a little bit about, you know, fame in Bollywood now?
Kingsley: Because Ghandi is shown in India with great reverence every year on Ghandi’s birthday, that’s my link with India.
Look at that. Cool. Well listen, I could obviously ask you a lot more questions, but I just want to say thank you so much.
Kingsley: Well, we’ll meet up again, Steve.
Absolutely. Listen, so much and congrats on the movie and I’ll do everything I can to get people to see The Wackness.
Kingsley: Fantastic. Good for you! Take care, Steve.
Cool. Have a very good day. Thank you.
Kingsley: Thank you. Bye, bye.