Feature Interviews K to O > Sir Ben Kingsley
TIME AS TWO VERY DIFFERENT CHARACTERS
by Brad Balfour
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: September 24, 2005.
While veteran actor Sir
Ben Kingsley remains one of our greatest working thespians--having accrued
numerous Academy nominations and won an Oscar for Gandhi--he rarely
has two films with such different roles being released virtually at the
same time. In Peter Hyams' A Sound of Thunder he plays a man who
operates a dinosaur-hunting time travel service; in Roman Polanski's
Oliver Twist he plays the villainous Fagin--master of a thieving band
of boys. Nonetheless, The 60-something British actor turns out fine
performances in both cases.
You have played a complete range of characters from the angelic
Gandhi to the satanic as well…
I have covered the
complete range of experience for humanity. There's no other way.
I'm just like a musician who connects to any kind of music; as an actor I
connect to the complete range of human beings. It's
the instrument we actors use. I have played every kind of individual
including the serial killer in Sweeney Todd.
These two films are very different, made by very different directors.
How was the experience doing both of them for you?
When it comes down to
it, all directors have to execute same rules and have the same goals--to
complete the film to their satisfaction. They are like two orchestral
conductors, both have their job to do; they need to conduct the orchestra
whatever the compositions that they are playing.
What are the differences and similarities in the demands of Hyams and
With A Sound of
Thunder I was able to bring a fully realized portrayal to my
character, Charles Hatton. Peter allowed me to add my own my own take on
the character of the shabby showman and I was able to the push the
humorous side I was going for. He put the camera in the perfect place and
allowed me to show that characterization. With Roman and his Oliver
Twist, Fagin was pretty well fully realized by the time I came on the
set. Because the role of Fagin is far more substantial than my role in
A Sound of Thunder where my part was much smaller, I was on the set
more. I was on the receiving end of Roman's genius almost on a daily
basis, and with all the boys there were far more people on the set than
A Sound… so he was able to orchestrate more with me and get the best
out of a scene. So the two exercises were very different with the
attention to detail, the periods, and the emotional dynamic between the
characters but they filmed both very well.
Did you look at any other version of Fagin in doing
this Oliver Twist?
I didn't look at other
material and didn't think about other material because working with Roman
is so absorbing and his concept is so fully realized and such a thorough
investigation of material that there is very little time for speculation
of what has been or what the
versions were. It was entirely myself and Roman and that whole cast and
that pretty much stayed in the present during the whole exercise.
Fagin is an iconic figure. How did you interpret him?
I can really express my
gratitude is to The Royal Shakespeare Company and the brilliant work they
do where i started as a stage actor and was allowed to do the roles that
stage actors do. So when it became my turn to play Hamlet I was so
overwhelmed to play him for such a great company. That role is the most
famous role in the Shakespeare canon so when i prepared for it,
I was not remotely concerned about other performances before me. I wished
to interpret it with the director and the audience in mind. At that time,
the word classic was not mentioned. It was assumed the when I played a
role that had been performed for four centuries the actors who had played
him before me were the greatest names in the acting pantheon so I quickly
got rid of that psychological hurdle or stammer before playing famous
roles like Fagin. I was released and free to create Fagin as a human
What struck you most about him?
I saw him as a parent.
Now that word I use advisedly. I don't automatically mean a good
parent but I saw him as confused guardian whatever his motives were. He
was a guardian regardless of the criminal activities they were wards of
his guardianship. He was a patriarch that emerging theme pushed an
enormous amount energy into my performance. It was very stimulating. I
never judge the morality of a bad person. He had to do what he had to do
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