Ben Kingsley: interview

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Ben Kingsley appears in three films this month. In this week’s ‘Elegy’, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel ‘The Dying Animal’, he plays a rakish academic infatuated with a younger woman, in ‘The Wackness’, he’s a dope-smoking, self-medicating psychiatrist and in ‘The Love Guru’, he’s Mike Myers’s cross-eyed mentor. Looking ahead, the Oscar-winning actor who has played Dr Watson, Gandhi, Fagin and Shostakovich is gearing up to star in a film about Shakespeare. Though, at 64, he says he’s still not quite ready for directing

‘The Dying Animal’ has been called misogynistic, but this film adaptation, ‘Elegy’, is directed by a woman, Isabel Coixet, who softened the novel. What are your thoughts?

‘I can’t tell now which is the book and which is the film. Because I lived inside Philip’s novel so fully that I feel now that it’s become defined in my memory as this experience. I think that a man’s struggle with his vulnerability is best filmed by a woman, because a woman can see from her perspective everything good and frustrating about male vulnerability that men perhaps can’t see clearly enough.’

Roth is a great chronicler of American men. Was it your decision to Anglicise the character of David Kapesh?

‘I asked if I could be allowed to play him as English, because if I alter my voice, in any way – and I’m too darn good at accents – it’s a mask. I felt that I loved this character and the journey so much that I would like to have as few masks as possible. I’d almost like to look down and see my own shoes, my own trousers. Of course I didn’t wear my own clothes. But my wardrobe was chosen almost to mirror that which already exists in my own wardrobe.’

Some quality cashmere then.

‘I’m a cashmere kind of guy.’

In ‘Elegy’ and ‘The Wackness’ you play men of the 1960s retreating from their values. Is there a sense that permissiveness failed?

‘I think David’s assessment of intimacy in “Elegy” needs to go. I don’t know whether it’s a generational value, or whether it’s unique to him. But subconsciously he realises it’s time to go. It’s time to really commit and time to really say I love you rather than flirt with the idea and play with the idea. So that’s a good thing. And I think in “The Wackness”, for better or for worse, my character really hits rock bottom.’

Is it true that director Jonathan Levine had to teach you how to smoke a bong for ‘The Wackness’?

‘Well you see it on the screen. So somebody must have taught me. I’d never smoked a bong in my life, I didn’t know anything about that.’

Your part in ‘The Love Guru’ could be interpreted as you having some fun with Gandhi. Was that your reason for taking it?

‘In the West you have your car guru, your holiday guru, health guru, weight guru, diet guru, cooking guru. Everything’s called guru now and 99 per cent of them are phonies. So I had a damn good laugh at false gurus and how much money they’re milking this society for.’

Soon you’ll be playing Shakespeare?

‘I own the rights to Christopher Rush’s “Will”, a beautiful book on the life of Shakespeare.’

Are you still excited about film?

‘I love film. I’ve just finished working on “Shutter Island” with Martin Scorsese and I have my own production company. My main role with them will be producer and actor. I think I’ll miss out the directing bit for another ten years.’

Why?

‘It’s too hard. I’ll need to learn a bit more about the politics of the film set to really be a proper director.’Elegy’ opens on Aug 8; The Wackness’ opens on Aug 29; The Love Guru’ is out now.

Author: Cath Clarke


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