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Ben Kingsley Interview

British actor Ben Kingsley is famous for his work in classic films such as Gandhi and Sexy Beast. In his latest film, Shutter Island, he plays a doctor at an institution for the criminally insane. He, along with director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio, was recently in London to talk about the film. Here’s what he had to say about working with Scorsese, DiCaprio and legendary actor Max von Sydow.

Your character in Shutter Island is very challenging because our perception of him changes so drastically. How did you begin to approach that?
Ben Kingsley (BK): Receiving a phone call from Martin Scorsese. First you stand [laughter] and then, given that it is our first time working together, it's wonderful to jump in the deep end. There is no shallow end with Marty, but to jump in the deep end is a privilege, because you sink or swim and Mister Scorsese trusted that I could swim, which was great. And having heard his persuasive, affectionate voice on the phone, I read his script with great delight.

And I like to seek for the narrative function of the character in the bigger piece. Where he can serve Leo, where, like in a Shakespeare play everyone is – like in our dreams, too, everyone is an extension of the centre and I suppose my contribution – and it seemed to have resonance with Marty and it worked – was the bringer of unconditional love. And to have that rather delicate mandate to be shared with Marty, I know that he directs with love. That is the process. He answered very articulately saying, 'Well, the emotion, the empathy, the sympathy,' so to have that rather slender mandate of the bringer of unconditional love – which is a pretty difficult task to meet, actually – in his hands and with Leo as the receiver of that unconditional love, it was something I could not possibly have said no to.

How surprising or daunting is it to work with Max von Sydow?
BK: He has absolute authority on the set. I've said this before and I know the chaps [Scorsese and DiCaprio] agree, that we can be chatting with Max on the set, engaged in wonderful conversation with him and Mister Scorsese will say action and you cannot see the difference between him being and him acting. Even inches from him, it's an extraordinary quality. From his Bergman years onwards, layer upon layer upon layer of – perhaps not being added but being removed, being peeled away from, so there's the essential, something essential about him, elemental. It was wonderful. Very inspiring to work with.

What was your impression of Scorsese and DiCaprio's working relationship?
BK: As another member of the cast, observing this great longevity of a working relationship, we were never for a second excluded. Every debate on the set between Martin and Leonardo was shared. There's no shorthand, there's no whispering in corners. Every single person on the set gets the benefit of this working relationship so that it's continually refreshed. You don't feel that it's a private language, it's the language of the film and we were all part of that debate, which, given the history of that relationship is quite generous and remarkable and it really lifted the whole set, the way they were together on the set. It was great.

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Content updated: 23/11/2017 14:46

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