Today we have Sir Ben Kingsley who plays Nizam in the movie. Please note, this interview contains spoilers but this is such a great interview where Sir Ben tells us how he got into acting and how he finds his characters that he plays and I urge you to read it because I think you’ll love it. Meeting the legend was an honour and I wish I could have talked to him for longer.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is released in UK cinemas this Friday, 21st May and you can check out my review here.
How did you get involved in the Prince of Persia project?
Mike Newell very much wanted me to play Nizam because I think he wanted to bring that patriarchal element to the film and have the terrible disappointment of Jake’s character manifesting in his performance
‘No, I didn’t want him to be my nemesis, he’s my uncle. He’s watched over me all my life. He pulled me literally out of the gutter. I don’t want it to be him!’
And I think Mike wanted to manoeuvre that part of the story for Jake and myself into one of disappointment rather than one of simple two dimensional revenge. So I think because of Ron Pickups, Alfred Molina’s, mine, Gemma’s to a lesser extent but very strong comrade, a deep appreciation of dram and then to gt that template and apply it to a Jerry Bruckheimer film, it works. Because, what Jerry and Mike did together, and I know there were battles, but good ones, right through the editing process and Jerry says ‘action’ and ‘plot’ and Mike says, no ‘character’. And he’s made them work. He’s pulled them together.
Were you convinced from the beginning or did you need convincing to play the part?
Oh heavens, I’m a song and dance man. When I was a kid, I was called a Danny Kay of the family. (Danny Kay was an extraordinary comedian in the 50s). So I’m a song and dance man. I love doing this.
Were you always an destined to be an actor when you were growing up?
Four! I was four when I went into the cinema and it was very extraordinary because Martin Scorsese saw this film when I was a little boy. And within a week of telling Marty about this film, he’s given me the DVD! So I can watch it now and cry all over again. The film is made by Havlock Ellis in the 50s (It’s called Never Say no to a Donkey) and it takes place in post-war Italy and many Italian kids were orphaned by the bombing. This little boy doesn’t have a family, but he has a donkey, called Violetta. He runs a business, like a haulage business. He carries straw, wine, bricks, food and even drunks home, he carries them home like a taxi driver. He’s very, very young, he’s 5. And full of energy, adorable child actor for this film and the donkey gets sick and this is where I, as a boy in the cinema was uncontrollably grief-stricken, cos the donkey is there dying. And the little by is determined to knock a big hole in the wall of the chapel of St. Francis of Assisi in his town, to get his dying donkey into the chapel to either live, or go to heaven. And the priest is saying well, you can’t knock the wall down. Higher and higher up the hierarchy; they say he can’t knock the wall down. And eventually he gets to the Rome and he sees His Holiness, The Pope. And you never seen The Pope, all you see is the Pope’s hand go bang on the letter. And the little boy holds the letter and it’s like an odyssey, like a Greek odyssey, he goes all the way back to his village and he has dispensation to knock a hole in the wall of the chapel. And the last shot in the movie is the boy leading his donkey through the hole in the hole they bash through the masonry. And this amazing shaft of light of the donkey going through the hole with the boy. I was uncontrollable. Never take no for an answer, it’s going to be on my gravestone!
This was in Salford in the North of England I left with my mum and dad and I was very moved by the story and totally identifying with the little boy cos I looked very like him. The cinema owner, saw me leaving the cinema and with his own hands, took me and lifted me above the audience in the foyer shouting ‘It’s little Popeto!’ and there I was, being praised for the performance of the little boy on the screen. For a few seconds they thought it was me!
So this was your first premiere?!
It was my first premiere that I was praised. I was praised for being part of the story and I also love the story and so I identify with the little boy.
And now I further identify with the little boy. Then for years after that, as going to school, doing errands for my parents, I imagined myself being followed by an invisible camera crew. Hence the Danny Kay of the family, hence the career. But then working with Martin Scorsese, I told him this story and he gave me the DVD.
There’s not a film he hasn’t seen though is there?
He’s got 40 000 films in a massive computer in his hotel room. So I have it, I can watch it, I can whistle the music, I know that film frame by frame.
Did being the Danny Kay of the family, did that help you to cope with the more physical parts of Prince of Persia?
I did a lot of my own action stuff in this film. I had a brilliant stunt double called Miloch who was from Slovakia I think. And I’m not very confident on the back of a horse. The animal unnerves me a little so he did a lot of my riding but then in close-up of course it has to be me. The sword fights he does and then Mike wanted a big close-up tracking shot of me and Jake fighting and me and Jake did that fight together and it was very frightening. Because you can get so close into Nizam and think ‘my god, he really is eaten up with envy and regret, he could kill somebody’ the pathology really is that deep but it was really good to do those stunts that afternoon. But I trained to do that but I thought I’d do one or two strokes and a stunt man was going to come in and do the rest but I did that and I climbed the mountain at the end too. That was a very exciting day.
Do you enjoy playing the bad guy?
If I can find envy and regret. I enjoyed playing Don Logan in Sexy Beast because cos I found out he’d been abused as a child. And all his grief and rage comes from being an unhealed abused child and there are hundreds of those guys and they’ll go on abusing others because they’re unhealed – that gave me the link with him so if I can find that dimension that says why. But I’ve seen performances of Richard III, I haven’t played him, sometimes I’ve seen how, other times I’ve seen the actor saying why and there we are, now you’re doing it, now you’re cooking. Why are you like that, here’s your answer.
Where did you find your ‘bad guy’ link to Nizam?
I think I found it in the writing, and using the writing as a wonderful map and then beyond the map seeing the deeper dimensions of this character. Although the script will present you his actions, what he does and what he says, I can see there is a very deep motive and when you can find that motive, everything will fall into place.
With Ghandi, it was not ‘what a nice man’ it was ‘what an angry man, what a deeply angry man’ and everything fell into place. Everything made sense.
It’s nice to see you moved so much by the passion of your profession. Did you ever have a time in your life when you didn’t enjoy it?
There are certain hinge points in the journey and there is always light and shade and I believe they are always connected. The light and shade and the balance between them. There was a time in the Royal Shakespeare company in the 80s in a massive production that I felt utterly lost and like a cog in a very clever machine. That I had little autonomy, little freedom, just do what you’re told. And I was quite despairing. And in order to get away from the brink of life I was leading as an actor, I took a couple of books out of the library and one of them was the biography of a man called Mahatma Gandhi and two weeks later Richard Attenborough calls me.
So out of that darkness, I was propelled into this huge amount of light and I’d had a little hint before as well from the book. It’s funny that was the book I chose. So are pushed by our past or pulled by our future? I’m not entirely sure I know.
Do you believe that Ghandi is your brightest light?
Well I learnt a lot, but I have been very blessed by the directors I’ve worked with and have done some amazing projects. I have to say that Marty is as bright and that shutter island was a very light enhancing and light illuminating experience because it’s about love and life.
You’ve still got the beard from Shutter Island. Is it here to stay?
I’ve had this on and off since sexy beast and I really like it. I don’t like shaving it off and I don’t like wearing anything on my head like wigs but I think I’m going to have to slightly change it for my next film directed by Martin Scorsese which is shooting in London at Shepperton Studios. It’s called the Invention of Hugo Cabret and he’s asked me to play the one and only Georges Méliès who was such a fantastic star in early cinema as an actor, magician, film maker, director, set designer, everything and he did have this (points to the beard).
When will you start this new project?
Well, we’re starting now doing makeup preparation, costume fittings, script, and in earnest, well start as soon as we get back from Prince of Persia in the States so early June.
Prince of Persia is released in the UK May 21st. You can see interviews with all the cast on HeyUGuys so stay tuned or check out all our Prince of Persia Coverage here.