His friends call him Benji, we just call him Sir. We talk to the 65 year old actor about smoking dope and snogging 20 year old girls. In keeping with the tone of The Wackness, it’s just a little surreal.
He’s work in cinema for over four decades and although he is best known for his Oscar winning performance as Gandhi, Sir Ben Kingsley has lead a truly eclectic career. This summer alone the British thesp has played a cross-eyed mentor to Mike Myers in ‘The Love Guru’, romanced the sultry Spaniard Penélope Cruz in ‘Elegy’ and now, in his bravest role to date, Kingsley stars as a dope-smoking, self-medicating psychiatrist in the Sundance celebrated film ‘ The Wackness’.
HERE the Oscar winner talks dope, the realities of snogging an Olsen twin and his life regrets…
Q: What attracted you to play a pot-smoking therapist in The Wackness?
His vulnerability. His lack of layers. His shocking spontaneity. The way he will drop a water bomb out of his window, just for a laugh. The child in him, which is why he has such a good relationship with Josh and ultimately a very good relationship with his stepdaughter when they are sitting down marking the territory together. The childlike quality in him is two things: It is endearing and infuriating. That’s what attracted me to it and the struggle to get away from that child. He fixes his childhood with drugs. He fixes himself in that state of limbo and non-development by artificially suppressing his growth, by dosing himself out of adulthood.
Q: For ‘The Wackness’, was it fun to pretend smoking pot in front of a camera?
Oh, anything that I am completely unused to discovering is marvelous, Yeah. It is a bonus, really. I knew nothing about bongs, really, I found them terrifying. Therefore it allowed me to allow him to do something as he has never done it before. Even though he is an addicted pot smoker, he always takes a joint as he has never seen one before. It might have been ten minutes since his last joint, he never quite knows what to do with it.
Q: So the therapist is in urgent need of therapy himself?
Yeah, and he gets it from Josh. He gets it from the one patient who sits across the desk from him and challenges him. Josh in a way becomes the adult in our film who guides me from rot bottom to some kind of an adult life. So maybe there is a new beginning for him. The film is very redeeming, actually.
Q: Tell us about your soon to infamous sex scene with young Mary-Kate Olsen? What was it like filming it?
The important thing for all of us exploring the erotic side of the film is that there is a very clear reason for every single sexual scene. They are there for narrative reasons. Mine is to show his loneliness. In a phone booth, fumbling with a 20 year old and in bed with somebody whom I have been married watching a porno movie and having sex that is so indifferent. You use comedy to exploit sex scenes to show loneliness. It is a very clever device. Those scenes are terribly lonely. I knew they were lonely and that gave me the motivation to do them. I knew why they were in the screenplay. Imagine if you don’t know why a sex scene is in a movie and you are asked to do it, it must be a nightmare.
Q: Did you discuss the sex scene with Marie Kate Olsen before shooting?
My character was drunk. So already my character is not making rational decisions. He is stoned and drunk, she is the same. This is what I mean about loneliness. That embrace is not born of a conscious affection between two people. It comes out of intoxication. So I thought that Marie Kates portrayal of a drunk, young woman was perfect. There characters were beautifully written, we all were perfectly inside of our characters and our characters interact. How do I deal smashing a bear bottle over the head of a fellow actor? Same question. I played very violent roles, too. Nobody has been abused or hurt by anything I have ever done on the screen, because I am in character completely. You have a bond with the other actor that is very trusting and vulnerable and well all know what we are doing.
Q: What is interesting about ‘The Wackness’ specifically is how young the cast and the director is. How rejuvenating was it for you to work with all these people?
I get tremendous buzz out of working with everybody. I love reacting. To be able to react to all this beautiful energy in this extraordinary wackness world around me. I do love my job.
Q: What does it mean to you being a ‘Sir’?
It is a hug from England. The English are very like… When I am in New York or California, everyone will come up to me and smile and shake my hand and say ‘I love your work’ and that is really gratifying. In England they just look at you quietly. Very different. However with that seeming total lack of enthusiasm for what you are doing, it is balanced. It is balanced suddenly by this title. Suddenly the prime minister and the queen say: ‘Oh, we know you are here.’ It is a wonderful balance, it is a hug, a hug from England. It is beautiful.
Q: Colleagues and agents always call you ‘Sir Ben’. Do you want people to call you like that?
It became a kind of nickname. It is like Benji. I think it is fun. It comes out of funness.
Q: People know you best for your incredible performance in “Ghandi”. Was that ever a problem for you to be minimized to this movie? You got offered and also played a lot of those decent men afterwards.
That is not a problem, cause I play also villains lately. Life always finds a balance. That’s great. As an actor, I was allowed to fully explore that decency in historic times. But life will always intervene and the pendulum will always swing back and suddenly I am finding myself reading the screenplay of a movie called “Sexy Beats”. And I think: There he is, that’s the guy I have been waiting for. Everything swings back he other way, it is always moving, so huge gratitude for that part of my career – and huge gratitude for “Sexy Beast” and everything that has come after that.
Q: Is there anything in your artistic life that you regret?
No. Because Life is good now, it is beautiful. I think we have to face the fact that everything in the past has brought us to me sitting here with you now. And if I had any regrets, it would be regretting the journey that brought me to this table now. I don’t regret that journey, because I am so happy to be here now. I love the now, it is all we have. Whatever brought us to the now and here we ware.
‘The Wackness’ is at Irish cinemas from August 29th