by scott huver | January 9, 2012 | People
Sir Ben Kingsley
On connecting to Hugo’s imagined tale of the real-life filmmaker Georges Méliès: I honestly think the historical man is brought to life by the addition of this beautiful piece of fiction. What it did for me was link me to the ancient, beautiful story all of us have come across somewhere, I think, in our lives: one of the six or seven great, ancient myths of the man in exile—sometimes he’s even a blind man in exile—led back into life by the hands of a child. That central myth fueled me throughout the whole film—the beautiful simplicity of that image.
The moment he knew he had no choice but to be an actor: I remember when I was in my very late teens, desiring to be an actor but not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other. I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, and I saw a performance of Richard III. Ian Holm had the title role, and I was so taken by his performance I fainted. I was revived with a glass of water, went back, and watched the rest of the performance, and at the end I went around to the stage door, determined to meet the actors. I even was allowed to go for a drink with them. I thought, These are my brothers! I would, in a sense, go into battle with them. That was the precise moment I realized, I have to do this. It wasn’t that I wanted to, but that I had to.
The behind-the-scenes awards-ceremony memory he treasures: At my first Academy Awards ceremony, I was standing offstage as Mickey Rooney was receiving a special award. He gave a gorgeous speech and was treated with tremendous applause. He walked into the wings, straight into me, and he said over and over again, “Did I mention my wife?” I said, “Yes, Mickey, you did.” He said, “Oh, thank God!” It was such a beautiful moment. It’s all there: the one person you want to thank, the kneeshaking moment, standing there, and then you think, Oh no—I forgot to mention my wife.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HARRY BORDEN/CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES
On adoring her wild-child character in The Descendants: She’s raw and messy, and she got to use language you don’t hear in most movies, and it wasn’t glamorized or beautified. I loved that.
On seeing acting as an extension of who she is: That’s my favorite part of acting: just being authentically me within the restrictions of the particular character. So it was kind of a beautiful experience to be able to do that and not have to act. [The Descendants director] Alexander Payne said that when he hired us, he hired us to be ourselves and not to have us act, and that’s really refreshing.
The moment she knew she had no choice but to be an actor: I still don’t know if I have to be an actor. I don’t know if I want to be an actor. I love to act—the expression and the creation of it. But the day it becomes not fun, then I’ll quit. It’s only about giving me those butterflies, and if I don’t have those… It’s not about the glamour and the makeup and the dresses and the red carpets—for me, it’s about being on a film set, in front of a camera, and being able to portray myself as any given character.
The actor whose performance most inspired her views on acting: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is unbelievable, and his performance in Mysterious Skin was the first performance I’d ever seen him do. I remember being so blown away by the vulnerability and the humanness of his performance.
The first film that affected her as something more significant than mere entertainment: Some movies have made me cry; some movies have made me laugh, but I’ve never thought, Wow—if it weren’t for that movie, I’d be a different person. Except Pocahontas. It’s true! If you listen to the lyrics they actually have incredibly valuable lessons for human beings to learn, and whenever I need a pick-me-up I just watch Pocahontas.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARC CARTWRIGHT/VISTALUX
On acting as a visual art form after starring in the silent film The Artist: If I could do another silent film, I would immediately, because it’s sort of the basis of acting. Even when you’re doing a talkie, you want to take out some of the lines you have. Sometimes, actually, words pollute the image, and when you don’t have the words, the camera seizes all of the emotion. So maybe there’s going to be another century of silent movies.
What he loves about being someone else for a while: I take a vacation from myself, which is really nice.
The moment he knew he had no choice but to be an actor: When I was 24, I realized I’d actually been an actor my whole life. I started really early on the playground when I was eight years old, and then I did standup in front of my friends and played characters. But it took me a while to actually make the decision, to say, “This is what I’m made to do. This is what I’m going to do.” I’m from a family that’s not at all an artistic community but more of an earthy family, so I didn’t even allow myself to think of that kind of thing as a possibility. I was always off dreaming, creating new characters, making up people to play.
On the films that continue to demonstrate the potential of cinema to him: In my work and preparation for The Artist, I watched The Crowd, and it just blew me away. It was hypnotic, the experience of watching that movie. And [recently] Like Crazy is something that really touched me. It talked about family, childhood, and it touched me in a way that went back to my own childhood.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAT HANSEN/CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES
On getting inside her character’s head for Martha Marcy May Marlene—then and still: I was interested in her not playing the victim and the struggle to fight against that. That was an interesting struggle in my mind. Now I talk about her so much I feel I fully know her, but whether or not I knew all those things when I was filming, I don’t know. You film a movie for four weeks, and you talk about it for a year, so I feel like I’m so much closer with her—now more than ever.
What she loves about being someone else for a while: The funniest thing is that it’s the time I feel the least insecure in my life, because I’m not me. On talk shows, I’m totally self-conscious and aware of everything I do and every movement, but when I’m filming, I feel a lot more secure in my body. I try not to judge myself, but also have the awareness of what I’m doing so I can improve it in the next take. I really love that. It’s just such a freeing feeling, to get out of your own head.
The moment she knew she had no choice but to be an actor: It was a very specific moment, actually: In my junior year of high school we did The Laramie Project, and I wrote my high school director, Josh Adell, a handwritten letter about how the experience of doing that play changed my life and helped me make choices for what I wanted to do when I went to college.
The actor whose performance most inspired her views on acting: As a little girl I looked up to Michelle Pfeiffer like people looked up to the Spice Girls. I just thought she could transform into anything. I thought she was a superhero.
The film that continues to fascinate: There are so many movies that make you wish you knew more of what happened before and what happens after. I feel like Gone with the Wind satisfies the whole story you want to see, but every time it ends and she says, “Tomorrow is another day,” you’re just like, Okay, but what happens? Do you guys get together again? Are you going to fall in love again? It always makes me so hopeful and sad at the same time.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK ABRAHAMS FOR MANAGEMENT ARTISTS
On playing a writer who time travels to a sometimes not-as-romantic-as-expected Paris in Midnight in Paris: I had no idea how the time travel stuff would all work: Would it seem too far-fetched? Would people buy it? I really enjoyed reading the script, but that was always sort of the wild card for me. Then that ended up being one of the things that people liked the most about the movie.
On discovering an unexpected career as an actor: I started off writing and then the acting just sort of happened; I never felt like it was something I had to do. It was more something I had fun doing but didn’t know if I really had much of a future in it. Then as it went along, people would hire me, and I’d get a chance to keep doing it. After a while, it was really more me acting than writing. I have a great time acting on a movie. You show up, and everyone becomes a little family, and you’re there working intensely hard on something creative for three or four months, and then you move on to something else. It fits my slightly ADD nature.
The behind-the-scenes awards-ceremony memory he’ll never forget: I remember [in 2002] with The Royal Tenenbaums when we got [an Oscar] nomination [for Best Screenplay], sitting in the audience, and we kind of knew we didn’t really have much of a chance. In the weeks leading up, I said to Wes Anderson, “I don’t think we have a chance.” He was like, “You never know.” So I finally convinced him we didn’t have a chance, and then all of a sudden, the second before it’s announced I was like, We’re going to win. Of course we didn’t win. So much for that feeling. I’ve had that feeling a lot betting on football. It’s worked out about as well.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHIAS CLAMER/CORBIS OUTLINE
On the challenges of playing a gay teen who is coming out to her family in Pariah: The most compelling thing about [my character], Alike, was that she gets knocked down and gets back up. She continues to be willing to put herself into positions to live and experience things. She’s somebody who keeps at it, doing it very awkwardly or very painfully, but just keeps going. As an actor, I had to be in a very open and vulnerable space to do it continuously. I had to continue to push myself and just keep going further and deeper.
On recognizing the ability of films like Pariah to transform hearts and minds: Here we have this very specific story, but you don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be black, you don’t have to be a lesbian or from New York to get something from this film. It opened up this dialogue between people. I remember thinking this was a powerful film happening right in front of my eyes. That’s what you want a film to do.
The actor whose performance most inspired her views on acting: Robert Duvall in The Apostle. It’s the first movie I saw where I completely forgot I was watching a movie. By the end, I remember I was crying and thinking, That’s why I want to become an actor. I was at home in Brooklyn, and here’s this film that was made years prior, and it’s not about anybody from Brooklyn. It’s a completely different world, but I related. I was involved. I was drawn in.
On sharing an Independent Spirit Award nomination category with acting hero Michelle Williams: It’s so surreal. I cannot wait to meet her and be like, “Oh my God! I love you!” I thought Blue Valentine was crazy amazing.
The moment she knew she had no choice but to be an actor: There were a couple of moments—one when I was doing a play and one when I was on the set of Pariah—where I just had the feeling, This is where I belong. This is how can contribute to the world.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT CARR/GETTY IMAGES
On taking the risk of playing Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn after early comparisons: I wondered if this was just asking for trouble. When I was compared to him in my early career, it was with the notion I was hubristic, outrageous, competitive, or any version of the above. I certainly feared those kinds of issues would come up again, and that wasn’t really helpful to anybody. But I was surprised at the way this portrait in miniature meant the movie wasn’t a biopic about either Marilyn Monroe or Olivier, but more of a snapshot of this strange moment in their lives. Suddenly I had things going for me: I was somebody who understood a little bit more than some about what it’s like to direct and act in a movie— specifically some we’ve both done, like Henry V and Hamlet. In the end, I absolutely consider it to be an honor to be given the opportunity to show some light and shade in his character.
The actor whose performance most inspired his views on acting: Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons had an amazing quality I found very, very influential in trying to find an acting style—a naturalism, a truth that could accommodate whatever magnitude, whether I was playing a very quiet character or a very loud one.
The moment he knew he had no choice but to be an actor: I was maybe 17 and doing plays at school, and when I was onstage—when I was in a play—I felt so utterly and completely at home. Then a teacher who was directing the play said, “There’s a young man in the cast who’s good enough to do it professionally, and you should see him now while you can.” I couldn’t believe I was hearing this—he pointed out that it was me! And that was like a light going on: You could do it professionally. It was a kind of internal illumination of clarity. Even when my parents talked about having something to fall back on, that was never going to happen. This was the only thing I could do. It was in my bones.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW MCPHERSON
On connecting to the role of an immigrant gardener struggling to create opportunity for his son in A Better Life: I fell in love with it because I didn’t know how to approach it. I had come from playing Fidel Castro for Steven Soderbergh in Che: Part One and then another character on Weeds that were both really different from Carlos Galindo. That was the challenge: How could I jump from Fidel Castro—who’s a man who was loud and oppressive, and wanted to make sure you’re listening when he talks—all the way to Carlos Galindo, who wants to be almost invisible and live a low-key kind of life, to survive, and give his son a better life. For me, that was not only challenging, but it was incredibly appealing.
The actor whose performance most inspired his views on acting: Mr. Jack Nicholson. I was 16, in Mexico, taking the bus to the movie theater and watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and then going all the way home playing the character. I remember seeing that film and going back home thinking, I’m right here on this bus—it’s going to take me back to the nut house.
The first film that affected him as something more significant than mere entertainment: It was Costa-Gavras’s Missing with Jack Lemmon. I’ve always believed in the power of cinema to change people’s ways of thinking, and that was one of those films.
The advice from a colleague he values most: The most recent advice was from Benicio Del Toro when we were doing Savages with Oliver Stone, and he was referring to these awards-season events. He said to me, “Just relax. Just take it easy. Go ahead and enjoy it because it’s going to be crazy. Enjoy the ride.” And he was right. lac
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID NEEDLEMAN