Interview: Sir Ben Kingsley From ‘Prince Of Persia’

We had the pleasure of talking with Sir Ben Kingsley who plays Nizam in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. He talked with us about his preparation for the role, his childhood memories of Disney, and more. Check it out below!

Starring in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time is almost your first time with Disney – you did previously do Tuck Everlasting. So now that you are part of the Disney family, did you grow up as a child watching Disney movies?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: I had to be physically carried out of the room by my parents because I was upsetting all the other children during Dumbo and Bambi was even worse! I remember my older brother running upstairs to my bedroom – because my dad had his own projector – to tell me it was wonderful and that I had missed a great film. But I couldn’t bear to watch, it was far too emotional.

What other childhood Disney experiences do you recall?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: I remember Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and having lovely 3D slides. You could look through them and turn them and have 3D images of Snow White. I think that film was my favorite and then there were all the Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs artefacts that came with it… the plates, the spoons, the stickers that you used to stick on your bedroom. I adored Disney! We used to have a great big Bakelite record player that played 78 rpm discs. You would stack them up and they would drop down. We used to think that they would break the record player because they were so heavy. Then this arm would come across and sink down and the needle would play the record. We would have “When You Wish Upon A Star” [from Pinocchio] and “Give A Little Whistle” by Jiminy Cricket. So when I see the Disney logo and hear “When You Wish Upon A Star” I nearly have to be taken out of the room again!

It seems that the paths of yourself and Mike Newell must have crossed more than 40 years ago when you were in the British TV soap, Coronation Street?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: Mike was either very close to me or directed my episode. I know that we did work together at Granada Television in Manchester many years ago.

You have done so much since those early days. Do you ever look back on your achievements?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: Not really. I think I am still pushed so hard by the work ethic and the stuff I am attempting to produce. The demands of the present are so strong. The only chance I get to be reflective are on occasions like this. The positive side of that, I hope, is that the young actor reading this thinks that this can happen to him.

Do you work on preparation for the next film even when you are still shooting another film?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: I have to begin to. I imagine if you have a stable of four horses that you always know when you are on the back of a specific one. Your relationship with horses is so unique. So I have to start practising riding one horse while I am still racing on the back of the other horse.

So what was the preparation for Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: I examined in the Shakespearean sense – Shakespeare has presented us with many people like this, including Lady Macbeth, Richard II, Claudius in Hamlet and Iago, whom I played in Sexy Beast. Here [in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time] was a man whose whole life was corroded from the inside and guided on the outside by envy and regret. If I could hold those two words [envy and regret] to me in every single scene, however buried and disguised they are in charm and royal graciousness… He hates everybody! But they musn’t know. And that to me is thrilling, it’s way beyond playing the bad guy. It is a very complex and gratifying journey. Having done Shakespeare for 15 years, before I became a movie actor, I love these patterns. The balance of envy and regret and achievement and ambition and lack of love and sentimentality. I love exploring all these things.

Do you think the Hollywood studios come to an actor like you because they know that you can deliver?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: Oh, I hope so! Then I will always have work. (jokes)

So when you read a script do you think… I know why they want me?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: This particular script was the first Jerry Bruckheimer film I have done. It is really the first film of this genre that I have done. Jerry is the maestro, the boss. He is the best at everything. So I had the whole of the wonderful Johnny Depp creation to admire and know it is the same man. He [Bruckheimer] can’t do anything wrong. The fact that this was [based on] a video game to me was entirely irrelevant. I read the script and looked at my man’s journey and his nephew’s journey and how, in a Shakespearean sense, they are locked together in love and then bitter disappointment, on the one hand, and utter contempt on the other. That is like stretching something very taut and to me is very playable.

How do you feel about doing promotional interviews?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: It is so much part of the business that it is no longer strange. It is part of it and I hope that this is an opportunity, of course, to publicize the film but also to let a little door open amongst the readers so that they can think…You know what, Ben Kingsley actually does do something for a living. It is a little like being allowed into a painter’s studio. I love going into painters’ studios. I have just finished a biography on Chagall and painters fascinate me. One of my closest colleagues in Los Angeles is an Irish painter called Patrick Morrison who lives there. To walk into Patrick’s studio and smell the oil paint and look at a ton of sketches on the floor and then look at him and he hasn’t slept for a month…You think that he is going to fall over because he is exhausted but it’s beautiful. He is burning up the cells of his body to produce something for an audience. So if I can be really candid and honest in these interviews and not blase and push through them and be off-hand – then the young actors can see that and I don’t want to let the young actors down. I want them to think of yes, he knows about the struggle.

Do you still struggle?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: Very much so. I think my biggest struggle at the moment – between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ – is trying not to do too much. Trying not to embellish the story, trying not to judge my character, trying not to sentimentalize a single gesture or word…all the things I don’t allow myself to do. So that you can hardly see anything out there because it is very, very still. But hopefully with a director with whom I can really collaborate he will realize that it is not still, there is that one thing that he does in the scene and there it is. There is the character.

What attracts you to a complex character like Nazim whom we think is good and then discover differently?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: I think we have in all of us the polarized forms of ourselves but if we lead safe, civilized lives fortunately nobody will ever see them…the animal we might become if our loved ones are threatened or the coward we might become if we were rounded up and arrested. I do believe there is a Don Logan from Sexy Beast and a Mahatma Gandhi in all of us – a Myra Hindley and a Mother Theresa in all of us. It depends what circumstances life forces upon you to bring the quality out.

What is your life like away from acting?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: When I am not working I am very content cooking in the kitchen for my dear wife. We have a lovely garden and we have a gardener and I love collaborating with him on designing and landscaping. I like texture, design, fabric and color and we have a nice house, so I am working on that. I would not say it is boring. For me it is very exciting. It is the domestic, nourishing side of life that I find really beautiful. On the film set I like to be fed by the same kind of things – by looking at the local craftsmen. When I was in Morocco I came back with a ton of Moroccan stuff.

What did you think of the young stars in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time?

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: I recently read a book that I was asked to do the introduction for. It is a book aimed at the young actor. Over and over again, and I realize how right this is, it says you have to be relaxed in order to act. You cannot act, or paint, or write music if you bring tension to the task. Not that I am a tense person but I found that what I had to do with Jake [Gyllenhaal] was relax even more because Jake is a wonderful mixture of relaxed confidence. He knows that the best take will be when he is at his most relaxed. Sometimes you think that he is not doing anything but it is all happening. It is lovely to act with him because I have to be as relaxed and loose and free as he is. There is a purity, a kind of religiosity to Gemma. I know she will hate me for saying this but there is something pure and almost saintly about her – which she kicks against ferociously. The thing about the cinema is that it forces you to be essential and Jake’s essential quality is the relaxed work. Mine is the struggle between envy and regret and these ideas I have about my character. Gemma’s is this saintly, religious adherence to telling the story. Her concentration is phenomenal; she is uninterruptible on the set. It’s wonderful to watch.

You obviously internalize your roles but as we see in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time you enjoy action like the big sword fight.

SIR BEN KINGSLEY: It was very physical and very demanding. There is a fight on the steps towards the end of the film and a clamber up a rock face, which was pretty well all I. You have to use a harness. The health and safety guys will not let you do it without a harness. So that gave me a certain degree of confidence. Also I am sufficiently arrogant to say I don’t want the stunt double. Then having said that you really do have to do it. My stunt double learned to impersonate my body language in the fights so that in the long shot it looked like me. But Mike Newell said we also had to have Jake and me doing the fight for a hand-held camera. So for a couple of hours we hammered it out between each other.

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time Available on DVD and Blu-ray 9/14/10

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