“Dalíland” star Ben Kingsley felt the presence of the famous painter when making his latest film, directed by Mary Harron.
“Some days [Salvador Dalí] would come, saying: ‘I will just sit here for a while. Put your brush on the canvas and good luck.’ Later on, I really felt he allowed me to make an attempt at portraying him,” he told Variety during an online press conference at Zurich Film Festival.
“He was mercurial, deliberately tried to wrong-foot people and quite difficult to pin down apart from the voice, the moustache, the eyes. We actually looked at several versions of his famous moustache. One could think: ‘It’s just a moustache!’ But it was his vigor, his eccentricity. His signature.”
The film, which premiered at Toronto, also stars Barbara Sukowa and disgraced actor Ezra Miller. Bankside Films and CAA handle the sales.
Kingsley, chosen as the recipient of this year’s Golden Icon Award, had to cancel his trip to Switzerland as he recovers from COVID.
“It lingers, as many of you who have suffered from it unfortunately know,” he told the local audience during his masterclass, promising he will return next year. Noting that being dubbed an “icon” means setting an example for “fellow actors and craftsmen.”
“I am deeply touched, but it comes with a responsibility. [It means] not being cynical, offhand, lazy, impolite or inconsiderate to my colleagues from the moment I leave my apartment or my hotel room,” he added.
“It’s an invitation: ‘Now, step up to the plate.’ When you are given an award, you spend the rest of your life earning it.”
The actor also opened up about his formative years with The Royal Shakespeare Company.
“Shakespeare is my yardstick. There is something utterly primal, archetypal and pure about his writing. Now, when I find a script that explores genuine patterns of human behavior, I must accept it,” he said, calling his “Sexy Beast” character Don Logan a “Iago.”
“When I played Hamlet, I had to be the most intelligent person in the world for two and a half hours. That was a tough call. But I think I pulled it off, because Richard Attenborough’s son saw it and said: ‘Dad, if you ever get the money for ‘Gandhi,’ I have your man.’”
The role earned him an Academy Award and a BAFTA.
Playing Dalí, the man who could “express himself recklessly,” allowed him to take risks. But there are times when he needs to be careful as an actor, he said, mentioning his role of Itzhak Stern in “Schindler’s List,” forced to thread carefully in order to survive and save others.
“There are laws of physics stating that if you stretch a substance beyond its point of elasticity, it cannot shrink back to its original shape. After being immersed in that film, visiting Auschwitz twice, experiencing a certain degree of animosity towards our film in Poland – to put it mildly – there was a danger that my elasticity had been stretched to its limit,” he recalled.
Calling acting a “unique combination of empathy and transformation,” Kingsley discussed his commitment to ensuring the world doesn’t forget about the Holocaust.
He also talked about serendipity, as he was already reading about Gandhi’s life when offered the role, and reading “Schindler’s Ark” when Steven Zaillian asked him to read the script. He carried a photograph of Anne Frank in his pocket while filming Spielberg’s drama (“I would say: ‘My dear girl, I am doing this for you,’” he said). In 2001, he played her father, Otto.
Now, Kingsley is reading Tova Friedman’s “The Daughter of Auschwitz.”
“She asked me to write a foreword, which was a huge honor for me. Maybe there is this insistence that I do my bit to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust. To honor [the Holocaust survivor he played in ‘Murderers Among Us’] Simon Wiesenthal’s words, ‘I did not forget you’,” he said.
“Albert Camus, my favorite philosopher, described an actor as a haunted traveler pursued by souls. I do not wish to be metaphysical about acting, it’s hard work and it demands technique. But there are gestures from the universe that nudge me in a certain direction.”
“And if there are souls pursuing me, they are welcomed.”
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