The Oscar winning actor Ben Kingsley discusses his latest evil role as the villain Nizam in the new Disney film based on the fan-favorite video game
After winning an Academy Award for portraying one of the most peaceful human beings of all time in the film Gandhi, actor Ben Kingsley has gone on to create some of the most villainous and creepiest characters around in films like Sexy Beast, Thunderbirds and most recently, Shutter Island. The actor is also no stranger to playing the villain in a movie based on a popular video game having starred in the film BloodRayne. Those credentials, along with the fact that he is Sir Ben Kingsley for crying out loud, made the actor the perfect choice to play the villain Nizam in producer Jerry Bruckheimer's adaptation of the classic video game Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, opening in theaters on May 28th. In the film, Kingsley's Nizam is on a quest to seize the Dagger Of Time from Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and use it's power to take control of the kingdom. We recently had a chance to speak with Sir Ben Kingsley about the new film, his character, playing villains and what it means to him to be in a Walt Disney film. This is what the accomplished actor had to say:
To begin with, you are so well known for doing serious and dramatic film work, can you talk about what attracts you to doing a big summer movie like this, which is based on a video game?
Ben Kingsley: I don't think I'm doing anything a disservice but when the king of family entertainment asks you, you can't say no. You know that it's going to be so refined, it's going to be so targeted and it's going to have a message. Now the message of this film has to do with the break-up and disintegration of a family though sibling rivalry and the rebuilding of that family. So for me it was a seamless jump to go from Martin Scorsese's set on Shutter Island to producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Newell's set on this because this film, yes it's exciting, yes it's thrilling, yet it's an action packed drama but it's character driven. It's the character driven aspect of this film that to be honest has elevated it into a dramatic realm that I'm very happy in. I love being in this film because it gives actors a great opportunity to delve into their characters, their cracks and their flaws.
Since you have such an impressive body of work and have been working at your craft for so long, is it difficult to constantly create new characters and find a way to keep them fresh and organic for both you and the audience?
Ben Kingsley: Well it's my job to. If I can't surprise myself, if I can't surprise my director, my fellow actors and therefore the audience than I haven't done my job. So my quest is to surprise myself. Maybe it is a little bit like a mountaineer always looking for a particularly dangerous mountain that maybe others have climbed before but not me. So I see myself as a bit of an explorer. A bit of a hunter and I'm always hunting for new opportunities and keep them fresh.
Which do you enjoy playing more, a villain or hero?
Ben Kingsley: Well, I believe that there's good and bad in all of us. I believe that there's a light side and a dark side. So what I find fascinating and enjoyable is playing the balance. In the recent movies I've done what I have to do, as an actor, is to be unafraid of whether the audience likes me or not. I've got to be indifferent to that. I've got to tell the story. So I know that there have been twists and turns in recent films I've done, Shutter Island, Elegy, beautiful films that I've done recently and this one of course. Where I'm not afraid of whether the audience like me or not, that's not the point. As long as they focus on the character and see his journey through the film that for me is thrilling. To tell that story, that unique destiny through that film.
Besides the costumes and make-up, was there anything about playing the role of Nizam that allowed you to tap into your theatre and stage acting experience?
Ben Kingsley: Playing Nizam, I must be honest, allowed me to tap into that and I didn't slosh it around the film set in some grand manner, I kept it a little bit to myself but there is, and now this is our secret, okay? But there is something Shakespearean about Nizam. You know, I did fifteen years in classic theatre before I did Gandhi and I did a lot of Shakespeare. The brilliant thing about his guise, his characters, is that there's a man and then there are layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of magic stuff behind that man. Behind the costume which is magnificent and the look is a man eaten up by such destructive forces presented as the most polite and helpful man in the world. So yeah theatre I tapped into and even Shakespeare for this film.
What elements did you draw on to create your character and were there any real life historical figures or people that you knew that you drew from or did all your inspiration come completely from the script?
Ben Kingsley: Fortunately I don't know anyone like Nizam but I do know that there is such a thing as sibling rivalry and that brothers can be extremely jealous of other brothers. Fortunately my children do not suffer from that. There are historical precedents where you do see people who have bizarre ambitions, dangerous ambitions to do something with the world. When they get the equipment to do that with, the means to do that, they use it and it's disastrous. So the worst person in the world to get a hold of that dagger is Nizam. There are historical figures that have got a hold of some technology and they have unleashed their mad fantasies. I'm talking quite recent history and it's been horrific. So I look at history, I look at the realities of history, what it teaches us and I do see Nizam's in recent history.
What do you personally find appealing about the film's story and message?
Ben Kingsley: I do think that, here's the paradox. This is a family movie. There will be families sitting down to watch this together and the great thing about families sitting down and watching this together is that it's one of the few things that families do together anymore, they go to the movies. As a family sitting down and watching the threat to a family and then the rebuilding of that family unit through trust and faith, that is going to be a very, very interesting experience.
Finally, have you always wanted to be in a big Walt Disney spectacle movie like this?
Ben Kingsley: When I was a child and we had Disney on our television sets in England, when I heard "When you Wish Upon a Star," I was so choked up. I mean it. It still does it for me. That signature tune, that magic castle and that whole Disney logo I find so beautiful, so pure. So it means everything about family entertainment in my childhood being transported so it's like a wheel going full circle. It's a privilege to be in the best of the best, which is that great Disney experience.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released May 28th, 2010 and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup. The film is directed by Mike Newell.