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Shutter Island - Sir Ben Kingsley interview

Shutter Island

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SIR Ben Kingsley talks to us about being given the opportunity to work with legendary director Martin Scorsese on the psychological thriller Shutter Island, appearing alongside a screen legend such as Max von Sydow and what it was like to get a first-hand look at the relationship between Scorsese and his leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio…

Q. This is your first time with Martin Scorsese. How was that? And how did you begin to approach your complex character?
Sir Ben Kingsley: Well, I received a phone call from Martin Scorsese. First, you stand. Then, given it is our first time together, it’s wonderful to jump in the deep end. There is no shallow end with Martin. But to jump in the deep end is an immense privilege because you sink or swim. Mr Scorsese trusted that I could swim, which is great. Having heard his persuasive, affectionate voice on the phone, I read the script with great delight and liked to seek for the narrative function of the character the bigger piece… where he can serve Leo, where – like in a Shakespeare play and our dreams too – everyone is an extension of the centre.

I suppose my contribution, and it seemed to have resonance with Marty when we worked, was the bringer of unconditional love. To have that rather delicate mandate to be shared with Martin… I know that he directs with love. That is the process. He answered very articulately [about what appealed to him] saying the emotion, the empathy, the sympathy. So, to have that rather slender mandate of the bringer of unconditional love, which is a pretty difficult task to meet, in his hands and with Leo as the receiver of that unconditional love, it was something I could not possibly say no to.

Q. How was gaining a first-hand look at the working relationship between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio?
Sir Ben Kingsley: If I can just make an observation about this wonderful relationship. As another member of the cast observing this great longevity of a working relationship, I never for a second felt excluded. Every debate on the set between Martin and Leonardo was shared. There’s no shorthand, no whispering in corners; every single person on set gets the benefit of this working relationship so that it’s continually refreshed; you don’t feel that it’s a private language. It’s the language of the film; we’re all part of the debate, which given the history of the relationship is quite regenerative and remarkable. It really lifted the whole set the way they were together on the set… it’s great.

Q. How surprising or daunting is it to work with Max von Sydow as an actor and as a director?
Sir Ben Kingsley: He has absolute authority on the set. I’ve said this before and I know the chaps agree… we can be chatting with Max on the set, engaged in wonderful conversation with him, and Mr Scorsese will say ‘action’ and you cannot see the difference between him being and him acting. Even inches from him… it’s an extraordinary quality. From his Bergman years onwards… layer upon layer upon layer – perhaps not being added, but removed… peeled away from him so that there’s something essential and elemental about him. He’s very inspiring to work with.

Read our review of Shutter Island