By Christopher Campbell
When The Reeler met up with Sir Ben Kingsley on Tuesday afternoon, he was wearing a black and white Hawaiian shirt, gray cargo pants and a pair of Reebok Pumps. Anywhere but on a movie set this getup would be a sign of somebody having a mid-life crisis. Never mind the fact that at 63 years of age, the Oscar-winning actor is too old for such a crisis -- he was indeed on location, at the Brooklyn Detention Center shooting scenes for a new film titled The Wackness.
Still, even for a movie, the knighted star of Gandhi and House of Sand and Fog seemed oddly dressed. But the role, as an immature, drug-smoking psychiatrist named Squires, is just another in a recent run of crazed characters for Kingsley, who received his third Academy Award nomination (out of four) for playing the loud and loony Don Logan in 2000's Sexy Beast. He isn't being typecast, though, nor is he randomly picking his parts out of a bowl of indie scripts. He just really loves the opportunity to go nuts.
"He's completely mad," Kingsley said of Squires. "It is a joy. He doesn't have any logic, which is very releasing. It's beautiful. It's liberating. You know how many guys I play who have logic?"
He compared the role to his characters in You Kill Me and Sexy Beast, both of whom he described as having bizarre, abnormal logic. He probably hasn't abandoned playing rational men, though, and still considers his Sand and Fog character to be one of his favorite roles. "I loved him as a father figure," he said. "[Squires] is a bit of a father figure, too, for a little while. Then [he] becomes the child. I think it's something my character has always wanted, to [have] that reckless logic of a child."
In the first scene filmed Tuesday, Squires is in jail with his friend and drug dealer, Luke, played by former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck (Drake & Josh). Take after take, Kingsley yells at cops and protests changes being made to New York City by Mayor Giuliani (the film takes place in 1994). He's literally a caged animal -- but like a small, yapping kennel dog rather than a wild beast in the zoo. As a wannabe rioter, he can't even motivate his partner in crime let alone the rest of his fellow inmates.
Sir Ben, as he's referred to and addressed as on set, had little involvement in developing the character of Squires. He helped out with that mid-life crisis look, suggesting the shoulder-length wig that covered his head and some of the costume. Aside from that, he's working with what he was given. "I learn what the writer struggled over for months to write, and respect it enormously," he said. "I don't improvise. I love writers. My background taught me that. I always expect writers to work as hard as Shakespeare and respect their work as much. So I learn my lines and love being on the page."
The script comes from second-time director Jonathan Levine, whose debut feature, All the Girls Love Mandy Lane was recently shelved and dumped by the Weinstein Company (Senator International puts it in theaters next February). He told The Reeler he'd started writing The Wackness before shooting his first film, but there were only seeds of it back then. "Once Mandy was done, I didn't really have anything to do other than read shitty horror scripts that people were sending me," he said. "I was getting [offered] remakes, sequels, all that stuff, and I didn't want to do any of that. So I kept writing this, and I got to a point where I was really psyched about it.
"It's semi-autobiographical in that I graduated in 1994. All the music and the references come from my specific childhood, but otherwise I never sold weed or traded it with a shrink for therapy or anything like that. But the world it's grounded in is very specific to my growing up."
Despite being in production for a month now, The Wackness caused a stir last Friday when Variety announced the cast as including the unlikely trio of Sir Ben, Mary-Kate Olsen and Method Man. "It's like cooking, isn't it?" Kingsley said of the ensemble. "You add certain ingredients to make a dish different. So you add your chili and your garlic and your spices; otherwise it's bland."
Which ingredients are Kingsley? "Ginger and garlic and chili."
"I have eclectic taste," Levine said of the casting. "But really it's about who was right for the roles. There's no stunt casting. It was just about picking the people who were best for the role, and it just turns out that some of them are icons. It's interesting and it's reflective of the kind of eclectic mix we want to have, but the number one thing is that they were all awesome actors."
The Wackness received additional attention Tuesday morning, when Page Six ran an item noting a "full-on make-out session" between Kingsley and Olsen. "I think she's turning a corner in her career," Kingsley said of the young actress, admitting that he did work literally face to face with her. "She's totally real, totally believable, very, very intelligent, very highly evolved. As so many of her peers are trashing their lives publicly -- not that one. I'm very proud to be in her company. She's an example to all her age group of really how not to screw up."
As for the tabloid media and paparazzi that come with working alongside Olsen, Kingsley was all for it. "Bring 'em on, please. I'm starved of paparazzi."
It might be a while before Kingsley is on the gossip blogs again; Olsen's part is minor, and she's long finished with her work on the film. On Tuesday there was no Method Man, either -- just Sir Ben and his primary costars, Peck and Olivia Thirlby (United 93, Snow Angels), who plays Squires' stepdaughter, Stephanie. Peck, who long ago declared that Sir Ben is his favorite actor, expressed his thrill at working with the legend. "It's like playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky -- on your team, no less," Peck told me. "You rise to the occasion when you're with someone of that stature."
But was it intimidating? "It would have been if Sir Ben wasn't the kind of guy he is," He said." He gave me a hug when I first met him and said, 'This part chose you.' There can't be a better welcome than that."
Posted at August 16, 2007 8:58 AM
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