Ben Kingsley on 'Ender's Game' Tattoos and Career Advice from The Beatles (Q&A)

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Ben Kingsley

The BAFTA L.A. Britannia Award honoree talks to THR about choosing acting over pop music, and tackling projects from Oscar-winning dramas to cartoons and video games.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, 69, will be honored by BAFTA Los Angeles at the Britannia Awards on Nov. 9, where he is to receive the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment. And the British native -- his father was a doctor and his mother a model and actress -- certainly has traveled the world, playing everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to mobster Meyer Lansky.

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You haven't been resting on your laurels. You were in Iron Man 3. You've got an upcoming animated film, The Boxtrolls. And you're currently starring in Ender's Game.

I think I might have put it out there into the universe that I had a real appetite for a lot of work, of different kinds. We actors now are part of an industry that is changing so rapidly, it demands one's participation in a video game, an animated cartoon feature, in a greenscreen science fiction franchise. All these different things place new and fresh demands on the actor. But it did so happen this year that I embraced practically every single form of performance apart from walking onto a stage. Haven't had time to dip into a Chekhov play.

You're sporting some serious facial tattoos in Ender's Game. Did that take a lot of time each day?

It was quite time-consuming, but I use my time in the makeup chair as a moment of stillness before the day begins. I never talk, sip tea or eat my breakfast. I close my eyes and half meditate and half run my dialogue for the coming workday. It was a mask that I put on that solicited very, very different reactions from my fellow players. When I walked on set, they viewed me very differently, and the camera caught that amusement, curiosity, fear. So it was an empowering mask to wear because it affected how people reacted to me on set and in the film.

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This is your second film, after Hugo, with Asa Butterfield. How has it been to watch his development?

The journey that Ender has in the movie, played beautifully by Asa, is an adolescent's journey to young adulthood -- whether his soul will remain intact through the course of that journey. Having worked with Asa when he was very young on Hugo -- now he's an adolescent -- I observed no change, no distortion, no coming off any kind of rails on his part. It was really good to see it.

How did your own family react to your decision to become an actor?

In grammar school, I focused on physics, chemistry and biology in order to emulate my older brother, who was going into medicine, and my father, because I thought it would please them. But my father was quite helpful in introducing me to an amateur dramatic society, which I joined. They were, in turn, my source of encouragement. Eventually after being with them four months, as someone who was painting the scenery, I ended up becoming the young leading actor, and one lady said, "You've got to go professional." So I went down to London for my first audition, and I haven't stopped working since. I've never had to do anything else to earn a living other than act.

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Is it true that John Lennon and Ringo Starr urged you to become a pop star?

Yes, John Lennon and Ringo saw a show I did and introduced me to Dick James, who was head of Northern Songs, the music publisher. He was encouraging and said, "We'd like to mold you." When you think of Ender's Game, it's a bit scary, the idea of being molded. I listened politely, but I also had an offer from the Chichester Festival to join them to do classical plays, and I decided to go there for the summer, which led to the Royal Shakespeare. So that opportunity drifted away quite quickly.



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