*Sir Ben Kingsley has been entertaining theatergoers and movie audiences with serious dramas for decades. This week he hits the screen with a comedy that is sure to not only raise eyebrows, but incur the wrath of many. He, along with co-star Jason Mantzoukas were in New York recently to promote “The Dictator.” I asked Kingsley and Mantzoukas what kind of research they did for such a controversial film? “You just need to look at current news footage of these terrifying guys,” Kingsley explained, “and behind Gaddafi or behind Saddam, [that] cares so little for his own country or the well-being of his own people.”
“And,” he went on to say, “just be as you know actors need to be—as Sacha is profoundly connected to his own society—mirrors. We need to know what we’re reflecting. In addition to that, I could also relate him [The Dictator] and recognize him to my character, to so many newsreels, photographs, stills and scraps of documentary evidence that come our way. I just knew that this guy has always existed and does exist right now. So the research was by osmosis, just by being aware and being alert to that patent of power that we see, that replicates itself so often.” Countering the seriousness of the subject matter, Manzoukas followed Kingsley statement with, “I started researching a lot of homemade nuclear devices, which has put me on some watch lists. [Laughs].
In defense of his rogue co-star Sacha Baron Cohen character Kingsley says, “Sacha is the opposite of the dictator in that he has his finger on so many pulses, historically, politically, socially, which makes him a great comedian and he started, I think, prepping this film two years before the Arab spring, writing, gestating and gathering information. Then by the time Jason and I joined, the Arab spring had erupted. It was in the media everywhere and that was thrilling for us. We weren’t creating gags in a vacuum. But we were being political satirists in a very real and definite context.”
Yet, for him there is a real danger. “Sadly,” he laments, “the world is populated by some very strange people. I’m still shocked that John Lennon was shot. I think that anyone who sticks their head above the parapet in these times is taking a certain risk. But– I don’t consciously fear for him. But I do know that the world is a very is an unpredictable place year by year. And there are some very strange, resentful people out there.”
It is very unlikely that the world would ever be minus unscrupulous, malignant despots, but Kingsley says that is the hope of Cohen. “That’s Sacha’s motive. I hope we can see [an end to dictators]. But there is a relationship between the dictators and those oil men. There’s a relationship between the dictator and the mineral rights or the arms deals. There will always be puppets to front dirty deals, as long as they’re dirty deals. As long as we have these guys doing deals, you know, in their dark glasses with other guys in dark glasses (Laughs), we’re gonna have dictatorships.”
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]