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Brad Silberling on ‘An Ordinary Man’s’ ‘odd fictional vengeance’ and Ben Kingsley’s intentionally anachronistic accent

The writer and director talks us through his writing process, too
Ben Kingsley in An Ordinary Man
[Image: Saban Films]

As the executive producer on Jane The Virgin and the upcoming Charmed reboot, Brad Silberling has found great success on the small screen in recent years.

But Silberling first shot to prominence as the director of 1995’s movie adaptation of “Casper,” while his reputation was only enhanced with “City Of Angels,” “Moonlight Mile” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events.”

“An Ordinary Man,” marks Silberling’s first first film as a director in 8 years, and his first as a writer and director since 2006. It also pairs him with Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley, who clearly has a ball as a war criminal General that forms a relationship with his maid (Hera Hilmar) as the search for him intensifies.

I recently had the chance to speak to Silberling, who talked me through “An Ordinary Man’s” “odd fictional vengeance” and Ben Kingsley’s intentionally anachronistic accent.

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Where did the idea for “An Ordinary Man” come from?
I had spent a bit of time in the Balkans. I had taken my films to Sarajevo three times, and we shot it in Belgrade. That just piqued my interest for the region. Each country had these men that had shrunk back into the shadows. So when I was reading about Serbia’s attempt to join the EU and their response of, ‘Screw you if you can’t bring in those guys.’ I saw some emotional comeuppance. So I had this fictionalfantasy of what might actually take someone like that down if they weren’tcaptured. And that was through human intimacy bringing them down. That’s why Iwanted him to be put through emotional hell and be betrayed. It came from the storytelling seeking some odd fictional vengeance. I wanted to look at the banal truth of the human beings behind these atrocities. Because they’re notdemons. They’re human.

When did Ben Kingsley get involved?
The character so filled the room that I didn’t write it for a specific actor. Because the character is a performer. When he walks into the apartment he wants to cajole and entertain. He just doesn’t have an audience. When I had to start to look for an actor I had heard an agent say that they had just taken Ben Kingsley on, and I knew that the agent would be eager to show off and give his new client a lot of scripts. So I called up that agent and sent over the script. Kingsley’s work ethic is so incredible that he immediately read the script. Wewere meeting within days. He would also have something new to show me with each shot, which was just incredible.

What was the thought process behind his character having a northern English accent, even though it is set in Eastern Europe?
In my first meeting with Kingsley I said to him I have an allergy to … in English speaking films it is fine if a character is holding court at the UN and he has an Eastern European accent. Fantastic. But for me if you have Eastern European characters speaking to each other in Eastern Europe I should either be shooting them in the native tongue with subtitles or, in this case, I wanted the actors to use their own native dialect. I wanted to shake up the tropes a little bit. And Ben instantly agreed. He even pointed out that I had drawn the character as being an outsider from a different region to the capital. Then he returns to his home-town later in the film and that molded the character with the actor. It just fit really well. Especially when up against the accent that Hera Hilmer used, as her character is a city girl.

What is your writing process?
I always love to stave myself off from writing until I can’t stand it anymore. I do months of research, fill journals, create a backstory. Then I write out a file of strays, which are these stray moments and information about the character and plot, bits that interest me. It’s not a formal outline yet, though. Then I will hit a moment where I will organize each of these moments. I will lay them out and spot what I need, what I don’t need, and recognize I need a transition and other bits. Then I get started, and I get compulsive with the writing. I mean this was done in 2 and a half weeks. I have pretty good discipline. I get up with the kids, take them to school, and then write between 9 and 4. I am careful not to spend time re-reading what I have done. I like to press forward and then look back at what I have done.  

“An Ordinary Man” is now in select cinemas and available on VOD.