Last year he played a mysterious doctor in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and now Sir Ben Kingsley partners up once again with Marty as he affectionately calls him, but for lighter fare.
In Hugo, Kingsley plays one of the world’s first filmmakers, Georges Melies, who directed A Trip to the Moon and hundreds of other silent films in the early 20th century. Kingsley gave Metro a few moments of his undivided attention to chat about the 3D filmmaking of Hugo and his upcoming film, The Dictator.
George Melies’ film A Trip to the Moon is one of the most iconic early films ever made. Do you remember where and when you first saw it?
I don’t remember when it was but I do know that when I was at school, it was a great school and it had a film society. We were able to watch some of cinema’s masterpieces that came from way back. I know that we watched Fritz Lang films, Eisenstein films, and I think in and amongst them was The Trip to the Moon because I know I’d seen it before I got [Martin Scorsese’s] offer. It was so familiar.
Did shooting in 3D for Hugo affect your performance at all?
Yes. The 3D camera brought a kind of bonus where it was detail, detail, detail, very little CGI, which fed our performances tremendously and kept us in character beautifully. Also, the scrutiny of a 3D camera is quite alarming. I noticed fairly early on that the 3D camera can see what you’ve done before you’ve done it. It’s so scrutinizing. It’s x-ray. You can see the most delicate changes of body language and facial expression, almost pulse and heartbeat. One thing that 3D camera insisted on was, “don’t try to act. Don’t show off. Don’t be clever.” Of course, Mr. Scorsese would also say, “keep it simple. Keep it honest.” I mean, that’s almost his maxim.
On the set of Hugo you were known for staying in character as Melies in his later years, when he was quite cranky and withdrawn. How did your young co-stars Asa Butterfield (Hugo) and Chloe Grace-Moretz (Isabelle) react to that?
Staying in character for me was almost mandatory. I’m quite fit and slim but I had to strap on this pot belly and I had to strap on this hump in my shoulders to have this depressed body. I’m more like the [younger] Georges directing in the glass house. I felt, it was going to be a huge effort to take all this off so I thought, “I must stay in character.” Even though he was a sad man and somewhat defeated, I quite enjoyed that I had to stay in character. Then I learned to capitalize on it. I started speaking to both [Moretz and Butterfield] in French. I found it really fed the work so that by the time, whenever Marty said ‘action’ to Asa, he was already dealing with me.