Tale of perfume blends romance, terror, suspense



chris atchison/metro toronto


British actor Ben Whishaw plays a French orphan and drifter whose acute sense of smell drives him to madness in the new film Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer.


When British actor Ben Whishaw was introduced to the script for the film adaptation of the Patrick Suskind novel Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, he recalls being overcome by a whiff of originality he found uncommon to many screenplays.

The story itself was something of a wonderful mystery to Whishaw (Enduring Love, Layer Cake), as many audiences will surely agree, with its blend of terror, romance, suspense and fantasy.

But playing the role of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a French orphan and drifter whose acute sense of smell drives him to madness and eventually murder, was an opportunity not to be ignored by Whishaw’s thespian instincts.

"I think there’s something incredibly powerful about this thing of smell and scent and I think it’s extraordinary that it’s never been explored before because it’s such a big part of our lives although often we’re not conscious of it," Whishaw says.

"It somehow connects to the animal bit of us because it’s so much a part of attraction, desire and sexuality."

While the 26-year-old may not earn household name recognition for his part

as the olfactory-obsessed Grenouille — the film, co-starring Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, is unlikely to rock box offices with its dark subject matter — it will likely earn him further critical attention similar to the kind he received for his performance as Hamlet at London’s Old Vic Theatre in 2004.

Although it seems unlikely for a person who has devoted his life to public performance, Whishaw is shy and admittedly non-adroit when it comes to answering questions about his art.

His eyebrows perk, however, when asked what personality traits his character, in a story he refers to as a "dark fairy-tale," shares with personality traits of most actors.

"I think actually there’s an interesting parallel between what Jean-Baptiste wants and what actors want," he says. "I think certainly some actors want adoration and to be recognized in some way. I think also acting is the one thing that I find totally consuming. It uses every part of me. It’s something to do with being playful and being a child again, living in your imagination."

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer opened in theatres on Friday.