The British thespian crashes his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to dismantle Iron Man's life piece by piece, serving the Armored Avenger his toughest challenge yet. Now Kingsley spills on how he developed the Mandarin's uniquely menacing voice, his view of the villain's motives, how he first became involved in the film and much more!
Read on to see what he had to say, and stay tuned to Marvel.com in the coming month as we count down to the premiere of "Iron Man 3" in theaters and IMAX 3D May 3!
|Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin in his own character poster for "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: Were you familiar with Marvel’s Iron Man franchise and characters before signing on for this role?
Ben Kingsley: When I heard from [director] Shane Black, I hadn’t in fact seen "Iron Man" or "Iron Man 2." So he very kindly sent me a wonderful package of drawings, graphics, Marvel comics, artwork, and of course the two movies, which I watched while I was filming another film in New Orleans. It was very enjoyable to watch how the characters are not stereotypical. They are really layered. I’m very inspired by Robert [Downey, Jr.] and Gwyneth [Paltrow], in particular. I don't single them out, but they're the sort of the spine of the film. And then, Don, of course wonderful, has joined. It's not your usual copy of a copy of a copy. There is something original about the, dare I use the word, intelligent approach to this film. Therefore, I was really delighted to join the group.
Marvel.com: How did you approach playing "the bad guy"?
Ben Kingsley: I think the rule when one is approaching, what is rather lazily called the "bad guy," is that the actor has to accept that those characters are the polar end of a film that [serve as] a dark anchor of the film. They have a sense of righteousness that actually normal, good people don't have. Normal, good people are really quite modest about themselves and rather self-deprecating like our hero and heroine are. They don't take themselves too seriously. But, the evil nature, the destructive nature tends to be grandiose, narcissistic and totally immersed in their sense of rightness. So when our beloved Mandarin broadcasts to the President or to the nation, he’s not being "evil," he has a sense of rightness, and a sense of grandeur.
|Ben Kingsley stars as the Mandarin in "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: Does Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance make Tony Stark accessible?
Ben Kingsley: Tony is made accessible by Robert Downey, Jr. Pepper is made accessible by Gwyneth Paltrow and Rhodey is made accessible by Don Cheadle. Everyone presents to the camera a quite complex human being rooted in character, rooted on the face of this earth, rooted in reality.
Marvel.com: You've played hard-edged villains as well as heroes. Do you pick these characters just because of the motivation or the truth in the role or do you ever say "Hey, I"d really like to do a villain role now"?
Ben Kingsley: No, no, no. My career is totally unstructured. I think you can block things. If you insist what your next role will be, you're blocking off all the wonderful information that's coming in from the world. I have been totally surprised by some of the most exciting scripts I've ever read. I had no idea until I turned page one. There's the guy I’m looking for. I recognize him. I don't go whistling for him in the dark; I recognize him when I see him.
|The Mandarin is set to destroy Tony Stark's life in "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: Once you see him, how do you prep for that? Is that all part of the same exploration for you?
Ben Kingsley: Oh, totally. I think that I prep from the words on the page. I have a great respect for the writer. Having come from classical theater in the United Kingdom, I have a great respect for how much pain and trouble and joy the writer has taken into putting those words onto the page. I bring them to life. I'm not given to rewriting a single word of what's on the page. I like to make what's there work because what is there is the logic of the character as perceived by a very gifted writer--Drew [Pearce], in our case, and Shane--and I respect that enormously and I say, "Well, what can I find from the words on the page?" Then I go from there. Quite simple, really. I have a very fertile imagination and I have played an extraordinary--and continue to play--a very wide range. I am rooted in Shakespeare. I do look for the grand and the vulnerable, as Shakespeare always did. The great combination.
Marvel.com: Vocally, you found a very interesting voice for the Mandarin. Do you think about that or does it just come out?
Ben Kingsley: It just came out. One day when I was working here and I was rampaging around my hotel room, they asked me to leave and I just came out with a few Mandarin expletives. And they stuck.
|The Mark 42 armor in "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: Would you say then that the voice came from within?
Ben Kingsley: I think "came from within" is a very good way of putting it, because it would be very hard to try and substitute a person that one knew, or try and imitate or copy something, because the Mandarin is so original. I think the best thing for the actor to do is to try and honestly let it come from inside, because you have no idea of the endless stream of characters in here waiting to take off like planes taxiing on a runway. You have a much richer interior life than you give yourselves credit for.
Marvel.com: The aspects of the characters tie back to classic mythology, which a lot of these movies tend to miss out on.
Ben Kingsley: They miss out on classic mythology because there you do have a version of the truth that is not a copy of a copy of a copy. The word archetype does come from ancient mythology, and stereotype basically means a copy.
|Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Tony Stark/Iron Man in "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: Does the Mandarin's costume in "Iron Man 3" have its roots in the comic books?
Ben Kingsley: It seems to me to have evolved logically from what's there on the page and from what the fans have adored for years, and his manifestation through Louise Frogley, the costume designer, and through Shane and Drew and everybody concerned, we hope it will address those expectations and also surprise as well.
Marvel.com: Do you ever have surprises on set where what you do becomes more organic as a result of what the other person is doing?
Ben Kingsley: I think we have to. I think that it's very hard to explain. I think the best image is a very fast tennis match, so there is no way that your fellow player across the net can mentally adjust to, "Oh, he's playing that kind of a game." It's in the body, you just react in the body. That's why acting is so liberating and joyful; it is not an intellectual process. It's visceral and it depends very much on listening to the other and enjoying the other's rhythm. Spencer Tracy, one of my heroes from old movies I used to watch on television as a kid, used to say, "Make the other guy look good." Beautiful way of performing and sharing a scene. Robert and I enjoy a very fine level attention on each other when we're acting, and it's very exciting. It is like a really amazing Wimbledon singles tennis match.
|The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) on his throne in "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: Does that chemistry happen often, even in rehearsal, or if it's there, it's there?
Ben Kingsley: I think that you can certainly see the beginnings of it in rehearsal, but then in rehearsal we all know that we really shouldn't burn up too much fuel because we are mortal, we're not machines. Once Harrison Ford told me that when a director says "action" to an actor, the adrenaline shock is equivalent to a fighter pilot taking off in a jet. That's what happens to the body. I've heard a different comparison, but the absolute one is a cousin of the other. It's acknowledged as a truth that on the word "action," the shock to the body chemistry is so thrilling that then it does become, as I say, a very fast tennis match. And Robert and I are quick and we love that trust. I can throw this at you, and you'd throw it back. I knew he'd throw it back. But it's tacit; it's not discussed. It's just, "Good morning, good morning. Come on, let's do it."
Marvel.com: Is that energy something you've mastered over the years?
Ben Kingsley: It's never changed. My acting is a form of controlled hysteria and panic.
|The Armored Avenger takes flight in "Iron Man 3"|
Marvel.com: What is The Mandarin's motivation?
Ben Kingsley: I think his motivation is to turn the pyramid of civilization as we know it on its head by referring quite accurately to iconography, to history, to ironies that are contained in any civilized state. He picks at them quite viciously and remorselessly to justify with a sense of rightness, the correctness of his approach to destroying this particular civilization, which he considers, very intelligently, to be absurd. It's a sense of rightness that he has, not a sense of evil, and it's that rightness that motivates him and therefore motivates my approach to him. He wishes to basically turn the iconography of western civilization, and all our landmarks and the things we cling onto as emblems of our civilization, on its head.
Marvel.com: While it's extreme, that point of view is correct in his mind.
Ben Kingsley: Yes. The Mandarin has his own logic. He has his own point of view and it is anarchistic and terrible. Basically my approach is that it is what it is, and you have to serve that logic.
|"Iron Man 3" hits theaters & IMAX 3D May 3|
Marvel.com: What are you most excited to see in the final product after all the digital additions and scenes you didn't work on are in?
Ben Kingsley: I think the ideal way for me to see it would be with an audience rather than see it in a room by myself. I know that with all films now, and even the simplest of films, something is bigger than some of its parts. You get all the bits together, and then because it's a movie they're multiplied by a thousand times. It's a thousand times more exciting, because it's framed beautifully on a screen. Cinema is extraordinary. It's magic. I've always loved cinema ever since I was a child. I used to walk into a cinema and feel thrilled and not want to leave.
Marvel.com: Did you always want to be an actor?
Ben Kingsley: Yes, probably since the age of five. I saw movies from that age on and I loved them.
Marvel.com: Did you enjoy working with the director, Shane Black?
Ben Kingsley: Absolutely. I personally respond to him as a director and a colleague--and I hope as a friend--very warmly and in a very stimulating way.
Marvel’s “Iron Man 3” pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy's hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale with Jon Favreau and Ben Kingsley, “Iron Man 3” is directed by Shane Black from a screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black and is based on Marvel’s iconic super hero Iron Man, who first appeared in the pages of TALES OF SUSPENSE #39 in 1963 and had his solo comic book debut with THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1 in May of 1968.
“Iron Man 3” is presented by Marvel Studios in association with Paramount Pictures and DMG Entertainment. Marvel Studios’ President Kevin Feige is producing and Jon Favreau, Louis D'Esposito, Stephen Broussard, Victoria Alonso, Alan Fine, Charles Newirth, Stan Lee and Dan Mintz are executive producers. The film releases May 3, 2013, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
In addition to "Iron Man 3," Marvel Studios will release a slate of films based on the Marvel characters including "Thor: The Dark World" on November 8, 2013; "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" on April 4, 2014; "Guardians of the Galaxy" on August 1, 2014; the untitled "Marvel's The Avengers" sequel on May 1, 2015; and "Ant-Man" on November 6, 2015.