Fifty Dead Men Walking : Sir Ben Kingsley Interview

Fifty Dead Men Walking
(Metrodome, Cert 15, 117 mins,
Release: 7th September 2009

Hosted by Quentin Falk with Sir Ben Kingsley

Read more about the DVD Release Here

Quentin Falk: How did Kari develop the idea for the film and how long has it been in the making?

Sir Ben Kingsley: I was in Toronto filming Elegy with another remarkable woman director Isabel Coixet, so I was under the maternal wing of Isabel and then Kari arrived to discuss her project and it was clear from her when she arrived in Toronto that she'd done a tremendous amount of research. She was rightly sensitive to her mandate of keeping it balanced; she told me that she had spoken to both sides of the conflict, had gained their trust. She talked about the financial side, the producing side, the nuts and bolts of it and so that she sounded then, and this must have been in the summer of 2007, and pretty secure that it was to be made.

I then went over to Toronto and Kari had actually got some of the actors to come to Belfast, because I met there Kevin Zegers, and I was fairly certain I was going to do the film, and said I'm off to Belfast tomorrow to start work on the accent, Kevin is Canadian, and you must have gone there fairly early on as well... Was a week behind Kevin I think, so that was what October, November?

So she was herding her actors towards the dreaded research word and she did get the guys there. I was otherwise engaged but she got the guys there to do some very intensive in the environment. I'm not playing a guy from Northern Ireland so I felt that it was excusable that I was more of an outsider in literal terms as in performance terms.

Quentin: Very few films about the troubles have actually been filmed in Belfast, how were you greeted by the community there, and presumably you used some local crew and so on, what was the reaction to you filming this very sensitive piece of twenty-year-old history?

Sir Ben Kingsley: I remember my first drive into the contentious, difficult areas in which we filmed with my driver and I think my reaction was probably based on the characterisation that I was trying to put together so I was looking through Fergus's eyes a little bit, so in every door way that my car passed and every window I saw a frown, I didn't see welcome, but that was in a sense, what was feeding me, I'm not saying that the crew weren't welcome of course we were all welcome but there is still a curiosity in Belfast naturally born of terrible violence and of division and I suppose in the car that we were driving in we were looked at, I was looked at, the car was looked at with suspicion.

Fifty Dead Men Walking DVDQuentin: You've played many real-life characters in your C.V. As it were but what about Fergus was there ever a possibility you might have met the real Fergus or maybe you did?

Sir Ben Kingsley: Kari offered me an opportunity to meet a peeler that did work with Martin and I said that I wouldn't like to meet specifically one on one and she said 'you probably will because he's around anyway' though I might have met one or a multiple version of Dean Fergus so rather than go that route I just built from one or two molecules a little bit of a tiny story that an actor told me whose brother was a policeman in South Yorkshire Police and then coming from Salford I just built a little mosaic of a Lancashire police officer but based on this tiny story told by the policeman's brother and so my character is quite similar to the actor who told me the story. They're little catalysts really, how we take the first steps as actor is terrifying but once you've taken the first step and then you're off so my little first step was remembering this story that I was told and going back to my own Salford, Yorkshire, Lancashire routes and then building up Fergus from there.

Quentin: The people that you met, presumably remembered Martin and Lara, what were their feeling towards the idea, towards someone who betrayed them, do they still feel bitterly towards the individual?

Sir Ben Kingsley: I think there was a real urgency in Belfast for a perfect story of the troubles to be told and in the sense this is rather a perfect story where you get the young man torn apart in the midst of this terrible sectarian violence.

I get the feeling that the story is a genuine reflection of those really tough years, but it's good that it's specific because the more specific you get paradoxically the wider the audience you will touch because only in the specifics of history do you get the bizarre events, if you generalise its never as bizarre but if you go for the specifics then it really is extraordinary and bizarre and at time absurd.

Quentin: Is there really an audience?

Sir Ben Kingsley: It's specific as Schindler's List in that sense but when you examine under the microscope that journey of one man and the ark of that journey I think it's the stuff of great drama so I do think there's a huge audience for it and it's tremendous of Kari to pick that specific dilemma to illustrate a very human condition so yes I'm very confident it's going to have a huge audience.

Quentin: I was intrigued by your comments of a sense of urgency, i.e. why you think there was that sense of urgency that this story should be told and on the pain or difficulty?

Sir Ben Kingsley: I think human beings are by nature expressive and story telling is like a thread running through culture and evolution and it's a beautiful, terrifying, magnificent and it will resonate.

Quentin: When you were shooting in Belfast did you get stories you didn't read in your script about Martin McGartland, were your ears bent on the matter?

Sir Ben Kingsley: No, my ears weren't bent so very briefly all I remember was in the hotel bar three very big chaps coming up behind me shaking my hand, buying me a drink, shaking my hand again and walking away, that was my heart-pounding moment with Belfast.