Another take on one of his most memorable roles
Everyone knows it, it's almost cliche to say, but Ben Kingsley is a damn good actor. He continues to amaze me with these really intricate and subtle performances. Ben defined the hit man/gangster in "Sexy Beast" as a rampaging force of evil. He completely turns that character on its head with Frank in You Kill Me. He's an alcoholic, somewhat sentimental hit man who finds love in the unlikeliest of places. You Kill Me is an indie gem. Even in the dodgiest of films (insert Bloodrayne), Ben is brilliant. He knows how to find and play great characters.
You've made a career of playing hit men and gangsters. What was so appealing about this character?
Ben Kingsley: As I read it, I loved the consistency of the character. In lesser screenplays, you have five characters in a scene and they're all written the same way. So if you blank out who's speaking, you can't tell which character is which. 'Frank' stays 'Frank' from the beginning to the end. There's an interior shift, but he is the same child within. He's very childlike. It's very endearing.
Did playing a variety of killers in the past help you define this one better?
Ben Kingsley: Definitely, especially doing "Sexy Beast"; which is like a second cousin to Frank. That character is pure violence. I can't imagine Don Logan sending gift cards to the relatives of the people he killed badly. There's no redemptive side to him, but he's the far end of the scale that Frank could become. It was good to have that background, that familiarity of casual violence.
Frank is essentially a nice guy throughout the film. Beyond the alcohol and guns, is he really a cuddly and friendly guy?
Ben Kingsley: The alcohol is simply the way of coping for a decent guy who kills people for a living. I think he has a sense of decency, but if his uncle says go and kill somebody, he'll say "okay" and do it. It's somewhat naïve. I don't think he's the profoundly dark, Iago-type character that Don Logan is. Don Logan is a cruel force of nature. Frank is redeemable, but he's basically drowned himself in depression and alcohol to make up for that. It's a downward spiral.
How do you make a killer redeemable, likeable?
Ben Kingsley: I think it helps by how the other actors approach me. It's how the character of Frank is illuminated by Tea's [Leoni] presence, by his uncle's presence. You see Frank in how he responds to other people. John Dahl [the director] kept the responses rooted in reality. It never spiraled off into something unrealistic. Even that crazy Irish wake, that's how they respond to the loss of a loved one. It's 99%, for me, how the other characters respond to me. It's not something that happens in isolation. I don't know how its going to play out until I'm on the set with the other actors and directors. I don't have any preconceptions.
Winnipeg is substituted for Buffalo here. Did you have second thoughts about filming there?
Ben Kingsley: I had no second thoughts whatsoever. Once John and Tea were in place, the script was so strong, I was confident we could reconstruct the environment anywhere. I was just so glad to make the film.
Did you have any difficulty with Frank's Polish accent?
Ben Kingsley: Sure, I wanted him to have certain Polish rhythms, certain old-world inflections. He doesn't talk too much until its time for him to explain who he is at the AA meeting. I think that sense of Eastern European patriarchy, vodka, sentimentality; they all played a part in that voice eventually.
The AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings are some of the best scenes in the film. Did you attend any to research the role?
Ben Kingsley: No, I didn't. (laughs) I was thrilled with the AA meetings as an actor. They were so detailed in their realism, even things that the audience couldn't see. There wasn't one thing to distract me. It was completely genuine, the notice board, the faces, the lighting in the church halls, the smell of coffee, the cookies. I was walking into John Dahl's version of an AA meeting. I would imagine it is very close to the real thing.
Franks body language is also very strange. How did you decide that part of the character?
Ben Kingsley: I decided to present the same silhouette from the beginning to the end of the film. That is why I decided on the wardrobe, a black suit, a black crew neck t-shirt, a black hat, black cowboy boots. I wanted to give the impression that at one time, he was a really cool hit man. But it's gone now, but he has that same impression to carry. The boots changed the way I walk. The really tight, sharp black suit altered the way I stood. That outfit was a great help. I pleaded for no costume changes.
Can you talk about what you've filmed recently?
Ben Kingsley: Yes, a Phillip Roth novel called "The Dying Animal" with Penelope Cruz. I asked the director and team to play the character in my own voice. I wanted it to be dangerously close. I had to create that character out of me. An accent can sometimes be a trick to hide behind.