One of the best-reviewed films of 2012 is Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo, and a large part of the praise comes from both the film’s use of 3D and Ben Kingsley‘s portrayal of early film pioneer Georges Melies.
While Kingsley might be one of the most respected actors in the industry, he admits that portraying a real-life individual has its challenges, as does acting in a 3D film. However, he tells Yahoo News that he credits much of his success to working with Scorsese.
Kingsley realizes that acting as a real-life individual doesn’t mean that he just has to look the part — which was difficult enough — but he has to act like the person, too.
Like Melies, Kingsley needed to perform his own stunts — something that isn’t easy for the now sixty-eight year old. He says, “It took me about two hours to get completely ready for Georges in terms of makeup and costume, and then I was stuck in defeated Georges all day. And I also realized that Georges did all his own stunts, and I’ve noticed this on a film set when I am involved in a stunt: In the evening, once the adrenaline has dropped, I’m lying in the hot tub, and there’s a bloody great bruise on my thigh, and it hurts. You’re not aware of it when you’re working, so he was probably living on adrenaline for about seven years. And I know a little bit about that withdrawal. When they say ‘It’s a wrap,’ those are the worst words in my vocabulary.”
An additional challenge for Kingsley was acting in 3D, and he admits that he had to change his typical acting style for the technique. He explains, “Every gesture you make has to be linked directly to the narrative. Nothing can be arbitrary. Nothing can be explained. I learnt a long time ago, you must never explain anything to the camera, because it doesn’t need it. All it needs is to see the behavior of the character. It doesn’t want to see any acting. The camera is allergic to acting, it hates it. But the 3D camera has such X-ray capacity that you almost have to modify your acting to a terrifying degree.”
Kingsley credits his success with the 3D format with working with Scorsese, who embraced 3D in what many critics have said is a masterful use of it in Hugo. Kingsley describes the experience as, “Fortunately, my first 3D experience was with Martin Scorsese. And between action and cut, he sees everything. He sees every single gesture, nuance, shift in emphasis that you offer him on every take. So if you take the 3D camera, plus working with [young co-star]Asa [Butterfield], who has no filters and works from the heart, plus Marty, it forces you into a corner out of which there’s only one way. And that’s your version of the absolute, honest truth. Anything else will interfere, and the 3D camera will see it, and the audience will say ‘Oops, bit of acting there!’ You daren’t act. You daren’t act. I’m sure I’ll coin the right phrase for it sooner or later, but it’s an exercise in under-acting. That’s the only way I can put it, rather crudely right now. It’s under-acting.”