Ben Kingsley talks resurrecting the Mandarin for ‘All Hail the King’

Feb. 06, 2014 | 4:46 p.m.

Ben Kingsley is back as the Mandarin — or more precisely, actor Trevor Slattery — in Marvel’s new one-shot, “All Hail the King.”

The Oscar winner originated the comic book villain for last summer’s blockbuster “Iron Man 3,” turning up as a dangerous terrorist determined to bring down billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Of course, as the story advanced, the Mandarin was revealed to be something other than what he initially seemed, a character far removed from the scientist and martial artist who first appeared in comics in 1964’s “Tales of Suspense” No. 50.

In director Shane Black’s film, Kingsley played to great comedic effect a failed English actor who was hired to create the role of a warrior philosopher with a driving hatred for America to help distract Stark from the machinations of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. In “All Hail the King,” written and directed by Drew Pearce, actor Scoot McNairy stars as a documentary filmmaker set to interview Trevor from prison about his great charade.

While Slattery has enjoyed newfound notoriety from his turn as the Mandarin, the stunt also has had potentially life-threatening consequences, which play out in surprising ways in the 14-minute short, which will be included on the “Thor: The Dark World” DVD and Blu-ray, out Feb. 25. (Both the film and the one-shot are available for digital download now.)

Hero Complex recently caught up with Kingsley for a brief chat about “All Hail the King,” the keys to comedy and his villainous turn in Jaguar’s Good to be Bad ad campaign.

Hero Complex: Do you recall your initial reaction to playing this iteration of The Mandarin?

Ben Kingsley: [Marvel movie chief] Kevin [Feige] came to my house and talked me through the amazing transformation. I found it really appealing that I could play two roles, I could play someone running away from his life and re-inventing himself in an extraordinary way, achieving notoriety. Very appealing, very appealing. There’s a tragic streak running through him and I think that was beautifully used by Drew in the writer. There was pathos, there’s vulnerability, there’s an absurd vanity, there’s a dislocation from the truth. Really, really wonderful writing. Then Drew and I just had such a wonderful time working together with Shane Black, Drew said, “How would you feel about revisiting him?” I knew that in Drew’s hands it would be a good idea because Drew completely invented and comprehends that journey from Trevor to the Mandarin.

HC: You filmed the short in only three days in an old prison in Los Angeles, yes?

BK: It was a center, a penitentiary in L.A. … I like working hard and fast, it was compressed, but the energy was very high. We were all very focused. It was an extraordinary crew. No messing around. Comedy is serious business. It’s true. It’s all about timing and technique. Drew and I and Scoot, we had a marvelous time. It was such a speedy shoot, it was exhilarating. I hated it when it finished.  Your body chemistry adjusts to this amazing challenge and you just feel wonderful. When they say, “It’s a wrap,” you say, “Why?”

HC: There are a number of lines in the one-shot that poke fun at self-serious actors. Did you have a laugh reading any of those?

BK: I didn’t actually because Drew somehow rooted them in truths. Buried in great comedy there is a truth and a pathos. I found the narcissism and the pomposity of Trevor so appealing because it’s all to disguise vulnerability, isn’t it? As Helen Mirren said, you look for the cracks and celebrate them.

HC: At one point, we get a quick look at some of Trevor’s past television work. How did you find the experience of shooting those scenes?

BK: I so enjoyed those scenes, they were wonderful. The whole artistry behind the guys who changed my look, they were so careful  with their costumes, the perfect sort of ’70s costumes and everything. That was really delightful because they were so precise. Nothing was arbitrary.

HC: You just appeared in Jaguar’s “Good to be Bad” Super Bowl ad alongside Mark Strong and another Marvel veteran, Tom Hiddleston, talking about what makes English actors such great villains. So, I have to ask, what do you most enjoying about playing the villain?

BK: If it’s well written, as Mark Strong said in his interview about the Jaguar ad, we British actors are so fortunate, sooner or later — preferably sooner — we will encounter Shakespeare and his villains are delicious because they’re intelligent, manipulative, cunning. They’re great survivors, ruthless, but they’re housed, all these qualities come together, in a beautifully fashioned character. If it’s well written, yes. If it’s badly written, it’s appalling and I can’t touch it. But if it’s well written? Wonderful. Villains are made up of needs. They all have their own needs and cracks and scars, and they’re always fascinating to play.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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