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Sir Ben Kingsley Talks About 'The Wackness'

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Sir Ben Kingsley Talks About 'The Wackness'

Sir Ben Kingsley in 'The Wackness.'

© Sony Pictures Classics
Sir Ben Kingsley sports long hair, smokes pot from a bong, and dispenses advice to a confused teenage drug dealer as the quirky Dr. Squires in The Wackness, a complex coming of age film from writer/director Jonathan Levine. Starring Josh Peck as Dr. Squire's pot-selling patient, Luke Shapiro, The Wackness is set in 1994 and follows Luke as he fills the months between high school and college with peddling drugs, talking over his problems with Dr. Squires, and trying to develop a relationship with Squire's stepdaughter (played by Olivia Thirlby from Juno).

The very specific look of his character helped Kingsley find this man who hasn't totally grown up himself yet is responsible for helping people solve their problems. "I wouldn't exaggerate its importance, but it's specific," said Kingsley of his outfits and physical appearance in The Wackness. "I could have two similar, what do they call them, Bermuda shirts? I can have two similar ones and I choose one particular one that'd be perfect for a scene but very quickly, intuitively. …Once I've got my map there of what my character's journey should be to make the film work, then I can add the hair, the sandals and the suit, the shirt. The hat was mine. It's from Bolivia. I've had it for a while and I grabbed it just before I left for New York thinking, 'I think that this is going to become very useful.' So when I do the transformation from psychiatrist to drug dealer, that first appearance with the hat, it seems to work. It seems to just be that punctuation mark, you know? And maybe he's always wanted to wear that hat. I mean, why has he got it in his wardrobe? I don't think he went out and bought it. I think he's always had it and he's waiting for an opportunity to be that person as part of his journey and his growing up."

"I think that Dr. Squires very often is the adolescent in the film and I think very often Luke is the adult in the film, and that we switch, elegantly switch roles during the screenplay. He's leading the relationship, then I'm leading it, then he's leading it, and then we go our separate ways."

Kingsley says he was "blissfully ignorant" of the drug terms and slang used in 1994. "It's a great starting point for a character, not to bring any preconceptions to it. 'It was like this, it wasn't like this.' So I completely trusted Jonathan and the whole set design, the writing, the music, the ambiance and just flowed into it. But I'm used to that. My early days with the Royal Shakespeare Company were spent, sometimes I spent quite a long time deciphering precisely what he meant. And then the joy of discovering exactly what that line meant was very fulfilling. So I've always had that forensic attitude to text and I enjoyed discovering this one as well."

In fact, Kingsley and the cast found many similarities between The Wackness and Shakespeare. "It is like Shakespeare. In fact, Josh [remarked] on the fact that our director saw a parallel between Prince Hal who later becomes Henry V and Sir John Falstaff when they're carousing in the Thames of London… The parallel between that ancient classic relationships and my relationship with Josh in this who is our prince who needs to become a king - all lessons are valuable."

Kingsley also found all the inspiration needed for playing a psychiatrist on the pages of The Wackness script. "I learned to really study the text. Of course when the writing's bad and the rewrites come, you realize you've completely wasted your time. But when the writing's good and no rewrites come, then you know that you're on safe ground," explained Kingsley. "You can explore that text and then follow your intuition. It's not the case perhaps, although the perfect vehicle is that he's a psychiatrist, the simple fact is that he is a father who can't love his stepdaughter, a husband who can't love his wife, because they're blocking him. They're both blocking him, the women in his life. Where does that energy go? It needs to find solace. It needs to find some comfort. Unfortunately, loneliness very often turns to drugs. But also fortunately, that need to connect lovingly to a child manifests itself in that insistent relationship between himself and Luke."

"And also Luke has no parents, really," added Kingsley. "They're collapsed parents so he needs to find the patriarch that will guide him, be like the dad because he has no one. Well, he has but he's lying to them. So rather than research externally, I look at the script and I think, 'You know, there's the most perfect pattern here of the child seeking for a parent and the adult seeking for a child that listens to him.' And they meet and momentarily, for the length of the film and the few months they're together, they function and then they go their separate ways. So it's all from the story and the symmetry, the beautiful symmetry of their story and how balanced it is."

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