January 23, 2008 / 12:02 AM / 10 years ago

Ben Kingsley basks in Sundance's youthful glow

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - He is an Oscar winner and veteran actor, but if there is one thing Ben Kingsley loves to do, it is roll up his sleeves and work with young and inexperienced actors and filmmakers.

Kingsley, who debuted a new movie “The Wackness” this past weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, said he was unconcerned by the relative lack of work experience on the part of his 20-something co-stars and their first-time writer/director.

He looks for actors and filmmakers with a passion for storytelling, and his “Wackness” colleagues had it, he said.

In fact the 64-year-old Kingsley, who won the best actor Oscar in the title role of 1982’s “Gandhi,” said some of his favorite parts were in movies made by first-time filmmakers, including “Sexy Beast” and “House of Sand and Fog.”

“If the writing is sound and good and thrilling ... then you just roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and get on with it,” Kingsley told Reuters.

“The Wackness” tells of a pot-smoking psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Kingsley), who is befriended by his dope-dealing teen-age patient, Luke Shapiro, played by Josh Peck, 21.

The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Levine, whom Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore called one of a new generation of post-baby boom directors.

“Wackness” is Levine’s first feature-length film as both writer and director, although he directed the teen horror film “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.”

His new drama drew good reviews after its premiere here at the top U.S. festival for independent film. Show biz newspaper “The Hollywood Reporter” said, “It inspired a packed Sundance house to forget their...pains and stand up and cheer.”

Actor Ben Kingsley from the movie "The Wackness" poses during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 19, 2008. Kingsley, who debuted the film this past weekend at the Festival, said he was unconcerned by the relative lack of work experience on the part of his 20-something co-stars and their first-time writer/director. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni


The movie tells of Shapiro’s coming-of-age in New York City’s sweltering summer of 1994 after the boy has graduated from high school. His friends have left town, and the only person to whom he can talk is Dr. Squires.

Over the summer, Shapiro finds romance but learns of life’s hardships from bickering parents. Squires has trouble coming to grips with his age, and he longs for youthful adventure.

Kingsley, a Briton who was knighted in 2001, said the old man and youngster form a bond that he likened to literary figures Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza or Sir John Falstaff and Prince Hal, who becomes King Henry V in Shakespeare’s plays.

“The Wackness” is “rooted in mythology dealing with the struggle of an emerging prince,” said Kingsley. “I‘m there as a Falstaff to show how the prince becomes a king.”

Peck added that in real life on the movie’s set, the veteran showed the younger group of actors, who included former child star Mary-Kate Olsen and newcomer Olivia Thirlby, a level of professionalism that Peck said helped build his confidence.

Acting opposite such a widely acclaimed star as Kingsley “was a total unknown, and what could be scarier than the unknown,” he said. “But having spoken with Sir Ben a few times before we got to work together, I felt so accepted.”

Kingsley said every actor, young or old, should try to rise above the level of those before them. Because of that, young actors challenge Kingsley to want to sharpen his own skills.

“It really keeps me on my toes. I have to bring something, offer something stimulating and worthwhile, to these guys,” he said. “Otherwise what’s the point of my being there.”


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