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Ben Kingsley on Shutter Island

Published February 16, 2010 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Paramount Pictures
Shutter Island Shutter Island

If there’s a scary horror film about a mental hospital, you can bet the doctors are a source of the scares. Sir Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Cawley, who welcomes U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) to Shutter Island for a psychologically terrifying investigation.

Kingsley Plays Doctor in Shutter Island


“The comments that I’ve heard from your colleagues have been that they couldn’t work out whether I was a good person or a bad person,” Kingsley joked. “They couldn’t, and they were wondering how I subtly managed my performance to be in one scene good and one scene bad. I didn’t do anything. What happens is that if Martin Scorsese can focus on your light, he will then have a prism that will scatter that light into seven different colors in which he can choose any one of them at any given time. It’s where he puts his camera, what lens he uses, how he lights the scene, it can utterly transform Leo, myself, Max [von Sydow], anyone in the scene in front of him.”

Kingsley was giving a consistent performance. It’s Scorsese’s vision that makes it morally ambiguous. “This gives the actor enormous confidence that you do not have to constantly adjust your perception of your character. He adjusts the perception of your character. That is his joyful job. I’ll do my job to present, at the risk of sounding terribly boring, an absolutely consistent unchanging before him. Based upon a psychiatrist’s love for his patient and his commitment to healing, that is all I play I promise you, hands on heart and it’s a fantastic opportunity.”


Shutter Island Shutter Island


Shutter Island Shutter Island

Perhaps Scorsese discovered even more than Kingsley knew he had. “When Marty sees that light and what’s going on when that light is switched on, he will then adjust to capture every fragment of what you’re giving him. Nothing, not one molecule of energy is wasted on a Martin Scorsese set so in a nut shell, it was a glorious experience. I hope the first of many.”

If Kingsley was giving a simple performance, he was blown away by his costars. “What I found extraordinary was with talking to Max and indulging him in this lovely conversation between takes, and then Mr. Scorsese would say action and you couldn’t see any difference. You cannot see the acting and you could be inches from his face. You think, where’s the acting? Absolutely extraordinary.”

Shutter Island opens to theaters on February 19th.

For the trailer, posters and more movie info, go to the Shutter Island Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Paramount Pictures
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