Kingsley Ben-Adir Breaks As Malcolm X In “A Night In Miami”
British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir may not be a household name yet, but that’s poised to change with his portrayal of Malcolm X in Regina King’s “A Night in Miami …”. The film, which imagines an electric encounter between civil rights icon Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown in February 1964, is currently available on Prime Video.
The 35-year-old is an actor who’s been working for over a decade and has had more than a few heartbreaks and near breakups along the way. In his first film, “World War Z”, his talk with Brad Pitt was unceremoniously interrupted. Then there was Ang Lee Muhammad Ali’s film for which he spent years testing and months of active training (he had to play Ali) which ended up losing his funding.
Even “A Night in Miami …” was almost a missed opportunity. His agents first suggested it for Clay. He refused (“I felt too old”) but said to call him if something happened to the actor who played Malcolm. Ben-Adir said he was partly kidding, but that call came. He officially landed the part just 12 days before he arrived on set.
“I thought, I don’t know if I can get Malcolm X ready in 12 days,” Ben-Adir said. “Then I said to myself, ‘I have to do this.'”
Ben-Adir spoke to the Associated Press – hours before picking up the groundbreaking actor award at the Gotham Awards – about humanity’s quest for the icon and the complicated logistics of playing both Malcolm X and Barack Obama at the same time. . Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
q. Was Malcolm X a figure in your life growing up in the UK?
A. I grew up knowing exactly who he was. I had read the autobiography at an earlier stage and he was someone I was definitely aware of. I cannot say the same for the educational program here. They haven’t taught us much about the history of African Americans and the history of British blacks is almost non-existent in my school.
q. Who is Malcolm X right now in 1964?
A. Regina and I were trying to figure out how far we could go beyond the exploration of showing Malcolm as a father and as a husband and as a man who was in a very, very vulnerable situation right now. He had been banned from the Nation of Islam and his relationship with Elijah Muhammad, who was essentially his father figure for 12 years, was truly in ruins. There was a sense that his life was in danger and there was a sense that Malcolm knew his time was perhaps coming to an end. There is this wonderful opportunity with this film to explore the humanity of this “fearless demagogue”.
Malcolm described to his friend Dick Gregory that he felt weak and empty and that no one knew the torments he was going through at the time. Dick talks about Malcolm as a sweet and shy man, a kind and good-humored man and someone who would be embarrassed if he could hear us talk about him like this now. And I thought it was just gorgeous.
q. This seems to disprove the imagery we always see of him.
A. I feel like all the pictures we’re used to, the things on YouTube and the phrases … it’s always Malcolm who usually responds the next day – or the same day – as the most horrific cases of racism or police brutality or injustice. policy. No wonder he’s irritated, passionate, and angry at so much of that archival footage. Looking at him when he was not speaking, when he was listening and looking at him in the moment of transition between listening and the moment he was about to answer, this humanity opened up. I don’t know how to describe it. Also, I think I was a little a la la land in the end. I was not eating. I was a little wired. My blood was full of nicotine and caffeine and my mind was full of these ideas. The whole process was just a little surreal and a little whirlwind.
q. Does Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s 1992 film come to mind during all of this?
A. I decided to let it go. I knew this Malcolm had to be different.
q. Is it true that you did it while also playing Barack Obama in “The Comey Rule”? How does it work?
A. I shot Malcolm for three and a half weeks and then one Friday I jumped on a plane to Toronto and I shot Barack for four or five days and then I jumped on a plane and went straight back to Malcolm. As a working actor, schedules are set and you have to work around them. I was like, listen, ‘You’ve been asking for this kind of opportunity for the past 10 years. Now you have two at the same time. You just have to make it work. ‘