I had an understanding of who Malcolm X was and what those stereotypical optics, the lacerating demagogue and the stubble cultivator were like. This version of him was strong in my mind, admitted Kingsley Ben-Adir, who portrayed the iconic activist in One night in Miami.
However, I think it was in reading the script for Kemp Powers that it was pretty clear, especially when I got to the end this piece was asking for a different kind of heartbeat. It is the vulnerability of these men at the center of this story. Without love, joy and friendship, it wouldn’t work, just from the actors’ point of view. It was about trying to figure out what Malcolm’s function was in this context. It’s good to play Malcolm X, but what is Malcolm in the story that you are going to play him in?
He added, The Malcolm in this story was obviously a man going through a very, very delicate moment on a very specific night. I searched the world and discovered more details, and when I did I realized it was an amazing opportunity to love, to really investigate the craziness of an era. for him and what was going on.
Did the British actor think twice before playing the role of such a controversial figure in Regina Kings’ first feature film?
When I first met Regina after seeing my audition tapes, my conversation with her was about showing Malcolm in this different way and how great vulnerability was. I was subconsciously trying to persuade her that I had enough confidence in myself, that I was quite fearless and that I was excited by this opportunity, recalls Ben-Adir. I could feel that because they had lost their Malcolm and needed to find a new one very quickly, I didn’t want to add stress to this process for Regina. I tried to present him with the idea that I was ready for the challenge. Looking back, I don’t know how true this was or if deep down I was just shitting myself.
By the time Regina picked me, it was a few days before Christmas 2019, and I was like, I have 12 days to get Malcolm X ready. I don’t know if it’s professional suicide, or I was. just like, what * k am I going to do? I was in New York and I went for a walk. I took the call from my agents and said, I’ll call you back. I was walking around the East Village and thought I had to. I do not have a choice. The opportunity is incredible and these kinds of jobs don’t come up very often. I have to do whatever it takes to make it work. But, yeah, there was a point where I was walking down the street and giving myself that pep talk. I’m so happy that I listened to myself tell me I had to do this, and I’m so happy that Regina believed in me to do it.
Made for $ 16.9 million, One night in Miami became the first film by a black female director to be shortlisted for the Venice Film Festival, where it premiered in September 2020. Receiving an ensemble cast including Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr., it lands on Prime Video on Friday, January 15, 2021.
Ben-Adir was convinced that it was Kings ‘clear creative vision that was the main driver of the films’ success.
Regina had so many cool ideas and so many takes on different stages. I remember one of the first things we shot was the prayer scene. I don’t think we were going to do anything specific, but then Regina gave me some Arabic to learn the night before, the actor reflected. She said she wanted me to find out because Regina was going to shoot it a certain way and then move on, so she had a very clear vision and strong ideas on the essential details and special moments.
Having that was so creatively liberating. We were constantly coming up with ideas, and Regina put the emphasis for everyone, for the team, for her, for us, on the performance and the acting and the emotional details that are so important. We were still checking in, and it was such a fun discovery together, but led by someone who understands the process in such a deep and multifaceted way.
Ben-Adirs’ performance as Malcolm X has already put him front and center for awards season. Having previously received the Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor, he is also campaigning as a potential Best Actor nominee for this year’s Oscars. Did the actor imagine that his trip with One night in Miami would lead him there?
I didn’t give myself time to think about it, certainly not at the time, he admitted. The sets can sometimes be distracting places. What I’ve learned over the past ten years, and I’ve made so many mistakes on TV, is that for my process, when I’m working, I have to stay in a deep focus on the job. It was especially important with One Night in Miami because of what it is. Working with Regina King is not just her talent. She’s also a national treasure here in the United States and an Oscar winner, and she has huge status. By just being attached to her, or next to her, you know there will be eyes on it, and you must do it justice.
Things have already started to change for Ben-Adir.
We’ve been very busy with the press, but I meet a lot more people, and people send things and job offers without having to meet. I find that kind of trippy, its kind of surreal, but I’m so thankful and grateful, he told himself. Regina has made a huge difference, and it’s just a real encouragement to keep working hard. When Regina was happy, when she said, “Let’s move on,” it was an incredible feeling. It was Regina’s kind and thoughtful words as we toured that really built my confidence.
One night in Miami is available on Prime Video from Friday, January 15, 2021.
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