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Sir Ben Kingsley thrilled to bring new voice to Mandarin for 'Iron Man 3'

Published On: May 01 2013 03:06:47 PM CDT
Updated On: May 01 2013 10:15:08 AM CDT
Ben Kingsley in 'Iron Man 3'

Disney-Marvel

Sir Ben Kingsley in "Iron Man 3."

When legendary actor Sir Ben Kingsley gave his chilling portrayal as the festering gangster Don Logan in the 2000 crime thriller "Sexy Beast," the last thing the actor saw coming was that his portrayal would someday lead to the role of the formidable villain The Mandarin in "Iron Man 3."

But Shane Black, the director and co-writer of Tony Stark's new adventure, certainly did.

"'Sexy Beast' was Shane Black's introduction to me," Kingsley told me in a recent interview. "He wrote me a wonderful letter when he sent the script over. He told me he was at a screening of 'Sexy Beast,' stayed for the Q&A, and was very taken by the way I spoke about the character and answered the questions from the audience. That little germ of an idea with him started then and he was gracious and generous enough to include that little episode in our lives in that letter. There was a connection there."

Without question, the connection between Logan in "Sexy Beast" and The Mandarin in "Iron Man 3" is that both men live to terrorize, albeit with different approaches. Logan is a villain who rants and raves while The Mandarin is much more subtle and deliberate -- but both have this unsettling air of unpredictability lurking behind their faces of evil.

"I was guided away from the ranting and screaming into something more measured -- perhaps a different rhythm and different timbre," Kingsley explained. "I recognized in the script that there was a really skillful use of repetitive speech, so as an actor I was able to technically dwell inside certain syllables, vowel sounds and words."

Opening in theaters nationwide Friday in 2D and 3D, "Iron Man 3" finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), as he puts it, "a hot mess" and suffering from anxiety attacks in the aftermath of the attack on New York in events in "The Avengers." Complicating matters is the emergence of The Mandarin, a mysterious militant leader who randomly hijacks the U.S. airwaves, broadcasting ominous threats to the country and the president (William Sadler).

But words soon become a terrifying reality to Stark who, after boldly threatening to kill his new nemesis, is met with a vicious attack that blows his home and work compound to bits. Forced to rebuild his life and his creations, Stark discovers there's much more behind the brutal terrorist than meets the eye.

While Kingsley has been known over the years predominantly for his dramatic work in such films as "Gandhi" (which won him his Best Actor Oscar),"Schindler's List," the Oscar-nominated "Sexy Beast" role and more recently, "Hugo," the actor said he's actually been considering a project like a comic book movie for a while. It's just that the chance to do one never presented itself.

"I did get a sense a few years ago of how diverse the actor's arena has become. It's not always a stage and velvet curtains," Kingsley mused. "It is so diverse and so exciting, technically with visual effects and green screen, as well as in animation in video games and voiceovers. There are massive opportunities now for the actor to diversify. I thought it would be thrilling to diversify and hoped the opportunities would come along. My peripheral vision was very open to it."

Comic book fans will find Kingsley's Mandarin coming to life in "Iron Man 3" with a more modern spin. Instead of a skilled martial artist in possession of 10 magic rings, this version of The Mandarin's magic is to possess his audiences through fear.

"I wanted to give him a sense of righteousness and authority, and to have a voice that was not too divorced from the people watching his TV broadcasts," Kingsley said. "I wanted him to say, 'I'm of you, I understand your culture, your history and its iconography -- but I'm going to turn it on its head. Watch this.'"

In a way, Kingsley said, the villain's characteristics almost mirror the politicians he was threatening.

"I wanted The Mandarin have this almost at times a presidential voice, with which to manipulate the viewers during those terrible political broadcasts, rather than a rant. I want to use the terms to which he's referred -- 'preacher, teacher and lessons.'"

On the lighter side of the project, Kingsley, is achieving a first in his nearly five decades-long screen career: Hasbro is making an action figure of The Mandarin -- something his dozens of other characters never had.

"I now know what Christmas presents to get for everybody," Kingsley said with a laugh. "It's amazing. It's a peak for me. It's a career high."

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