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Alison De Souza
Monday, Sep 15, 2014

Showbiz

Voice of a villain

The Straits Times | Alison De Souza | Monday, Sep 15, 2014

He has played everyone from historical figures to comic-book villains, scooping up major acting awards in the process.

Yet 70-year-old Ben Kingsley - who collected the Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe for the biopic Gandhi (1982) - maintains he is not "a serious actor".

"There's no such thing - it's a contradiction in terms,'' says the Briton, who has also won plaudits for his performances in the Holocaust movie Schindler's List (1983) and the historical fantasy adventure Hugo (2011), among others.

The veteran performer makes this pronouncement to explain his involvement in a rather unlikely project: the stop-motion animated feature The Boxtrolls.

He lends his voice to Archibald Snatcher, who convinces a whole town that a gentle race of cave-dwelling, cardboard-box-wearing creatures are out to harm them.

Speaking to Life! and other press in Los Angeles, Kingsley reveals that Laika - the same studio that produced the children's films Coraline (2009) and Paranorman (2012) - had hesitated to send him the script because they thought an actor of his pedigree would turn up his nose at this role.

"They really debated whether or not they should even send it to me because they were convinced I'd say no," says Kingsley, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. "Which is unfair because of course I'm not a 'serious actor'.

"I just said yes straightaway. It's a beautiful script," he says of the film featuring the voices of Elle Fanning and Simon Pegg.

Kingsley completely transformed his voice to become the sinister Snatcher who tries to exterminate all boxtrolls from the town of Cheesebridge.

And the actor constructed it with the same dedication he gives to creating any character - even going so far as to lie down and contort his face so he could produce a completely different sound.

"Snatcher has this enormous pot belly, and that accentuates, physically, the fact that he is kind of parasitical, hungry, greedy, grabbing, snatching," he tells Life!. "And I wanted the voice to come from that almost echoing emptiness inside of him."

But while the character's working-class London accent was a cinch for Kingsley, who not only mastered the distinctive speech of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi for Richard Attenborough's 1982 film, but also became a vegetarian to get into character - the actor initially found it hard to make it sound like he had Snatcher's huge belly.

"I tried recording standing up and sitting, and then lying down - and there he was. The studio rigged up this amazing seat and footrest and got the microphone there, and then I refused to move."

When he had to pretend to be suffering a horrible allergic reaction to the cheese that Snatcher craves, Kingsley had no qualms about looking silly to do it.

"I just squashed my face so that my mouth was as small as as possible, and squeezed the words out through my mouth," says the actor, gamely demonstrating this.

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