The name Ben Whishaw may not be as recognizable as Heath Ledger or Mel Gibson on this side of the pond. However in Brititan, the 24-year-old actor has made quite a name for himself on the London stage, impressing people like Kevin Spacey with his work. In fact, it was the London stage where Run Lola Run director Tom Tywker discovered the star of his latest feature and first to be shot in English, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, based on the often thought to be unfilmable novel by Patrick Suskind.
I recently had the chance to talk to Ben about making the jump from stage to screen, working with screen legends Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, and lots more.
Mark McLeod: Hello Ben. Where are you joining me from today?
Ben Whishaw: I'm in a hotel in Toronto.
MM: Great, first off, let's talk about how you first became involved with the project.
BW: It all started when Tom Tykwer came to London and saw me doing Hamlet at the Old Victoria Theatre. He invited me out for drinks and we got on very well. We then did some work on a scene, and Tom decided it might be a interesting and worthwhile collaboration. He then had to really fight to cast me in the role, since I was and still am rather unknown in most of the world. Casting an unknown is hard in a film that's going to cost millions to make.
MM: Were you a fan of the book and did that attract you to the role?
BW: I knew of the book but I hadn't actually read it. So my first encounter with this story was through the screenplay. I think I'm grateful that it was that way because I think it's a book that if people get into it and have a very strong personal connection, then it could spell trouble. But I didn't have that, which meant we could make the film rather than feeling too bound to some pre-conceived idea about how the film should look and feel. Obviously I've read it countless times now.
MM: What part of acting in a feature film did you find the most challenging?
BW: This part. I mean, I'm okay with acting and appearing on screen, but these interviews are sort of difficult for me. This one is fine but some of those 5-minute quick in-and-out type jobs where they are looking for you to say something catchy. I find those rather difficult.
MM: You're doing just fine. Did you find the experience a bit much at the beginning? I mean, here you are with Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman in, like you said earlier, a multi-million dollar project with a highly acclaimed director.
BW: I did find it quite overwhelming to begin with. I remember really feeling the pressure and all the "I can't believe this is happening to little me" emotions. But it eventually clicked and I just got on with it. I tried to stay within the character as much as possible and let the rest happen around me.
MM: What was your experience like working with Dustin and Alan?
BW: We shot with Dustin in the first two weeks of the shoot and I remember thinking, "This can't be a good decision -- surely we should be doing some easing in or some warming up." But it was absolutely perfect because Dustin takes such pleasure in what he does. It put me at ease working with him every day and it was an incredible experience. He also doesn't do the same thing twice so you never know what he's going to do.
MM: And of course Alan Rickman from Die Hard and most recently the Harry Potter films.
BW: Well, I didn't really have much to do with him in the film, but I think Alan has such presence as a human being that it was just infectious working around him. I always love the fact with Alan that there's something strange and dark happening beneath his eyes.
MM: Lastly, what's coming up next from you? Are you planning on doing more film or sticking with theatre?
BW: Well I do have a film about Bob Dylan coming out from Todd Haynes, where I am one of a bunch of people playing Bob Dylan. I believe there are six people in all playing him and I'm alongside Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger and a 12-year-old black child. It's not at all conventional or a straightforward, naturalistic biopic. It's much more expressionistic and I think Todd Haynes the director is interested in exploring the different faces of this man who seems to reinvent himself every time he comes back into the public eye.
As for if I'll do more films or theatre -- I love the stage too much. Now I actually see far more films than I do theatre. So many of the great actors constantly dip back into theatre, even if they primarily concentrate on film.
MM: Well Ben, we're getting the wrap it up signal from your publicist, so I'd just like to wish you the best of luck with the film when it opens Stateside in January. Thanks for talking with me this morning.
BW: You're welcome. Thank you.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, based on the novel by Patrick Suskind, is now playing in limited release in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver from DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.