How Kingsley Ben-Adir Overcomes Audition Anxiety

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

Previously best known for popular streaming series “Peaky Blinders,” “The OA,” and “High Fidelity” (the latter two both beloved and prematurely cancelled), Kingsley Ben-Adir is utterly unforgettable playing two major historical figures this fall: former President Barack Obama on Showtime’s “The Comey Rule” and civil rights icon Malcolm X in Regina King’s feature directorial debut, “One Night in Miami.” With our Backstage 5 questionnaire, he looks back on his career, shares his acting crushes, and addresses the trend of British performers portraying American leaders onscreen.

How did you get your SAG-AFTRA card?
“High Fidelity.” I think that was the job that ticked the final box.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done for a role?
On “The OA” Season 2, my character Karim, from the beginning, was described as isolated and living on a boat on his own. I don’t even think I consciously made the decision, but I lived on my own for five months and I didn’t see or socialize with one person. I became completely isolated, lonely, and miserable myself. I think it happened accidentally, and by the end, my eye was twitching. I had a twitch in my eye. I was just worn down and was glad when it was over. I think it was helpful. There was a huge sense of feeling lost that I think really worked for Karim that I actually had.

What’s one screen performance every actor should see and why?
It’s a hard question. Because there are so many, I’m gonna say, because I saw it recently, and it had such a massive effect on me, Sir [Anthony] Hopkins [in] “The Bounty.” The rage and the intensity of his performance is godlike.

What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Don’t worry so much. Keep it loose.

What’s your No. 1 piece of audition advice?
Just focus on the character. Put all of your attention onto the character [and] focus on the scene, because they can be fucking stressful and nerve-racking. I think the best thing you can do with that anxiety is just channel it all into the character.

There have been conversations surrounding Black American historical figures being played by Black British actors. What does it mean to you, as a Black British performer, to play two prominent Black Americans?
It’s a big conversation. It was something that Regina and I spoke about for hours, the significance of her casting decision and how sensitive an issue it was. The opportunity to put a tape down to show Regina my interpretation of what I wanted to bring to Malcolm was just such a wonderful opportunity. I went for it. I feel like there were a lot of people that didn’t want to go near it because of Denzel [Washington] and how much he completely smashed this part out of the park. There was an open door for me to come in, and I just tried to do my best, and Regina cast me. It’s just a huge honor. I spent so much time with Malcolm, I fell in love with him in a way that I haven’t with any other character I’ve ever played. I didn’t want it to end.

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