Sir Ben Kingsley has added the famous surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to his list of iconic film roles, thanks to “Dalíland,” which closed out the 2022 Toronto Film Festival. Kingsley visited TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at the Toronto International Film Festival for a discussion about the filmmaking process.
“I love his work and also I love the opportunity — I welcome the opportunity to stretch my comprehension and intelligence,” he told Senior Film Reporter Brian Welk. “It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, and I felt that having an opportunity to portray Dalí, and I say ‘portray’ because in a sense, I’m a portrait artist, but I don’t have any paints, so I don’t work with stone or clay. I work with my voice, my imagination and my body. That’s all I have.”
The film also stars Barbara Sukowa as Dalí’s wife Gala, Ezra Miller as a younger version of Dalí, Christopher Briney as Dalí’s fictionalized young assistant James Linton, Andreja Pejic as Amanda Lear and Suki Waterhouse as Ginesta. Opening briefly in 1985, cutting to 1974 New York and Spain and then back to 1985 where it ends in Spain, the film takes us on a journey through Dalí’s parties, artistic process and personal life.
“It’s a portrait of a portrait artist himself,” Kingsley said. “And how does a self-professed genius who genuinely was a genius — how does he say goodbye to life? For him, it was very, very difficult. He felt that geniuses must be immortal. He felt that he was — he believed his own mythology — that he was immortal. And I was I was intrigued to discover, because I had no idea before I embarked on the film, how it would treat his demise. But as an acting exercise, I welcomed it. I welcome that terrible tension between his mortality and the fact that he was dying, covered in burns and very, very ill and frail in hospital.”
Directed by Mary Harron, the film focuses on the segment of Dalí’s later life in which his relationship with Gala unravels and he approaches death, which the artist himself thought about extensively.
“I knew from the beginning that I was blessed with Mary’s trust. Therefore, because of that trust, I could take as many risks, given the parameters of the script. I could take as many risks. I could take parallel risks to the risks that Dalí took as a painter,” Kingsley said. “Therefore, she allowed me to give a performance that was not careful. She allowed me to give a performance that could get eccentric and messy and unpredictable.”
The film is not told from Dalí’s point of view, but from that of James Linton, the assistant, who looks up to Dalí, gets lucky enough to work with him and then becomes disillusioned with him.
“I believe that an actor can be only as good as the company that actor is allowed to keep. And the cast that Mary presented around our Dalí was like a prism where you could see Dalí reflected in different mirrors,” Kingsely said. “Therefore he shifted his persona according to whom he was addressing, whom he was with, whom he was seducing, whom he was battling. And she cast it so well that my attempt at displaying Dalí multifaceted was made completely organic and intuitive because the people with whom I was interacting were so perfectly cast: Chris and Andreja and Barbara, everyone. Everyone drew out of me automatically because they were so immersed and committed to their particular color on the palette, if you like. I responded accordingly. So really, I must thank them.”
Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.