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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ben Kingsley on wearing a moko

Part-Indian actor on being Maori

Ben Kingsley, four-time Oscar winner, donned a Maori facial tattoo for his role in the SF movie "Ender's Game."  He plays Mazer Rackham, a military genius who happens to be half-Maori, and who, because of those famous warrior genes, manages to concoct winning strategies in the battle against alien forces. 

And, being half-Maori, the character is entitled to wear a moko, or full facial tattoo.

And they got the moko right, for a wonder (though it wasn't actually carved into his face, the traditional way) ... but then Kingsley produced the usual platitudes when asked to say how he felt about it.

"I was conscious of their special power, their significance," he intoned when interviewed for Salon.

Reading on, however, it seems those sentiments were coaxed out of him.

The question:

Is there any particular responsibility that comes with donning tattoos associated with another culture, not your own? 

His answer:

Well, I know that Gavin Hood was somewhat apprehensive about asking me to wear Maori makeup. He thought I’d say I love this character, but I don’t want to wear tattoos. Well, he didn’t know me well. He did quite gently broach the subject, and he said he’d bring me together with Maori experts and show me videos of tattoos on Maori faces. I said, “Gavin! Hold it right there! I shall go into makeup, I shall apply tattoos, I shall wear them with pride onto your set.” It is that simple with me.
When I meet the costume department, who are designing costumes, they bring a ton of sketches, swaths of designs. I see four racks of clothes, and I say, “Whatever you want me to wear in this scene, hang it in my trailer and I shall wear it!” For me, it’s the telling of the story. Costumes are their department! You hang it in my trailer, and I shall put it on. I’ve learned to do this because it frees me to do what I love, which is the acting.

What happened in makeup, since you’re curious about tattoos: Makeup artists would work very quietly for an hour and 10 minutes, an hour and 15, and I have my eyes closed. I gently run my lines, quietly meditate and go blank. When they say, “You’re ready,” I open my eyes, I see the extraordinary design they created, and I leave my trailer.

I do know and have great respect for tradition of Maori tattoos. They explain and display a lineage, a story, a past. When they have applied those wonderful tattoos to my face, I was conscious of their special power, their significance. But I was more conscious of how every actor on set looked at me differently. I didn’t need to research it. I just needed to put it on my face, and everyone looked at me in a curious, slightly cautious sense. Nobody just looked at me. They read me. And it shows on camera.

Interesting observation.  Read the rest.

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