British Actor Kingsley Ben-Adir Makes Quite A Trip In One Night in Miami And Wrestles With Issues of Race
Supposedly, in a back room at the Hampton House in February 1964, a meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke took place celebrating Ali’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston. Based on that notion, writer Kemp Powers crafted his stage play, One Night in Miami, detailing the conversation between this quartet. There, they grappled with artistic directions, politics, race and serious career changes.
In her feature film directorial debut, award-winning actor Regina King made a 2020 American drama based on this play with Powers crafting the screenplay. It starred Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Ali), Aldis Hodge (Brown), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Cooke) in the lead roles.
Cast member Ben-Adir was born in Gospel Oak, London, England, to a Trinidadian mother and an English father on February 28th, 1986. He has performed in plays in several London theaters and then moved on to recorded media. He played pathologist Marcus Summer in ITV’s detective drama Vera and private detective Karim Washington on the second season of the Netflix series The OA.
When One Night in Miami premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 7th, 2020, it was a first for an African-American female director. Released in limited theaters by Amazon Studios on December 25, 2020, it appeared digitally on Prime Video in January, 2021. It received critical acclaim, with praise for King’s direction, the performances, and Powers’s screenplay. The film received three nominations at the 78th Golden Globe Awards: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Odom Jr.), and Best Original Song (“Speak Now”). It has now gotten an Oscar nom for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Here’s the one on one interview with actor Kingsley Ben-Adir.
(Q) : What was the first impression of Kemp Powers’s screenplay? What is the element that stands out?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : Well, my first impression was I definitely shouldn’t be auditioning for Cassius Clay. I love Malcom X in this story. That was my first impression I read it again was like yeah I love the conversation between Malcolm and Sam I didn’t feel young enough any more to play Cassius in this film and I just said to my team “if anything happens to the actor playing Malcolm X then find a new one, let me now, I‘d love to audition for Regina” and four months later that’s what happened so I was kind of half joking when I said that. It’s funny that it actually happened.
(Q) : This One Night in Miami feature on a very specific time and place. In doing the movie like this, how did you research Malcom X?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : Oh as much as I could. I was trying to read as much as I could, I was trying to learn the lines, you know, watching as many videos and documentaries and listening to him on the radio, and I think the main work was really about trying to understand who Malcolm was at this time, what was going on for him, you know at the beginning of 1964 understanding that his relationship with the Nation of Islam, that 12 year relationship was really coming to an end and his mentor father figure Elijah Muhammad– the accusation that were being thrown his way, so much evidence to suggest that their accusations were truthful and that Malcolm was going through some really big shifts in his religious and political thinking and there was a real sense that his life was about to come in real danger, I think understanding the stakes of what was to Malcolm at this time was the way to – find in the emotional heartbeat of the film.
(Q) : The fearless leader of the film is director Regina King. She won an Oscar for “If Beale Street Could Talk”, “Watchmen”, and now this. What is it in her direction that differ from other directors you had been working with?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : Because she knows what actors are going through; she understands when it means to now in the zone or be in the zone, what the experience is between action and cut and emotionally where you need to be, how to get the best performance out of people. Regina –she knows that better than anyone else. And she knows how to push our buttons. Her direction was really in way for me the most kind of special experience of acting in font of a camera that I’ve had because she never bombarded any of us with too much information. I think as an actor you just need a tiny pushes, just tiny small bits of information at the time that really changes the direction emotionally in so many moments … I would say that all of the most tender or emotionally charged moments in the film all happened because of the very specific atmosphere and energy that Regina created on our set.
(Q) : The film asked what was social obligation of Black people as public figure like those four characters. What do you see as the social responsibility of Black people?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : I guess I’m still processing that as an idea that I am a public figure. There’s a part of me that’s not in touch with that. Maybe because I’m on social media and my lives are private … my friends are all people who I went to school with and still live In the same neighborhood I find There’s something in that I find difficult to connect with as an idea… but in term of social responsibility, it’s in my job trying to always make sure to find the humanity of the character..so people can find a reflection of they feel in the stories trying to be decent and kind to everyone around you.
(Q) : In the first half of the film, Malcolm X was very reserved, but Malcolm had a big explosion of emotion in the scene with Leslie Odom Jr playing Sam Cooke. Can you talk about that emotional scene?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : So the first time in my acting experience I was playing with this idea of emotional preparation and I was giving myself mantras to say over and over before Regina called “action!” it was first time I done that and found it really really helpful to really investigate what the emotion gong into the scene is, and spiritually build into that feeling so when they call “Action!” you just let it go and see what happen, and t was like god I wish someone taught me this 10 years ago because it would have changed everything.
(Q) : Black Lives Matter had an impact on us in many ways last year. What do you think this film represents “Black Lives Matter” in the way we are still dealing with the same racial problems?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : For me personally, coming into this movie before the Black Lives Matter movement really took off with George Floyd and the pandemic, I feel like I definitely connected with the stakes and connected with the conversation in this film and understood as a human being like how important it was to get this story told and to represent these characters in the best way we could. I do strongly feel like it’s timely now, it was timely last year, it was timely 7 years ago when Kemp put it together. But I do feel there was an urgency d out to get this film cut and scored and graded and out there as soon as we possibly could because I felt like the importance of the conversation between them. I don’t think there’s anything like it, I think it’s quite a unique story, the aspiration of these men.
(Q) : What you think about you guys competing in the supporting category in the Golden Globes?
(Kingsley Ben-Adir) : In supporting as opposed to lead? I’m not sure how I really feel about the category placement conversation yet..