When the armour comes off

We caught up with Edmund Kingsley, the English actor who played Guy Taylor in the movie Capsule, Private Yorkie Jones in Allies, and many more and talked about movies, theatre and music

Words Yvonne Jacob
Photography Roshni Manghani
 

You come across people who stay with you for the longest time, maybe their aura captivates you and they get imprinted in your memory. I had the pleasure of meeting Edmund Kingsley when he visited the city to speak at the Pune International Literary Festival and little did I know that Edmund actually has a deep link to India, “Our connection goes way back because my great-granddad left India in 1896 and went to Zanzibar. So its quite a long connection to Gujarat, India basically.” Digging further down into the revelation I also found out that Edmund’s father, Ben Kingsley, was actually born under the Indian name, Krishna Pandit Bhanji. 

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Edmund grew up in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England and has been into the acting industry from a young age, “I’ve been an actor freshly all my adult life but I started way back when I grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon which is where Shakespeare came from so that was the only job in town really, and I started young ‘cus of the theatre family as well. I moved to London when I was 18 to go to RADA and ever since I’ve done all sorts of roles in plays and films and television.” I wondered if it would be huge shift for someone who has been into theatre and then worked in films, there ought to be one art form he favours more. “It’s tricky. In one sense they’re similar because you’re an actor playing a part but they’re so technically different. Filming is very immediate, you go in and that environment might only exist for one day. It’s just the precision and the feeling that if you get that moment right then it will last forever and the next day you will move on to something else and create something new. I love the rhythm of a film set but with theatre acting, a really good theatre show with a really good group is something you don’t get often in films, sometimes you do. You go through the whole journey from the first day of rehearsal and you build something together, whatever the size of the role, you still have to be part of the whole thing. There’s that kind of ensemble feeling of building something together and then getting it ready and putting it in front of the audience is really satisfying.” I ask him if there was one thing he would do all his life then what would he pick, “If I had to choose, it would be screen. I think, just because maybe as an actor theatre is wonderful but there’s just something about making movies. And there’s also a feeling between action and cut which is weirdly calm because you’re so focused like everything else just dims, relaxing is not the word because it is pressurising but yes there’s something in it about just getting that moment right. And to go somewhere and work is a really nice way to see the world, to go somewhere with a purpose, and you’re always working with a new crew which makes it even more memorable.”

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I ask him about the things he does apart from acting and the first thing was, “Well, I’m mostly being a dad. If I’m not in funny clothes, making funny voices then I’m at home, pushing swings and making supper, and probably also doing funny voices ‘cus kids like funny voices. I sing a lullaby Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo that puts my kid to sleep.” Ah! The things a dad does to keep his kids entertained. Also, who could’ve imagined Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo to work as a lullaby? He also tells me that he has a lot of songs by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in his playlist and the other songs are, well, quite unusual. “The song that I’ve listened to probably every day for the last 2 years is The Final Countdown. Neither my wife nor I know why we’ve got this record but in the middle of that record collection but If we want the kids to do anything, any tidying up so we’re like if we put The Final Countdown will you put your shoes on? The record is worn out because it’s been played so much. Its probably not something I would listen to, at least not every morning, but here we are.” He goes on to tell me about the time his kid came back from nursery, asking to listen to the “Salami song,” and he says, “It took us ages to figure out that she was talking about Salaam-e-Ishq, when she finally heard it she was like this is it, this is the song! So now we listen to that quite a lot. God knows what the neighbours think about us.” 

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Since we were talking about playlists and unusual songs, I asked him about the other interests apart from acting, “I’ve always played music, not professionally but, um, I was in a lot of, I’m just going to say, terrible bands but at that time (when we were teenagers) we thought we were brilliant. And then we moved to London so it was harder because I grew up in the countryside so there was loads of space to make noise. There was some air about being a teenager and walking into some terrible pub at Leamington Spa but being in a band which was kind of special.”

We all have those set of people who help us get back on track and give us important life lessons, on this thought, I ask him if his father has ever played the role of a critique, “Not particularly. You mean has he come to me and said *nods his head and lets out a whistle* Oh, I wouldn’t do it like that?” He laughs and then continues to tell me, “No he hasn’t. Our schedules are such that we see each other just a couple times in a year. I think when it’s someone you’re close to, you sort of switch off the critique in you and go ‘Well done! Here’s a cold drink!’ I think actors giving each other notes is a slightly difficult thing anyway. I almost never give a suggestion to another actor because I just think the perspective is wrong. You’re one instrument in the orchestra, you should play your part as well as you can and not start telling the trumpets what to do. You cant take yourself out of the perspective of your character.”

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He mentions that he likes to try roles that challenge him and he prefers plots that leave the audience guessing at every point. But is there any particular role he wouldn’t want to play? “No, probably not. Playing horrible characters can be really thrilling. Playing someone like Oswald Mosley, he was the head of the British Union of Fascists, he was a really nasty piece of work. But to play somebody like that, and to have to find something in them that you can connect to, it’s challenging and it’s also uncomfortable but its also sort of why you do it and it’s your job to kind of find the thing that unlocks them for you.”

According to me, an actor’s job is extremely complex. You have to mould yourself to fit different roles, and there’s a variety of them out there, but somewhere they must have some effect. Maybe it must be easier for people to get through life being an actor and play different people, it’s sort of like their armour. But when the camera shuts down and the director yells cut, the person leaving the set is someone completely different. With Edmund, he is possibly the most down-to-earth actor you could ever come across. One minute he’s all engrossed and passionately talking about his acting and films and then the next moment he cracks a joke and makes you laugh. To be honest, meeting him was like catching up with someone I had known for a long time. He has that effect. The sort that imprints him into your memory, not just the man we see on the screen who plays all sorts of roles, but even the man without his armour.

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