What a thrill to be given the opportunity to interview Sir Ben Kingsley at the press junket for The Boxtrolls. His character, Archibald Snatcher, was standout for me in the film and I was brimming with questions about the recording process, how he brought the character to life, and his take on the Eggs’ journey with the Boxtrolls. Held at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel, the following is a summary of the afternoon’s interview:
According Ben, the recording process was “delightful and liberating” because the Director’s Anthony Staachi and Graham Annable were “bravely open to ideas.” He had the freedom to take chances and explore all the places where Archibald’s voice could go. He explained how he would “really stretch [the] vowel sounds, [and] started to put an ‘H’ in the words where there shouldn’t be so as to sound posh.”
This delighted the directors because such word manipulation would in turn “thrill the animators” because they could then play with what he was giving them in the animation process. One example in the film is the very audible “wah” sound that Snatcher makes. This noise wasn’t in the script, but is a wonderful animatable sound that gave Snatcher such nuance and dimension.
What was most surprising is the unconventional method Ben used to achieve Snatcher’s voice. As he explained, “I got stiller and stiller and stiller…I didn’t move…eventually I was laying down.” Typically actors are video taped when recording lines for a character so that the animators can use the footage later for reference. As a result, all of Snatcher’s physical mannerisms are solely attributed to the animators; a real credit to them and a fact that Ben is ecstatic about.
So this begged the question, “what was the purpose of lying down?” To this, Ben pulled the Snatcher doll in situated in front of him and pointed to its very large and protruding gut and said, “I don’t have that.” He continued, “but those amongst that do, their voice comes from a different place. It comes from that really exaggerated pot-belly.” He made sure to mentioned that his next project, Bagherra in the Jungle Book, is a sleek and fit black panther “so obviously I’m not lying down.”
Peaked by his involvement with The Jungle Book, I asked if he saw any similarities between Mowgli and Eggs. He nodded “Yes” and even took it one step further comparing Eggs and the Boxtrolls story to Oliver Twist and even the biblical Moses. He reflected, “All these are orphans” who are thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
“The little boy’s family is Fish and all the wonderful creatures below the surface who manages to make a life out of what the upstairs strays away.”
I asked how he sees Snatcher fitting into this paradigm. Ben replied, “He is ambition, he is pride, he is vanity, he is delusion, he is addicted to power, he’s socially inept, and he is a man who is completely ill-equipped to deal with rejection.” All these traits are the result of a lifetime of not being accepted into the Cheesebridge social club. The desperation is so great that “he will dress up as a woman and start seducing the men just so he can join.”
We share a laugh and I am given the signal to wrap up the conversation. As a final question I ask, “what was the most surprising part of the final product?” Ben replied, “Detail. When we go into the underground or the village there is a sense that real people made those sets by hand, its not CGI. Its literally a hand-made experience, and the audience gets drawn in on a very special level….that was so thrilling to see.” Thrilling indeed.
A big thank you to Focus Features and LAIKA for allowing me to sit down with Sir Ben Kingsley and discuss his role as the nefarious Archibald Snatcher in The Boxtrolls. The film hits theaters September 26th.