Kingsley Ben-Adir on representation in cinema and being the new lead of ‘The OA’

The OA is back with some old faces and some new stars, we meet the leading man and fresh faced newbie to know...


How did this role come about?

It all happened very quickly. I sent them off. Zara and Brit liked them and eventually I flew out and met them. We sat down and had a long chat that lasted a few hours, just about life, the first season, the direction for the second season and big ideas and stuff like that.

How do you feel about it all – are you ready for the Netflix life?

Yeah it’s funny – we finished a while ago so there’s a big gap where you don’t think about it. Which is weird especially when the shoot was so long. You get to the end and you’re like – it’s hard to have a memory of everything you shot  – but that’s cool.

Was it emotionally intense?

Yeah definitely. It was hard work and the shoot was ambitious and beautiful, there were some big days, and definitely some big weeks! It was all worth it!

Why do you think dystopia is resonating so much at the moment? Do you think it’s political?

Yeah, maybe! I don’t know. I think The OA is resonating because there’s some really big ideas Brit and Zal are dealing with and exploring in a concise 8 hour story.

How does it feel to be an actor right now?

When I came out of drama school it was the credit crunch and everyone was going on about how much the world had changed etc. It sounded like everyone was having a great time in the nineties and noughties but then we came out. Now it seems there is so much more, every week, especially in America, the scripts are plentiful. It’s more competitive but the material quality is definitely better. It’s hard for everyone at the moment. Everyone in any sector is struggling. I went to a coffee shop this morning and it’s all Brexit…Brexit…Brexit.


What about representation at the moment – is it a better time to be a black actor?

It feels like a movement to make everything equal, females, Asians. I speak to some older black actors who say there are peaks and troths, like the late 80s it was a great time to be a black actor in their opinion. If America wasn’t an option for me id be finding it more difficult over here. I was chatting to my mate Ray about this the other day about big projects in 2011 when I graduated which I couldn’t get, but especially since John Boyega was cast in Star Wars I think it’s forced a lot of British casting directors to fucking wake up and think about it – at least offer the platform for everyone to put a tape in the mix. It should just be open, let everyone have a shot, whoever has the best chemistry wins.

Makes sense doesn’t it!

Definitely. I remember hearing back from a job from the BBC where they said the chemistry wasn’t good enough, and we hadn’t even done a chemistry test! But anyway, things are moving forward and there are lots of positives. I think Zal is quite pleased that this is one of a small handful of African American leads in a film noir.

Do you feel from that perspective, art has the power to cause social change?

Not on its own, I think there has to be a movement behind it. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our industry is at the forefront of pushing it forward. I do think film and tv are extremely powerful forms. I remember the certain affect films had on me when I was young. I was doing something earlier where I was asked about my favourite film characters and stuff and I was like thinking about Hook and Mrs Doubtfire: they were fun but they dealt with themes like divorce. When you’re 6 or 7 and learning about that and still remember it now – it’s powerful.

Can you think of any other films that shaped you?

Pre-wanting to be an actor films: anything with Robin Williams… And Beverley Hills Cop 2! Mum wasn’t too pleased about that one. Good Will Hunting was a big one. Jim Sheridan’s In America I saw when I was 16 and cried in year 11 and the final scene my throat was swelling up. Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton were amazing. There’s so many films!

What about cinematic icons for you?

I had loads, I don’t know where to start! Pete Postlethwaite in In the Name of The Father, Benicio del Toro, Ed Harris. I became obsessed with a lot of angry, destructive leading men. A core group of male actors I was obsessed with in my early 20s, probably because I was feeling angry myself at drama school! They’re all my dudes. John C Reilly. There’s a film called A State of Grace in the late 80s or so, Sean Penn and Robin Right, John Tutoro, Ed Harris – it’s an acting masterclass. A beautiful film. Anna Magnani in The Fugitive Kind with Marlon Brando, I remember staying up really late watching it and there was this Italian woman just wiping the floor with Brando and I was like who is this woman?! The ferocity, power and vulnerability was unreal – just awesome.

If people could take away one thing from the OA, what would it be?

For me, I think what’s fascinating is the idea of dreams and that theme – we start with a dream this year. I think even the first season she has premonitions. How much we listen to our self conscious and our perceptions of reality. There’s a guy who doesn’t seem very well and seems homeless, when he walks past the coffee shop he walks on very distinct lines, that makes sense to him – it doesn’t to me. There’s always a question of what’s real and what’s not, and different perceptions from me to you. I don’t know how to articulate that in two sentences, but the whole idea is really interesting. This is why I have so much respect for Zal [Batmanglij] and Brit [Marling] because they can do that! To hold on to that as a solid concept is so impressive. He’d be like is any on this real, and he was obsessed with that idea. I have to accept things are real, like getting up and brushing my teeth. Mostly I want people to find it thrilling and exciting.

How was it immersing yourself into the character?

It was a lot of work. I had a 2 week period to get myself together. It was a lot of locking yourself away and going through the script. In my apartment, I had the journey all mapped out. We filmed the last episode in the last 10 days, so getting it all under the skin early was important. It was very intensive because of the amount of days and there was some cool stunts and stuff.

Where do you think this is going to lead you?

I have no fucking idea! I’m just back to home and family stuff at the moment, settling back into the London life.

The OA is out on Netflix now.

22 March 2019