Ben Whishaw Profiled in The Telegraph

Ben Whishaw

Another interesting profile of  Ben Whishaw in The Telegraph. The writer seems to come into the interview determined to debunk all the stuff in the other profiles written about Whishaw about his ‘vulnerability’.

Which brings us to something else about Ben Whishaw it’s impossible to ignore. Every review ever written about him talks about his vulnerability. Certainly, it’s true that with his huge brown eyes and his startled air, he can give a convincing impression of a two-legged deer caught in the headlights. But just how vulnerable is Whishaw off-screen, I wonder?

Whishaw’s answer?

“Ah…” he says, and looks away. There’s a long pause, during which his forehead becomes bisected by a deep frown. Some further ah-ing follows. But when he looks back, his gaze is steady and direct. “I don’t think anyone can walk through the world in a state of vulnerability all the time, can they? And as an actor, you do need to be quite… quite strong. I think it does take courage, in a way. After all, it’s a very revealing thing to do. Putting yourself in a position of being looked at. That’s one of the reasons why I find it very hard to watch myself on screen.” So, the vulnerability is all an act? “No,” he says eventually. “I wouldn’t say that… But you do use things about yourself as an actor, don’t you?”

I particularly like the ending of the article:

Our time is up and we shake hands. I’d rather expected Whishaw to have a soft, hesitant sort of handshake. But it’s not like that at all. It’s strong and confident, and when he looks me in the eye, he doesn’t blink.

There are also interviews with directors who’ve worked with Whishaw, and tidbits about Cloud Atlas and Skyfall, and of course, about playing Richard II. Full interview here:

Ben Whishaw Profiled in Radio Times for BBC’s Richard II

A really interesting profile of Whishaw in Radio Times. The article doesn’t seem to be online, so this is from the print edition.


Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston lead a galaxy of stars breathing new life into four of Shakespeare’s history plays

The Hollow Crown: Richard II
Saturday 9.00 pm BBC2

by Zoe Williams

It’s exceptional for an actor to make his name with a performance of Hamlet at the age of 23. Received wisdom is that by the time you understand even half of what’s going on in the Dane’s head, you’re way to old to play him. So when Ben Whishaw shot to the foreground in 2004, he was clearly something beyond a handsome new face in a world hungry for newness. A reviewer at the time described him as a gnarled tree root, his body language so twisted and convoluted with uncertainty that he seemed in some physically impossible way to be growing back into himself.

The description returned to me watching The Hour, BBC2’s wonderful 1950’s set drama in which he is a young man in a hurry, forthright, zealous in a cynical English sort of way. Whishaw couldn’t have looked more different, couldn’t have conveyed two such different personalities more forcefully. He has something of the Gary Oldman about him, such self-effacement for every role that you wonder if it’s the same guy.

In the flesh, now 31, he leans more towards Hamlet than The Hour’s Freddie Lyons. He’s hunched, but not in an unfriendly way, as though trying to take up as little room as possible. It’s incongruous in the bar of Bafta, where everyone else is a show-off. He’s here to discuss Richard II, first of four Shakespearean history plays airing on BBC2 under the banner The Hollow Crown, which will also star Jeremy Irons as Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, as well as Julie Walters and Simon Russell Beale.

Richard is the mistaken, petulant king to whom all manners of disastrous, unkingly stuff occurs. Whishaw plays him as a callow, immature man who breaks off in the middle of destroying a friend’s life to feed his Capuchin monkey (which itself gives a nice, spoilt performance). At the same time, though, he has this majestic bearing, his performance walks a tightrope between authority and frivolity. It’s a perplexing, magnetic mix.

When I ask him about the play, and whether or not we can take over two hours of really crunchy Shakespeare in one go, on BBC2, he gave a trenchant answer. “It’s only recently that it’s been uncommon to have Shakespeare on the telly, isn’t it? I get irritated when you’re made to feel like it’s something difficult and a bit beyond that. I really hate that. People are so stuffy about it, but it’s really easy. You can make it what you want. I wish people would relax about it.”

Ask him about his role, though, and he squirms magnificently in his chair. I really think talking about himself is anathema to him. He looks like he’s being given tiny electric shocks. He will never miss an opportunity to turn the question back to you, even if you’ve asked him something so specific that he is the only person that could ever know the answer. Anyway, back to Richard II.

“I find him in some ways quite sympathetic, but that is not a view shared by many people. I find that I like his…journey. It’s an interesting one. Someone being forced to confront their vulnerability. Accept their fears. Have their illusions about themselves shattered. That’s what I like about it.” He wriggles some more and starts to rip a napkin into tiny pieces. He really reminds me of a fairy tale about a child genius who can only relax when she’s playing the violin. I wonder if he’s the sort of person who only relaxes when on stage. “I think you feel really alive when you perform. Not necessarily relaxed, but very alive and open. In some ways, it’s easier to relate to another actor than it is to relate to a person in life. Do you know what I mean?” Er…not really.

Although his breakthrough role was an unusual one, his route into acting was quite traditional, via Rada and a steady stream of work in well-thought-off indie films (My Brother Tom in 2001 netted his first awards). He claims never to have felt as though he was destined for greatness while studying. “Absolutely definitely not, really not. Really nothing. I loved being there. I loved the experience. But I was never made to feel like that, maybe no one was. I felt very…because we had lots of real blokes, big guys, in our year, I felt ineffectual and not very interesting. That was my impression at the time, and I just played quite small character parts.”

And even though his entire working life has been as the lead, it is noticeable that he is no obvious shoo-in for a romantic lead. I’m not saying that (as I normally would be) as code for “he’s a bit funny-looking.” There’s nothing schlocky on his CV, no misguided project that was all explosions and women who know Thai kickboxing. (I’m working up a theory that, in terms of career, he is Jason Statham’s anti-matter – that they are such polar opposites that if one disappeared, so would the other.) He insists, though, that he’s never been particularly picky.

“I don’t think I do turn down that much. You have to be selective. You’ve got to do what you feel you can give your best to. But no, I was never trying to be a troubled intellectual. I’m not remotely an intellectual person”.

Oh, there’s one other thing he’d like to clear up, while we’re on the topic of his shortcomings (which, by the way, I didn’t bring up) – he also has terrible judgement. “It’s awful. I’m always wrong. To the point where I try not to bring my judgement to bear on an encounter I have with a person, I just try to take them as they are”.

This must make it hard to make a decision, deliberately holding back from judging anything? “It’s like…” he thinks for a bit…”Death is cold and hard and tight, and life is loose. So when you’re alive, you have to embrace being loose and open and free and engaged with things. To go towards closing things off or making judgements o deciding on certainties is to choose something that’s more like death. I had this bog conversation with a priest who said, ‘It’s all right to be uncertain’. I wasn’t in confession. I’m not religious at all. I don’t even know why I’m telling you. We value certainty so highly in the world. It can lead to appalling things. But without it we’d never do anything. So how do you find your way through that?” There’s a long pause. “Do you think Radio Times‘ readers will be interested in death?” I don’t see why not.

I’m sure this is part of what makes him such a persuasive performer, that he’s a natural introvert, who wants to subsume himself utterly for the role, but then in the service of that role, must – literally of figuratively – take centre stage. “I’m maybe somewhere in the middle, between introversion and extroversion”, he starts. I make a very sceptical face. “With a tendency to introversion. There’s a very strong thing of not wanting to be watched, but also not being able to help yourself.”

For someone with terrible judgement, he has some brilliant films in production (for contractual reasons, he can’t talk a huge amount about any of them). He is set to star in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a stunning novel I can’t imagine being made into a film, but then if you’d asked me how to make that idea into a novel, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine that either. And he’s Q in Skyfall, the next Bond movie starring Daniel Craig (released in October).

Interestingly, while Ben Whishaw is intensely socially sensitive, would hate to sound strident, dislikes talking about himself, looks really uncomfortable (and not just with me – when other people come over as well, I swear), he is quite sanguine about criticism. He never reads reviews and claims not to worry about what they say. I wonder whether his mum ever sends him something if it’s particularly nice, and he says, “She knows that’s not allowed”.

He’s been to LA to do a pilot that didn’t get made into a full series, but he only went because he was interested in the project; not because he has an actorly long game, where you get taken seriously here by going over to America. “People think what they want to think about you. They’ll take you seriously or they won’t. You can’t control it”.

Perhaps he’s just a really good actor. This sounds totally credible in the moment; a person who’d hate to offend anyone, but couldn’t give a rat’s arse if someone offended him. “To be absolutely honest,” he says, “I’m just thrilled to be working”.


The photos from the article are online.

BBC Trailer for The Hollow Crown

The BBC dramatization of four Shakespeare’s plays – Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V. Ben Whishaw is Richard II, Jeremy Irons is Henry IV, Tom Hiddleston is Henry V (and Prince Hal in Henry IV). The voiceover narration is by Ben Whishaw, right? Sounds like him, but I’m not sure. Sheesh, I’m such a bad fan, hehe.

Ben Whishaw’s Richard II Inspired y Gaddafi and Michael Jackson

Probably the weirdest combo of inspiration I’ve heard. With Gaddafi, it’s about clinging to power:

“There were – and still are – these leaders in the Middle East who were clinging on desperately and brutally to power.”Like Shakespeare’s king, Gaddafi apparently reacted to his fate with wild swings between denial, rage and self-pity. “It felt not at all alien, people resisting letting go of power,” said Whishaw.

With Jackson, it’s about capturing Richard’s sense of near-divinity about himself:

“Here’s a character who sees himself not really as a human being, but as a demigod – a conduit for men on the earth to experience the divine, someone who revelled in a sense of magic and mystery about themselves, which I think Richard did, someone surrounded by people who just told him what he wanted to hear. There’s a sense of wonder about a person, a sense that they come almost from another planet – that they’re so far beyond you.”


Ben Whishaw as Richard II

Really excited about this. I wish I could have seen him as Hamlet. I’m not good with all the Richards and Henrys, so at first I thought this is the mad Richard who locked his nephews in the Tower, but no, this is the Richard who lost his throne to Henry IV (not to be confused with Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V).  Whishaw would have been great as that mad Richard, too, I’m sure. We’ll see him in lots of other things as well next year – Series 2 of The Hour, Cloud Atlas, Skyfall (the James Bond movie).

Keats and kitty, from Bright Star. If you haven’t seen Bright Star, I definitely recommend it. And I say this as someone who thought Jane Campion’s The Piano is probably the most boring movie ever made. Bright Star is slow, but in a tender and contemplative way, not tedious, and never boring. This is not my Whishaw-bias speaking either, even he couldn’t save Brideshead Revisited from being the mess that it is (I want my money back for that DVD!)