INT: Ben Whishaw
I never thought that I would ever root for a serial killer in any film, ever!!! The opening scene is an immediate validation that British import Ben Whishaw is a hypnotic and remarkable actor who commands unassuming attention! Having established a name for himself in the UK by making his debut in West End, at the National Theatre in their stage adaptation of Phillip Pullmanís ďHis Dark MaterialsĒ, and then receiving great critical acclaim in the title role of ďHamletĒ in Trevor Nunnís version of the play at the Old Vic, there is no doubt he will be taking Hollywood by storm.
humble and endearing newcomer puts on a mesmerizing and refreshing
performance as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in the upcoming film PERFUME:
THE STORY OF A MURDERER. Based on the best-selling novel by
Patrick Suskind and directed by the highly acclaimed German Tom
Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN), PERFUME is the story of a fearless and
isolated boy, blessed (or cursed) with a refined and acute sense of
smell. I had
the opportunity to sit down with the extraordinary and soft spoken
Ben Whishaw, as he talked about his captivating and riveting
performance as Grenouille, his preparation for the role, working
with the great Dustin Hoffman and his take on smell in PERFUME.
Check out what he had to say.
you ever paid particular attention to how things smell this much?
No, I really hadnít. Like a lot of people, I didnít really think about it all that much. I guess you canít help but stop to think about it more deeply if youíre making a film about smell, so it has changed a bit, I guess.
was your center of characterization?
Well, the thing that wasnít that helpful actually, I think the press notes say I took some perfume course or something. I didnít, Tom [Tykwer] did, but that didnít take me very far into the character. The most important thing, I felt, was to try and understand thereís some kind of absence inside of him, some kind of emptiness, somethingís lacking, somethingís missing, and to try to understand what it is he wants to fill that. We discussed lots of different things, but that was the core. We never perceived it as a position of labeling him as a sociopath or psychopath, it didnít feel like that would really open up the character. We just tried to see him as a human being as far as possible.
you have to visualize the time period to conjure up those old
smells? Or was it enough just being there?
It felt very vivid anyway because the set was so incredible and
detailed. It didnít leave me much imagining to do because it was
all there and often it did really smell bad, so that helped, I
you have any trepidation about taking on a character that kills
Not trepidations in that sense. I had trepidations because the character is so uncommunicative, thereís not much to go on from the page, from the screenplay. I had questions about that and also, we all felt the pressure of adapting, as anyone would, a very well-loved novel. That was what I felt most intensely. Strangely, I donít know what that says about me, I didnít really worry too much that killing women would be a bad way to make a debut in a big film, it didnít occur to me.
does this character compare to someone like Hamlet?
Interestingly, it felt quite similar as a role because Tom is a director that likes to strip actors down, he has a certain taste in the way he directs actors. I certainly imagined, when I first read the script, that it would be more of a case of putting things on, like something more extreme in terms of body shape. Tom wanted it a bit more naked and wanted to go inside the character so it felt very similar to working on a part like Hamlet. There are certain parallels anyway, in terms of the sort of territory they both enter into - the obsessive quest that theyíre on and this kind of introspective path of their natures. I can see a connection between the two.
few people have compared your performance to Anthony Perkins that
you have that same level of intensity he put in ĎPsychoí.
love that film. Iíve not really seen much else heís done. I love
Hitchcock and another film that I didnít see before making
Perfume, but I saw subsequently, a film called ĎPeeping Tomí
which I think thereís something similar, thereís a connection.
was it like working with Dustin Hoffman in the sense that his role
was big and boisterous, and you had to play so small?
never felt like it was some kind of battle to hold my own against
him because thatís the nature of their relationship. You have one
character that is extremely flamboyant and aware of his position in
a social sense and then another character thatís totally inward
and totally had no understanding of society and human interaction.
That just had to be that way. The fact that Dustin is a
is he to work with, in general?
really friendly. Heís the center of attention, which again is
helpful for the character and what weíre trying to achieve. Heís
really quite nurturing in a way, he gave me some really good advice
and was generous.
advice did he give you?
He told me lots of things. The very first day I shot with him, I was totally freaking out, seeing him in his full regalia and I couldnít get something and I was getting frustrated, Tom was shouting directions at me and I started to lose it and then sort of quit and dropped the ball and they said ĎCut.í And Dustin said, ĎThat moment is when it really came alive. You should have kept going! Itís all about the accidents; itís all about the accidents.í I totally understand what he means; I think itís a confidence thing, really. There is something exciting when what youíd planned or preconceived goes out the window and something else happens, might be accidental or a mistake, but it takes you somewhere new.
distinguishes Tom from other directors youíve worked with?
havenít really had a big enough part to have a relationship with a
director in film. Itís always been a day here, a day there. In my
limited experience, what seems really special about Tom is that he
really wants to have collaboration; heíll listen and will take on
what you have to say, even if itís critical or if youíre raising
difficult questions. He wants to hear it and that, to me, seems
kind of questions did you raise with him?
I canít remember precisely because in my mind itís slightly blurred as to who decided what. It was usually stuff about the balance of the character Ė how much we needed to worry about him being sympathetic, how much we needed not to worry about it, the contradictions in him. Also how he talks, because at first Tom wanted to change the script and I had to tell him, ĎIt doesnít make sense that heís talking like this, he wasnít educatedí little changes like that. We discussed everything, itís not like he sat in a room and did it all himself and I was just a puppet, he really shared everything with me.
was the most challenging for you?
The final climactic scene on the scaffold was tricky because the whole film really hangs upon that moment and youíre just looking at a face and a body. Itís quite an interesting little arc that happens in that sequence, I guess I found that quite difficult.
you have any trouble sustaining the character or leaving it behind
when you werenít filming?
I never tried to not let go of the character but the character wouldnít let go of me in some way because heís so alone much of the time and I had so few scenes with somebody else to play off. I did start to take that home after awhile but I think Tom managed to dig me out of that little black hole.
This character is a serial killer and yet, there are places where people might cheer him on. How can you explain his likeability, if there is any?
I think itís something to do with the fact that thereís something innocent about him, even though what heís doing is obviously wrong, even evil. Thereís a kind of lack of awareness and a lack of understanding. The thing I find interesting is that what heís done, psychologically, is that heís whittled the world down to one thing; the world is nothing but smell. Itís a way of controlling and understanding the world that terrifies him. I think thereís something about that that is quite human and something we can connect with. Fundamentally, I suppose, heís someone who wants to be loved. He goes about it in a very peculiar way, but thatís what he wants and who doesnít want that? Thatís probably what makes him, for me, sympathetic.
do you develop your characters? Is it more of an inward thing or do
you draw from other actors?
Itís a mixture and it really depends on the character. This character really felt like it had to come within. Some characters are really social characters and theyíre all about the surface details and then there are characters that exist on a different plane. Theyíre emotional characters and theyíre all about internal stuff. This character, Hamlet the same, theyíre inward-looking. Certainly sometimes you have to turn your attention outward and you have to sort of steal in a magpie-like fashion, certainly, sometimes.
is the best thing to have come out of making this film for you?
think itís working with Tom, just generally. Heís somebody I
really feel now is a really dear friend. Somebody Iíd like to work
with again and somebody who I share things with; we look at things
in a similar way and have similar tastes and interests. I found
working with him very satisfying on a creative level and personal
level as well.
do you think of the film, now that youíve seen it in full?
I found it very braveÖ it unfolded in a much slower way than I expected. I love the way Tom allowed certain sequences to really breathe in a way I hadnít expected. I watched it with an audience in Basil, the premiere there and it was really interesting to see all the stuff about what weíd been talking about Ė would people just be repelled, would they give a shit about him. You canít tell whatís going on inside of people, but people wanted to stay. The film clearly had sort of cast a spell over them so that was quite gratifying.
Were you able to enjoy any of the beautiful locations where you filmed?
didnít have a whole lot of time off, but I did sometimes go sit on
the beach in Barcelona. I went to the coast as well, to just get
away. I didnít see as much as I would have liked and I didnít
really get to hang out with the cast because there werenít many.
If I wasnít filming, they were so again, the loneliness ensued.
They were beautiful places; it was a wonderful way to spend the
orgy scene had a lot of people aroundÖ
true, except again, I wasnít involved.
would you describe your character?
would describe him asÖ
my character. F*ck! God. Thatís a hard question to answer because
I can be anything, it depends what day you catch me. Some days I
find this situation [press interviews] unbearable, I want to
disappear into the floor, and other days it feels really nice so
Iím shy and extroverted.
feels very nice today. Good vibes.
part did you play in the stage version of ĎHis Dark Materials?í
played small parts. My biggest part was a character that wasnít in
the novel, a clerk they wrote for the stage.
Would you be interested in doing the movie version?
Iíd love to. Itís another incredible book, trilogy of books.
you read this book before filming?
read it about four times. I was reading it a fifth and Tom said,
ĎPut the book away. Weíre making the film.í So I tried to get
as much as I could out of it.
you doing another film right away?
No. Iíve been so busy doing the publicity for this. I finished this Bob Dylan thing about a month ago. I play one of the Bobs, even though none of us are really Bob, weíre aspectsÖ Iím the poet. I play around í65, í66. Iím dressed a bit like Bob Dylan crossed with Arthur Lambot the French poet.