Feature: Ben Whishaw for ES Magazine

written byMouzaonFebruary 19, 2023

As I am walking down Dean Street to meet Ben Whishaw at the Soho Hotel, an awkward thought occurs to me.

We are supposed to be discussing Women Talking, an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel, Women Talking, which is about, yes, women talking. Specifically, it’s about women working out how to respond to an epidemic of horrifying male sexual violence in an ultra-orthodox religious community. It’s up for two Academy Awards: Best #MeToo Allegory and Best Adapted Deconstruction of the Patriarchy. Whishaw is the only adult male in a starry female ensemble (Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand…) and his character’s function is basically to shut up and take notes.

So we will be men talking about women talking. Go us! But Whishaw being the Crown Prince of Awkwardness; naturally this awkwardness has already occurred to him.

‘It’s a bit of a difficult one, isn’t it?’ he says, shifting awkwardly in his chair. He’s dressed in all black, with heavy glasses and copious gemstones on his fingers, and his voice is the voice that my two-year-old son squeezes out of a talking teddy bear most nights (‘It’s nice being a bear. Especially a bear called Paddington’). And my goodness, if you thought this man was compelling in Hamlet, or A Very English Scandal, or This is Going to Hurt, or that sketch where Paddington has tea with the Queen — well, you should see him shifting awkwardly in a chair.

His green eyes dart from side to side with reptilian speed. His fingers perform a baroque ballet that would take others years of training. In the novel Women Talking, his character, August, admits: ‘I don’t have a catchy method of conversing and yet unfortunately suffer on a minute-to-minute basis the agony of the unexpressed thought’ — and well, you can see why they cast Whishaw. He has a gift for bringing an inner life squirming into the light. The phrase he leans on most is ‘I think’: 39 times during our conversation, to be precise.

Whishaw is also very much a necessary energy in the film — which is not only about women talking, but men listening. August represents a faltering, vulnerable, hopeful and ultimately resolute masculinity that I can imagine few actors being able to pull off (he also harbours a childhood romance with Mara’s character, Ona, which I promise will break your heart into a million pieces). ‘I felt like it was a role that was asking you to just be there in a very simple way,’ Whishaw says. ‘I felt very connected to him, actually. I felt personally like it could be me. Some roles feel really, really close like that.’ And besides, the more we talk, the more clear it becomes that his thoughts go rather beyond simple categories of male and female. [More at Source]

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