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]
Feature: Ben Whishaw for ES Magazine
Feature: British Vogue’s 2023 Hollywood Portfolio
What do you love about acting?
Somehow forgetting yourself and being lost in imagination.
Have you stolen anything from set?
Three or four pairs of socks that belonged to the character Q. They were very nice socks.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d like him to give me some advice. I feel a bit lost now. I think I knew more when I was younger.
When was the moment that you realised you wanted to be an actor?
I always loved dressing up in other people’s clothes, anything that was lying around. And so, as soon as I realised that there was such a thing as actors, I wanted to be one. [Source]
Feature: Ben Whishaw for The Sunday Times!
It’s a classic dinner party conversation. Who would play you in the TV show of your life? When news first broke that his diaries were going to be made into a series, Adam Kay told the press that he was hoping Judi Dench would play him. “I didn’t want to jinx it,” he tells me now. “So I was naming grandes dames of theatre.” But right from the start there was one actor at the top of his wish list. “Since moment one I knew it had to be Ben.” [Rest of the article is under a paywall]
Feature: Ben Whishaw Talks “This is Going to Hurt”
The BBC offers on thier main website an overview of the series and interview with the cast. Here’s Ben interview that you can read on the BBC website or fully below under the “Read More” Tag.
Tell us, in a nutshell, what This Is Going To Hurt is about.
It’s based on a book by Adam Kay comprised of his diaries that he kept during the years he was a doctor for the NHS. He’s adapted it into a seven-part series. It’s a kind of reflection on his experiences of his time on the wards back in 2006 when he was working for the NHS.
My character Adam Kay is a junior doctor when we meet him, trying to keep afloat in a system that is unrelenting. He’s someone who’s really trying to do good but also deal with his own flaws, foibles, shortcomings and failings, which is really interesting because I think when you go into a hospital or when you are dealing with a doctor, you think they are superhuman in some way, and I love that this character is all too human really.
Were you aware of the book before taking on the role?
I must be the only person in the country who hadn’t heard of it before I got sent it and before I met Adam, which is a bit embarrassing! But I certainly know it now.
The book has some very funny moments and also some very serious and sad moments. Can audiences expect the same from the show?
Yes. I think that with this show and with the book, the two go hand in hand. A lot of the humour that’s in the show is just drawn directly from real life stuff that happened to Adam. And to a degree, a lot of the jokes are Adam’s way of coping, I suppose, with the pressures of being a doctor.
How does the fictional Adam differ from the real Adam Kay?
Well, that’s a good question. I’m not really sure! I find the way he writes himself extremely interesting because it’s so naked, in a sense. He doesn’t really try to make himself look better than he is. In fact, he seems to go to pains to really show all his flaws and failings and so on.
What drives your character Adam, and why does he keep working for the NHS?
It’s a complicated question. I think partly he comes from a long line of doctors and I think it was what was expected of him as a young person. There’s so much that goes into training to become a doctor and it takes up so much of your life. So you get to a certain stage and you have done nothing else other than medicine, it’s the only thing you can do, it’s become your entire existence. I think there’s a really genuine wish to do something useful, to be of service to people. I think that is really a sincere part of his drive.
Feature: Ben Whishaw for The Guardian
Ben Whishaw, quite apart from being one of the best British actors we have, is an expert dunker of his biscuits in tea. I’ve seen it: he’s a McVitie’s ninja, with a method all his own. We meet one afternoon in the offices of a London film company and I get the chance to observe his distinctive work first-hand, as digestive after digestive gets taken up by Whishaw, then dipped (sometimes double-handed) into a cuppa that he props on a table in front of him. Each biscuit gets submerged for so long, you suppose there’s no chance of it ever coming out whole. Each biscuit later re-emerges, sodden, milliseconds from ruin, still intact.
“I’m no good at interviews,” Whishaw, 41, apologises, right away.
He has played Hamlet, Sebastian Flyte, Ariel, Paddington, James Bond’s gadget man Q; all manner of bold fictional characters behind which to hide an innate, real-world shyness. In February, Whishaw will appear in the BBC’s adaptation of Adam Kay’s bestselling medical tell-all, This Is Going to Hurt – another cocksure character, another place to hide. “I find it hard meeting people for the first time,” Whishaw shrugs. “I find it anxiety inducing. I get a shaky, unsettled feeling in my belly. Just warning you now!”
And it’s true that the actor, with his wiry limbs crossed at sharp angles, the focus of his green eyes often darting away to the middle distance, comes across as socially nervous. Even so, he’s compelling company, and before the end of our conversation he’ll have spoken with careful thought and bracing honesty about sexuality; self-knowledge; LGBTQ+ casting in the film industry; his frustration with the Bond franchise, all sorts. Along the way I start to notice that, actually, there are telling parallels between the way Whishaw approaches a one-on-one interaction such as ours and his perilous technique for dunking biscuits. Whenever the conversation takes a turn, he’ll start out strong. Ideas. Confessions. Then he might lose faith and check himself (“God. I’m waffling … I have no idea what I’m saying, Tom”). Then, right when all looks lost, the biscuit doesn’t break apart, he regathers his efforts, he comes at some idea anew, and often winds up making a point that is richer and subtler than the one he started with. [More at Source]