How ‘Iron Man 3’ Inspired Ben Kingsley’s Performance as Salvador Dalí in ‘Dalíland’ (Video)

Of all the remarkable roles in Ben Kingsley’s career that could have inspired his performance as surrealist Salvador Dalí in “Dalíland,” from “Gandhi” to “Sexy Beast” to “House of Sand and Fog,” it was his role as “Trevor Slattery” — better known as “The Mandarin” — in “Iron Man 3” that made the director and writer realize he could pull it off.

Speaking with TheWrap at the Toronto International Film Festival on behalf of “Dalíland,” the festival’s closing night film, director Mary Harron (“American Psycho”) and writer John Walsh said that the real Dalí was something of a “tremendous coward.” And though Kingsley had always played strong, fearless roles, they were worried about whether or not Kingsley could flash a more eccentric, fearful side.

“And then we watched…’Iron Man 3,'” Harron and Walsh said. “He was brilliant. But we hadn’t seen that aspect of his range. And we said, ‘Wow, it’s so loose and funny and goofy,’ and that was Dalí, a very kind of loose character.”

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For those who don’t remember 2013’s “Iron Man 3,” Kingsley portrays the villain “The Mandarin,” except we soon discover that “The Mandarin” is a fictional character, a made up terrorist created and portrayed by Kingsley’s real persona, a goofy, cowardly, washed up actor. In that moment, Harron saw the same cowardice needed to portray Dalí late in his life.

“He was terrified of everything, really,” Harron said, referring to the surrealist artist. “Incredible courage creatively, but, like, terrified of germs, huge hypochondriac, scared of many things. Couldn’t pay a taxi on his own. He could barely press the button in an elevator and would get other people to do everything. And then we realized that a great actor like Sir Ben is really universal. They can play strong and weak.”

“Dalíland” focuses on the later portion of Dalí’s life, an under-appreciated chapter of his life story but one in which Dalí demonstrated he was still on top of the social ladder, throwing massive parties and social events at the St. Regis hotel in New York and showing he was ahead of his time. The movie depicts his working relationship with Alice Cooper and model Amanda Lear, who in the film is portrayed by a trans actress and whose gender identity became the subject of much media attention thanks to rumors Dalí himself encouraged.

But rather than make a movie strictly about an artist, as Harron had done with her film “I Shot Andy Warhol,” she and Walsh, who is her husband, wanted to make a movie about a “crazy marriage” full of “screaming fights and drama.”

“Which is not like ours,” Harron joked. “Our marriage is pretty boring, pretty flaccid.”

See more from TheWrap’s interview with Mary Harron and John Walsh above, and you can watch

TheWrap’s interview with Ben Kingsley also out of TIFF here.

Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.

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