EDMUND Kingsley looks like a Greek god.
Which is probably how it should be, considering he is in rehearsals for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of the ancient Greek classic play Hecuba when I meet him.
He greets me at the rehearsal rooms on Arden Street, explaining that the shaggy locks and beard he is sporting have been grown for his role as Polymestor, King of Thrace. “Actually, we’ve just had a baby, Elizabeth, born 12 weeks ago — so that’s another reason for the beard,” laughs the busy new dad.
Mum is movement director, Anna Morrissey, who’s currently in Cardiff, rehearsing with the Welsh National Opera.
“Eliza was born, three weeks later we moved house, from the East End to Kennington, South London, then we came to Stratford, then Anna went to Cardiff. Life feels a bit like a travelling circus at the moment,” adds Edmund not unhappily, who has occupied himself making us cups of tea. He immediately strikes one as a friendly and likable chap.
Edmund, 33, is the eldest son of acclaimed actor Ben Kingsley and the theatre director Alison Sutcliffe. His younger brother, 27, is the actor Ferdinand Kingsley.
“It’s brilliant to be back here, I’m a Stratford boy,” he proclaims proudly, as we slurp our hot drinks during his lunch break. The family settled here when mum, Alison, found work at the RSC. Edmund was born in Leamington, and the family lived in Pebworth and Clifford Chambers; with the boys attending The Croft and then Warwick School. Subsequently his parents split up and moved away.
In his latest role, Polymestor, Edmund’s character is blinded and his two sons murdered following the Trojan war and many plot twists. Not a comedy then!
With slight bemusement, Edmund recalls his first job at the RSC: aged 11 he appeared at the Swan in Oedipus Tyrannus, playing the part of a boy leading the blind prophet Tiresias. We both know there’s a metaphor there somewhere, but move on. “That was 24 years ago and now I’m back at the Swan with boys that are that age now. It’s fantastic,” he says, not quite believing the happenstance of life.
So did he always want to act? Was there another option? “I can’t remember not wanting to act,” he says with certainty. “My first memory is when, aged two, I was in the film Silas Marner. Mum had taken me to see dad on set and the girl playing Eppie had a wobbly. So they put a wig and a dress on me instead, and that was my first acting experience… in drag,” he laughs. “All my parents’ friends were actors at the theatre, so I was always surprised when grown-ups weren’t actors. Dressing up and a make-believe world made perfect sense.”
How influential were his parents in his career choice?
“My parents certainly didn’t push me into acting. They supported me and gave me advice and made sure I worked at school, and did A-Levels before going on to drama school.”
In the year Edmund was born, 1982, Ben Kinglsey starred in Ghandi and became a household name… I wonder whether the Kingsley name has been useful?
“The Kinglsey name has neither been a help or hindrance,” says Edmund after a long, thoughtful pause. “I’ve never really struggled to find work, but I don’t think it has ever got me a job; you wouldn’t want to take the kind of job it could get you anyway! Some of the worst acting I have ever seen was when someone said once: ‘Now I come to think of it, I’ve got a part that would be perfect for your father.’”
Back to the matter in hand: his current turn on the RSC stage as baddie Polymestor. “Well in Euripides’ version he is definitely a baddie, but in this Hecuba by Marina Carr [the playwright who has reworked the play] he is not a villain in the same way…. I’m not sure I should say more,” he adds teasingly.
So what can we expect? “It’s Greek tragedy, so it’s got everything you would expect from that, except this is particularly horrific: it’s got blood, swords, sacrifice and horror.
“It happens right at the end of the Trojan War, so they start in an awful place and it gets more and more horrendous: it starts in horror and ends in tragedy,” says Edmund, clearly enthralled with the project.
“As well as the bloodthirsty horror of it, it is an extraordinary study of people in crisis and how they behave, the choices you make under trying circumstances. “The way Marina uses language is extraordinary. It’s sort of self-narrating,” explains Edmund. “As well as speaking dialogue, the characters comment to the audience about how they are perceiving what’s happening. At the beginning it was quite tricky to get our heads around. “My character will go: “Can you believe what he is saying?”, as another is speaking. “It’s like a layer being peeled off the characters’ heads — you get an insight into what they are thinking. And because the stakes are high — invading armies, people being put to death — the characters are super aware of trying to read the other people: who’s in power, who you should be allied with, who you should avoid and how to survive.”
What bit are you really relishing?
“There’s a bit towards the end of the play when I get to create a moment of huge significance. I’m blind at that point, but see exactly what game everyone is playing and I get to nail them all. “It’s not quite a Poirot ending, but I’m handed a huge chunk of the story and a realisation of what the world is.”
As the metaphorical lunch bell rings, and Edmund must return to rehearsals for this intriguing and epic-sounding Hecuba, I have time for one last question. Who would he most like to act with?
“I’d love to work with Ferdie. I’ve been in the same films as Dad, but not my brother. “He’s five years younger than me, so we’ve avoided any competitiveness. He’s slimmer and darker than me, but we could be cast as brothers.
“There’s some good brother characters out there, as long as it wouldn’t colour our relationship with sibling rivalry!” jokes Edmund. Watch out for the Kingsley brothers — coming to a stage near you soon. Possibly.
Hecuba is on at the Swan Theatre until 17th October.