Kingsley Ben-Adir is earning critical acclaim and awards buzz for his star turn as Malcolm X in “One Night in Miami.” The film imagines a conversation between four of the most famous Black public figures of the 1960s — Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. In reading through the script and diving into less familiar areas of Malcolm’s life, Ben-Adir came away with a fuller understanding of the man behind the activism. “I took a deep dive into American civil rights in my early 20s and my grandad would’ve spoken about Malcolm for sure but I didn’t know as much as I thought,” says Ben-Adir in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “My mind was blown. There was so much I didn’t know.”
Now streaming on Amazon Prime, the movie finds Malcolm X at a fraught time in his life, paranoid that his enemies could strike at him at any moment. He was also getting ready to part ways with the Nation of Islam after disagreements with the leader, Elijah Muhammad. “So many huge shifts were happening for him,” observes Ben-Adir. He realized early on that “internalizing those stakes is going to be the best way to activate this language and really bring it to life in a way that felt active.” In addition to studying the context of where Malcolm X was in his life, Ben-Adir also threw himself into a rigorous routine of slimming down to better resemble the activist and closely studying his mannerisms and speech patterns. “I was coming onto the project very last minute so I didn’t have time to mess around,” he reveals.
What helped Ben-Adir fulfill his full potential in his performance was the presence of Oscar-winning actor Regina King, making her feature film directorial debut. “I’ve never worked with anyone who understands the acting process so profoundly,” admits Ben-Adir. “We had such an incredible acting experience because we were allowed to play and discover and figure it out.” The actor recalls King’s ability to communicate just enough to her performers without overstepping.
Ben-Adir is now in the thick of award season, having just won the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor and earning multiple nominations from critics groups. “I feel so flattered to be even thought of in this conversation,” he admits, especially “to be a small part” of King’s journey as an artist.
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