Watch Ben Kingsley Play Salvador Dalí in the Trailer for the New Film, Dalíland

By itself, the prospect of see­ing Sir Ben Kings­ley play Sal­vador Dalí would be enough to get more than a few movie­go­ers into the the­ater (or onto their couch­es, stream­ing). But then, so would the prospect of see­ing him play prac­ti­cal­ly any­one: Mahat­ma Gand­hi (as the Acad­e­my acknowl­edged), or Georges Méliès, or Dmitri Shostakovich, or a foul­mouthed Lon­don gang enforcer. Dalí­land, which comes out next month, promis­es a rich por­tray­al of Dalí not just by Kings­ley, but by also Ezra Miller, an actor pos­sessed of a phys­i­cal resem­blance to the artist in his youth as well as a pub­lic life seen as scan­dalous and occa­sion­al­ly crim­i­nal.

This choice of cast­ing, with the trou­bled Miller play­ing the young Dalí and the ultra-respectable Kings­ley play­ing the old, reflects a cer­tain intent to cap­ture the dual­i­ty of the char­ac­ter him­self. Kings­ley has spo­ken of devel­op­ing his inter­pre­ta­tion of Dalí “based on his lan­guage; his behav­ior; his taste in love, life, food, wine, and every­thing; and also his dar­ing to break so many rules.”

You can hear him reflect more on the expe­ri­ence in the Dead­line Hol­ly­wood video just below. “I love his work,” he says. “I love his fear­less­ness, and he was exhil­a­rat­ing and exhaust­ing to play, as I antic­i­pat­ed he would be.” He also has high praise for direc­tor Mary Har­ron, who’s known for her adap­ta­tion of Bret Eas­t­on Ellis’ Amer­i­can Psy­cho.

Har­ron’s first fea­ture was I Shot Andy Warhol, about Warhol’s near-mur­der­er Valerie Solanas, and her most recent, Char­lie Says, tells the sto­ry of Leslie Van Houten and the Man­son fam­i­ly. Such pic­tures demon­strate her facil­i­ty with bio­graph­i­cal dra­ma, as well as her invest­ment in the cul­ture of post­war Amer­i­ca and the eccen­tric per­son­al­i­ties that both enlivened and dark­ened it. Dalí­land takes place in the win­ter of 1974, which Dalí and his wife Gala spent at the St. Reg­is Hotel in New York. Its pro­tag­o­nist, a young gallery employ­ee played by Christo­pher Briney, gets pulled into Dalí’s world and becomes respon­si­ble for mak­ing sure the artist has all the work ready for his fast upcom­ing show.

“The film’s sev­en­ties set­ting allows it to be a por­trait of the moment when the art world under­went its tec­ton­ic shift, fus­ing with the mon­ey cul­ture, becom­ing a kind of pig­gy bank for the wealthy,” writes Vari­ety’s Owen Gleiber­man. “Dalí and Gala have, in their way, played into this. They’re exploiters of Dalí’s leg­end who have, in turn, been exploit­ed.” At that time Dalí still had about fif­teen years to go, but Kings­ley sees the peri­od as “pos­si­bly the clos­ing chap­ters of Dalí’s life,” the set­ting of “his com­ing to terms with mor­tal­i­ty, a sub­ject with which he strug­gled dread­ful­ly.” The phe­nom­e­non wit­nessed by Briney’s char­ac­ter, and thus the audi­ence, is “how a genius leaves the world” — and, in this par­tic­u­lar case, leaves it con­sid­er­ably more sur­re­al than he found it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Soft Self-Por­trait of Sal­vador Dalí, Nar­rat­ed by the Great Orson Welles

Two Vin­tage Films by Sal­vador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or

Sir Ben Kings­ley Reads a Let­ter Writ­ten by Gand­hi to Hitler (in the Voice of Mahat­ma Gand­hi)

Sal­vador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Sur­re­al­ism, the Gold­en Ratio & More (1970)

Watch: New Film by Roman Polan­s­ki, Star­ring Hele­na Bon­ham Carter, Sir Ben Kings­ley & Pra­da Shoes

Sal­vador Dalí on What’s My Line?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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