Kingsley Ben-Adir was hesitant to take on the intimidating role of reggae icon Bob Marley, which he likens to “diving into a very lonely place.”
The Bob Marley biopic has wrapped, and fans are now waiting eagerly for its arrival in theatres next February. The English actor who plays the leading role, Kingsley Ben-Adir, though possessing a rather stellar track record for portraying some of the greats, was still daunted by the task of playing the reggae legend and basically refused until he eventually succumbed to the call to enlist him after the Marley family’s high pursuit.
Ben-Adir was approached by the late reggae icon’s son, Ziggy Marley, to play the role of his famous departed father. In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor admitted that he was reluctant to accept the role, seeing that his curriculum vitae was devoid of any singing or dance training or experience. “There were a lot of reservations,” the 37-year-old actor told the publication. “I was completely convinced that there’s no point in auditioning for this. I can’t sing. I can’t dance.”
Kingsley Ben-Adir went as far as to admit that he initially told members of the Marley family, otherwise known as the producers, to keep looking when they tapped him for the role. He quipped, “My question was if they’d been on a worldwide search, and they said yes. And I said maybe they should go on another one.”
However, Ziggy Marley and the gang were set on having Kingsley portray their dad in the biographical film. After all, he made quite an impression in his prior work, where he had already played the likes of Barack Obama and Malcolm X on the big screen. With some encouragement from Bob Marley’s offspring, Ben-Adir eventually decided to take on the monumental task of playing the one and only reggae legend.
The actor learned to sing and dance for the high-profile role but revealed that it was not always on point as he performed the songs with his own voice during filming. “Not necessarily well all of the time,” he admitted. “I butchered a lot of people’s ears for many days.” Luckily, in post-production, Ben-Adir’s voice gets blended with Marley’s previous recordings, so the singing in the final cut should be sublime.
However, in studying Bob Marley’s likeness and life, the actor quickly realized that he was full of original flair, and it’s not something one can easily mimic. “Bob’s not someone you can choreograph or copy,” Ben-Adir explains. “His singing and dancing is from an internal experience, so you really have to find your own version of that for yourself.”
“The more I dug into Bob, the more I realized that music was really everything to him. It really saved him, and he separated himself from other artists around that time,” he added.
Bob Marley: One Love comes to theaters in February 2024, the month the late icon would have turned 79 years old. Directed by King Richard’s very own Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film, which is based on a true story, touches on a range of Bob Marley’s life experiences, including the assassination attempt on his life in 1976 that was widely believed to thwart his effort to bring Jamaica’s two major political parties together in unity and peace during a time of turmoil and as his song is entitled, “war.”
Speaking of that song title, Ben-Adir says he became particularly “obsessed” with Bob’s rendition of the track during a live performance at London’s Rainbow Theater in 1977. In the biopic, it all leads up to Marley’s historic April 1978 performance at the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, Jamaica. This is where he brought the two political parties together, championed peace, and endeavored to put an end to the war.
During prep season, Kingsley Ben-Adir says he summoned Jamaicans to his home to help him with his Jamaican patois. He also admitted to setting up a “Bob station” on the set of the Greta Gerwig-directed Barbie movie in 2022, where he played the role of Ken – at least one of many. “I recruited Jamaicans to come to my house to help me translate the bits I didn’t understand, and we ended up with this document that was hundreds of pages of Bob speak, written out phonetically,” recalled Ben-Adir.
He continued: “I actually set up a Bob station in Barbie Land,” he said. “There was a point where I thought we were starting sooner than we were, so I told Greta that once we finished the scene, I needed to go back to the trailer. So, I’d do a take and then run to the Bob station and transcribe. The overlap was interesting.”
The UK actor spoke briefly about the juxtaposition of that light-hearted role and playing Bob Marley. On the stark contrast between the two films, the actor said, “It was wonderful to have such a positive acting experience before diving into a very lonely place.”