By Ed Symkus
More Content Now

Getting the instantly recognizable, oh-so-sophisticated voice of Sir Ben Kingsley to speak for the part of a venomous villain in an animated feature is certainly no stretch of an idea. But getting the great actor to take on a second role, the cross-dressing, falsetto-voiced, man-chasing alter ego of the same character, now that’s something interesting. Kingsley gives everything he’s got, and that’s plenty, for both parts – the big-bellied, Fagin-like, society wannabe Archibald Snatcher and the gaudy Madame Frou Frou – in the delightful and creepy stop-motion feature “The Boxtrolls.” Kingsley recently spoke about the roles in Los Angeles.

Q. Introduce us to Archibald Snatcher.

A. He’s ambition, he’s pride, he’s vanity, he’s delusion, he’s addicted to power, he’s socially inept, and he is a man who is ill-equipped to deal with rejection. He’s, in terms of rejection, like Iago in “Othello” or [my character] Don Logan in “Sexy Beast,” where Don Logan insists on being included, but he keeps on being told he won’t be included. In a really great story, you have to find the character, then imagine what the worst thing you can do to this guy is.

Q. Is it very liberating to play an animated character?

A. It’s COMPLETELY liberating! When I’m in a live-action film, involving other actors, and it’s a narrative story, then I know that I have three things: my voice, my body, and my imagination. I have those three things to pour into the performance. Here, I have my voice and my imagination. My body can’t come into it. In all the live-action films I attempt, there’s a way that a man carries himself that’s vital. Here, I handed it all over to the animators. I had no control whatsoever, and I let go of it gladly. Because then, it freed my voice totally. Nothing I could do with my body would contradict my voice, it would all be added to by the animators, so it was very freeing.

Q. There’s a story going around that you actually did your part lying down.

A. That’s right. When I was in the small recording studio, I got stiller and stiller and stiller. I didn’t move, and eventually I was lying down, I was so still. It was a strange exercise.

Q. But what was the point of lying down?

A. When you have a really exaggerated pot belly, your voice comes from a different place. I could hear the voice in my head because I know a delightful, lovely guy from London who is that shape. And I wanted the voice to sound like ... he who will not be named. Within seconds of arriving at the studio, I tried it standing up, but I thought it was a bit thin. So I tried it sitting down, and I said you know what, I’m gonna have to lie down. I did, and it came from exactly the right place. Also, lying down stopped me from making physical gestures. We tend when we talk, to add and augment and do things with our bodies to underline what we’re saying. But the animators aren’t interested in that; they just want to hear. So the stiller and more relaxed my body was, then it all started to come through the voice.

Q. So how do you find the voice for Madame Frou Frou?

A. (in a falsetto) Well, that was quite easy, darling. I can switch it on and off!

Q. When you read the script and found the duality of the character, did that attract you?

A. It’s not about me, it’s about the character. What clues do I get from the fact that he will go to such lengths to join a man’s club that he will dress up as a woman and start seducing the men? In order to get in the club, are there no limits to this man’s corrosive ambition? You’ve gotta have that engine to drive the character. It can’t be about me having fun.

Q. You recorded your parts a long time ago. Were you surprised by the look of the film when you finally saw it?

A. The wonderful team of characters I had around me – my three stooges ... those scenes look as if they’d been brilliantly choreographed and directed, and that we each have a microphone. But we [actors] never even met. It looks and sounds as if there are four guys, all having a great time in the studio together, but no, never met them. Look at the dynamic, look at the relationships, look at the rhythm. And we were all in separate compartments. It’s extraordinary!

“The Boxtrolls” opens on Sept. 26.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.