The Kite Runner: An interview with Ben TurnerCultureTheatre
Star of the remarkable play The Kite Runner, British/Iranian actor Ben Turner is a graduate of Dulwich College and the Guildhall School. Well known as Jay Faldren in the series Casualty, his impressive list of credits in theatre, film, television and radio includes TV roles such as King Louis in Dr Who and Adrian Quinlan in EastEnders; and films such as 300: Rise of an Empire, The Fifth Estate, and Adulthood. Ben first appeared as Amir in the European premiere of The Kite Runner in 2013 at Nottingham Playhouse. The production was so successful that it returned for a UK tour in 2014 and debuted in the West end in 2016. The Kite Runner is at Wyndham’s Theatre until 11th March.
Hello Ben, thank you for speaking with us. The Kite Runner is unique, poignant, beautiful and timely. Do you think it has an important message to impart?
Ben Turner: The message in The Kite Runner is very important, now more than ever. It brings to light the plight of refugees, it shows Afghanistan in its glory days, it deals with Taliban and Afghanistan’s relationship with America. But ultimately it’s about a family so it humanises all of these issues. I think that’s important because it means we are able to relate to it.
What initially intrigued you about the role of Amir?
Amir is one of the biggest most challenging roles out there. I knew the story and how powerful it was and once I read the script I knew it was something I had to do. Parts like this don’t come along often.
You play Amir as a boy and as a man, as well as narrator, which must be remarkably demanding as you are on stage for most of the two-and-a-half hour show. Do you find this kind of challenge motivating?
I think as an actor you always want to challenge yourself, to push yourself and to learn. I hope that’s something that will continue throughout my career and indeed my life. Yes, I’d say I do find it motivating. You need a lot of focus for this kind of part, both on and offstage.
From reading comments you have made about the UK tour of The Kite Runner one can see you love portraying Amir. How has your relationship with this character evolved since you first took on the part?
It’s a great thing to be able to live with a character for a few years as you can put into practice the benefit of hindsight. A lot of times when you’re working on something so intensely you lose your sense of perspective. So to be able do have some distance from a part or a play and then return to it with a fresh pair of eyes is a real gift. I guess as I’ve got older the part has too, so I’m able to draw on more of my own life experiences. Having lived with him for over four years now he has very much become a part of me.
This piece is very much a tear-jerker. Are you and the other actors emotionally affected by it?
I’d say most nights we are very affected by it. There’s something incredibly raw about the material and the response we get from the audience is incredibly moving. The more I’ve done it the more I’ve learned to control the emotional journey. He has a story to tell so he can’t get too wrapped up in the individual moments. Most nights I’m telling myself to push on through.
You have said that when you read the original book of The Kite Runner you disliked Amir, and that this inspired you. Did you find a way to sympathise with him? If so, what do you like about him?
Yes I did dislike this character when I first read the book and it was hard to find an angle that I liked. I knew it would be difficult and that inspired me to want to try and get under his skin. I guess as time has passed I’ve learned to accept his flaws and have warmed to him. We all make mistakes and we all deserve a chance at redemption and actually he is brave, brave enough to finally stand up and tell his story. I think he is the victim of many circumstances that were out of his control. Not that he is completely blame free, but he was only a kid and wasn’t strong enough at that time to find a way out.
Was there one role that you particularly loved performing besides this one, or one that was most memorable? If so why?
It’s hard to say. Most roles I’ve played on stage I’ve enjoyed. Amir is definitely special but if I had to pick another I’d say Achilles in the Iliad. It was great to play a born warrior and get in the world of Greek Mythology.
How much of you is in your characters? How similar or different are you from Amir, Casualty‘s Jay Faldren, General Artaphernes in 300: Rise of an Empire, or others?
I’d say all the parts you play as an actor have something of you in them. I’m not really a character actor so my starting place when working on a part is to find something I have in common and then build it from there.
You have stated that you did not like the film version of The Kite Runner. What did you dislike about it?
The Kite Runner film was not for me, mainly because I know the world of the book, which is so rich and dense in its detail. I guess in the movie world you have to cut corners to make it fit movie-making parameters and I feel the story suffers as a result. Maybe if I saw the film first it would be different. I know many people love it so no disrespect meant.
Do you use any particular techniques to prepare for a show? How do you prepare to play Amir?
Looking back, I’d say the first time I prepared Amir it was all about line learning. Many a late night I sat up in the kitchen reading and repeating. The second was more about getting more colour into his journey and governing the emotional content. And this last time was all about detail. It’s been a privilege to be able to work on it in this way.
Describe your experience of performing before London audiences compared to others. Do you find any difference in crowd reaction?
London is a tough crowd no doubt about it. The West End is full of theatre so I feel like they’re spoilt for choice and come expecting something special. Luckily we’ve been having an amazing response so far but I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of an unhappy London audience. Actually, I have been in the past and it’s not fun!
You’ve expressed an affection for old theatres like the Wyndham’s and intimate pub theatres like the King’s Head. Is theatre your first love?
I love old theatres. They have a magical quality to them and the Wyndham’s is one of the best. I fell in love with the theatre through my Dad who was at the RSC for many years when I was a boy. I used to spend long summers with him in Stratford-Upon-Avon and knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do more film and TV, but I will always return to the stage.
What do you enjoy most about acting?
I love acting because it’s the ancient art of storytelling. People have been sitting round camp fires telling stories to each other as long as we’ve been walking the earth. I feel that what we do is simply an extension of that.
Besides your work what is important to you?
Work is incredibly important to me but so is life. I’m determined to live a healthy balance of the two.
If you were not an actor what would you be doing?
I was offered an apprenticeship once as a ranger on a game reserve in South Africa that I visited. It was a small local-run business and it was a stunning place. I have to say I was very tempted.
Do you have plans for future projects you’d like to share?
I have a film coming out this year at some point. It’s called 6 Days with Mark Strong and Jamie Bell. I play the bad guy. Although, similar to Amir, I think he’s just misunderstood.
Again, thanks so much for your time.
Photos: Robert Workman
The Kite Runner is at Wyndham’s Theatre from 21st December 2016 until 11th March 2017. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for The Kite Runner here: