Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Smiley interview: Black Sea

Two of the stars of the new thriller Black Sea chat to us about food, the movie, and - er- their favourite sexual position.

Out in cinemas now is the new thriller from director Kevin MacDonald, Black Sea. We chatted to the director and star, Kevin MacDonald and Jude Law, in an interview that you can find right here. But we also caught some time with co-stars Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Smiley. And here’s how things went.

Be warned: fruity language lies ahead….

You’re now just minutes from the end of a long day of press. What do you wish that you’d been asked today that you haven’t been asked? What great secret of Black Sea has gone undiscovered because everybody just asks the same thing all the time?

Ben Mendelsohn: I would have liked to have been asked ‘What do you want to eat, Mr. Mendelsohn?’

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Michael Smiley: ‘What’s your favourite sexual position, Mr. Smiley?’

So, what is your favourite sexual position, Mr. Smiley?

MS: Watching Ben Mendelsohn eat. There you go, that got the elephant out of the room. Let’s kill that fucking elephant and throw it out of the room.

Did you learn anything from the Russian actors on this film, any of their techniques and processes?

MS: I learned how to swear in Russian, very, very badly. Badly as in you would be thrown out of an airport for it.

BC: Come on then.

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MS: No. I can’t do it.

BM: Have you retained any of it? I can’t remember it.

MS: Yeah…

But there was nothing about their processes you took away?

BM: I think that, at some point or another, you’ve got your thing, if you know what I mean. If you’re not in the bloom of your development years, as it were, then you’re not going to.

You’re in your groove now, basically?

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MS: You don’t go in, as an actor, or I don’t, saying ‘I can’t wait to go on this set so I can nick some people’s acting trick bag.’

We do hear this, sometimes, from people, about how much they learn.

MS: Then I guess that’s for somebody else to talk about. For me, I’m going on to play a character, and I always play that character based on how I imagine they are. That’s the simple process I go through, it’s not very convoluted. I just try imagine who the person is then try to be that person. I don’t use other people, I don’t look at them and think ‘Oh, look at what you did there. I might have a bit of that myself.’ That’s like watching porn for technique. I don’t do that either. Do you do that?

BM: Having the Russian guys around, you really do see the cultural differences in how we approach the work. Those guys spend a lot more time in rehearsal, generally, than we do. There really were two different camps.

MS: In fact, theirs felt a lot more theatrical, like they were coming from a theatre-based approach to acting.

BM: A lot more method-y, a lot more time to talk about stuff. A couple of those guys didn’t speak a lick of English.

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MS: There was a lovely thing in one of the scenes where there was a bit of a stand-off. One of the Russians has to knock another Russian out and we were doing rehearsals and he knocked him over the head, then kissed him on the forehead and laid him out on the floor. It was like an act of brotherhood, it was really beautiful. So afterwards I said ‘Have you worked together before?’ They knew who each other was but they never had worked together, but to make that choice would be something I wouldn’t do as an actor, but that was an instinct for that actor. I thought that was great, something about it that was hands-on but also touching, in a way. Their approach to getting their mojo together was good.

When Kevin first met with you to speak about the film and characters, what did you speak about?

MS: About the film, the character and my Dad, actually. There was quite a coincidence. My father had died five years before Kevin had asked me if I’d be in the film, and I’d written a play about a father and son but didn’t then have the heart to go back to it again. Slowly but surely I was feeding myself back into it, listening to interviews I had done with my Dad, and that day I got the phone call. I went and met Kevin the next day, with my Dad at the front of my mind, so when he said it was a submarine drama I said, “You’re not going to believe this but my dad was a submariner.” We talked a lot about that.

Did you tap into real life experience at all, Ben? Are you more on the Dustin Hoffman or Larry Olivier side of things?

BM: There’s room for both and I don’t think you have to choose. Acting is broad enough a church that you can pick your races, decide which way you want to go at different times. I think that the story and circumstance tends to dictate the most and then what you do with your own approach after that… look, here’s the thing. If I go to a restaurant, I don’t give a fuck how the chef has cooked the food, I just want a good meal. That’s how it is in acting. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what someone does to prepare for a role, not one way or the other – that’s me talking as a viewer, not as another actor. All I want to see is something that works for me. I think that there’s something about lifting up the curtain and looking behind it that diminishes things.

So when I walk into your kitchen and ask how you made the meal you’d rather not tell me?

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BM: I’d say go sit down out front, Sir, and I’ll prepare something for you and bring it out.

MS: “Who let this c-nt in my kitchen?!”

BM: If you’re doing a cooking show, then this is all well and very good, otherwise, no.

MS: “Get out of my fucking kitchen or I’ll set the dogs on you, you shit!”

BM: All I’m saying is that, for me, I just want to enjoy films. I’m not terribly concerned with how somebody approaches it.

MS: Just as long as they didn’t piss in the soup.

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Thank you very much, Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Smiley.

Black Sea is out in the UK now.

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