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‘Thank *** I asked for a singing teacher!’: Kingsley Ben-Adir on bringing Bob Marley to life

It was always going to be a dream gig. Here, the actor talks about perfecting his patois, the power of authenticity and what he learned working on the Barbie setAfter about an hour chatting with me – we are in a pub near his home in the London suburbs – the actor Kingsley Ben-Adir’s thoughts turn to some tricky work he has ahead of him this afternoon. The 37-year-old is due in a studio in town, where he’ll record some last pieces of dialogue for the new biopic Bob Marley: One Love, which is scheduled to come out on Valentine’s Day weekend. Ben-Adir plays Marley in the movie. It’s a huge opportunity for him, after a career of solid supporting work, most recently in Barbie (he was one of the dimmer Kens), the Marvel show Secret Invasion (he was an alien terrorist) and One Night in Miami (he was Malcolm X). Ben-Adir made a cameo as Barack Obama, a few years ago, in the HBO drama The Comey Rule. But successfully imitating a Jamaican icon, capturing all of Marley’s strange magnetism, that muttered beautiful music of his patois? “Hard, ******* hard,” the actor says.

You understand why a casting director once hired him to be Obama. Ben-Adir has the same slender grace, a similarly immaculate, infectious smile that’s quick to show. He is dressed today in black, nothing too eye-catching except a pale red beanie that he fiddles with as he talks, rolling it way back on his head, tucking it over one ear, dragging it almost to his eyebrows. Slyly vaping out of sight of the pub’s staff, warming up for his afternoon recording session, he runs a few lines of dialogue from Bob Marley: One Love. Like a tennis player loosening up or a chorister running scales, Ben-Adir gets better and better at conjuring Marley for me. The performance is uncannily good. But, after all, he has put in the time.

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