The 34-year-old actor stars in One Night in Miami as the American civil rights activist — who was assassinated in 1965 at the age of 39 — and admits that he felt privileged to play a man he described as a “bona fide intellectual genius.”
Ben-Adir said: “My feeling is that he’s a bona fide intellectual genius. It’s an honor to get to play a man who means so much to so many people. This is a man who put the fear of God into White America – he demanded respect.”
Malcolm X has previously been played on screen by Morgan Freeman in TV movie Death of a Prophet and by Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic Malcolm X, but Ben-Adir felt he could bring a fresh take to the part in the film, which imagines a meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke at a Miami hotel room in 1964.
He told The I newspaper: “This was a different Malcolm. Malcolm is such a fearless hero to everyone. That is kind of dangerous. Here, we are exploring a man who must have been scared. His life was in danger.”
The movie marks Regina King‘s feature directorial debut, and Ben-Adir admits that he loved working with the Oscar-winning actress because she reaffirmed all his opinions about her as a talent.
He said: “Coming into this I had a huge belief that her understanding of the acting process was profound. And I was right. Regina was so calm, so gentle, but so f—ing direct.”
The British actor’s casting in the movie was recently defended by King, who explained that she cast Ben-Adir because she thought he was the best actor in the role.
Speaking to Reggie Yates during a BAFTA masterclass, King said: “In my opinion, I feel like the best actor for the role should play the part; the actor that truly understands the role that they’re playing.”