“When I was 15, the idea of acting as a job was completely far-fetched” — Kingsley Ben-Adir breaks through

The winner of the Trophée Chopard 2021 talks privacy, winging it — and childhood spiders

Before he started covering magazines, playing world leaders such as Obama and Malcolm X, starring in everything from Peaky Blinders to Marvel’s next big TV series and being nominated for a BAFTA, Kingsley Ben-Adir had made a local name for himself for something a little more peculiar than acting.

At nine years old, he received 15 riot policemen and the fire brigade at his home in Kentish Town, after they had been tipped off by terrified locals that a “bird-eating spider” had been let loose and was on the run. The tarantula, named Charlotte, was in fact Ben-Adir’s pet, and once found, was whisked up to the London Zoo, where Ben-Adir’s mother duly collected it the next morning, while her son’s face beamed off the front page of the Camden New Journal.

“I only saw it eat locusts to be fair,” laughs the 35-year-old actor over Zoom, his six-foot-three frame elegantly suited in all-white Brunello Cucinelli finished with a Chopard L.U.C Perpetual Chrono. Fresh from a morning dip in the Mediterranean, he’s sitting on a rooftop in sunny Cannes, having just been awarded the prestigious Trophée Chopard for rising talent alongside Jessie Buckley. Previous recipients include Marion Cotillard and Florence Pugh, who both went on to win Oscars just a couple of years later.

Ben-Adir on the red carpet at the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival, wearing tuxedo, shirt and accessories by Brunello Cucinelli (Photo by Dominique Charriau)

In fact, the star has already been at the centre of serious Oscar buzz himself — after his breakout film One Night in Miami, in which he plays Malcolm X, became one of the most admired films of 2020. Directed by Regina King and adapted from a play by Kemp Powers (who co-directed Pixar’s Soul), it imagines the conversation that might have happened in a Miami hotel room between Cassius Clay, NFL star Jim Brown and soul singer Sam Cooke on the night of Clay’s unexpected victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on 25 February 1964. 

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