Kingsley Ben-Adir Says He Recruited Jamaicans To Help Him Learn Patois For Bob Marley Biopic

British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir says he sought the help of Jamaicans while learning to speak Patois in preparation for his lead role in the upcoming Bob Marley: One Love biopic.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ben-Adir said that in preparation for the role as the Reggae legend, he had “pored over more than 50 rare archival Marley interviews to absorb as much of his Jamaican Patois as he could” and transcribed “every single one over the course of several months.”

“I recruited Jamaicans to come to my house to help me translate the bits I didn’t understand, and we ended up with this document that was hundreds of pages of Bob speak, written out phonetically,” Ben-Adir told the publication.

According to EW, Ben-Adir had learnt to sing and play the guitar for the role and performed all of the songs with his own voice during filming, which he admitted was “not necessarily well all of the time”.

“I butchered a lot of people’s ears for many days,” he said.

On Tuesday, Paramount Pictures premiered the official trailer for the film, which is slated to be released on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2024.  So far, the trailer has racked up more than five million views on YouTube.

In February last year, many Jamaicans expressed outrage that the British actor had been picked to play the role of Bob Marley in the biopic.

In proffering their arguments, they had declared that Ben-Adir, son of a white English father and a mother whose parents were from Trinidad and Tobago, would not be able to master the Patois language.   

They had contended further that he would sound comical, as has been the case with the long list of acclaimed foreign actors who attempted to play roles as Jamaicans, among them American actor Taye Diggs in How Stella Got her Groove Back.

Many Reggae lovers had also contended that as a foreigner, no matter how hard he tries, Ben-Adir would not be able to portray the nuances and mannerisms of Jamaicans effectively and that numerous competent Jamaican actors could play the role of the Small Axe singer, who died in 1981 at age 36.

Among the other central bones of contention was the argument that Bob would not want a “fake Rasta” wearing a wig or extensions representing him and that one of his many sons or grandsons, ought to have been selected, including his son Ky-Mani Marley, who had said that playing the role of Bob was his dream.

Others said they would not be watching a British national pretending to be Jamaica’s most revered son and that “a proper Jamaican was needed to play a Bob Marley role” as they had no desire to listen to a foreigner “fake a Jamaican accent for two hours.”

Some critics said Paramount and executive producer Ziggy Marley ought to have ruled out Ben-Adir, as his feigning being a native Patois speaker would be a distraction, which would be immediately picked up even by non-Jamaicans.

Lashana Lynch and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Rita and Bob Marley in the ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ film. Photo credit: CHIABELLA JAMES/PARAMOUNT

However, film director Reinaldo Marcus Green, who also directed the movie King Richard, had said the Brits’ ability to act was all that mattered.  Green said he was “blown away” by the actor’s audition tape, which he described as “exquisite.”

During the Entertainment Weekly interview, Ben-Adir also said that initially, he was petrified about playing the role of Marley.

“There were a lot of reservations.  I was completely convinced that there’s no point in auditioning for this. I can’t sing. I can’t dance,” he told Entertainment Weekly.

“My question was if they’d been on a worldwide search and they said yes. And I said maybe they should go on another one,” he added.

EW reported that “the role kept coming back” to Ben-Adir, who eventually “surrendered to assembling an audition tape” where he first spent a weekend studying Bob’s performances “and becoming particularly “obsessed” with his 1977 performance of “War” at London’s Rainbow Theater.”

According to the article, the final cut blends his voice with Marley’s archival recordings.

“Bob’s not someone you can choreograph or copy.  His singing and dancing is from an internal experience, so you really have to find your own version of that for yourself,” Ben-Adir is quoted as saying.

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