Kingsley Ben-Adir's Dialect Coach Fae Ellington Says No Jamaican Actor Could Have Played Bob Marley “At This Time”

Jamaican broadcaster and university lecturer Fae Ellington says British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir was the ideal person to play the lead role in the Bob Marley: One Love biopic and that there’s no Jamaican actor who could have played the role “at this time.”

Ellington — who served as a dialect coach to Ben Adir in preparation for and during the filming of the biopic — made her stance clear during an interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on the “All Angles” program on Television Jamaica on Wednesday night, noting too that the Briton did well in his use of Patois.

“And I want to say something right here now and people may not understand what I am going to say, and they will carry on: there’s no actor in Jamaica who could have played that role, at this time.  Let me say that.  Bob died at 36….  This young man is close to Bob’s age,” Ellington began.

“Then people say, why couldn’t one of his sons or grandsons do it?  The producers of this movie – Rita Marley, Cedella Marley, Ziggy Marley – so they would know what their family members can or cannot do, or what the industry, after dem discuss it,” she added.

Continued Ellington: “Secondly, there is a thing called: you need a name in the industry to help sell the product.  It’s a biopic, so there has to be a close resemblance and somebody who understands industry and that you goin have seven take, or 21 take, or to go back three months later and do ova suppm”.

When Ben-Adir was cast for the role, many Jamaicans complained that he, not being a native Patois speaker, would “butcher” the Jamaican vernacular.

However, during the interview, Ellington explained that when she was “first approached to be a part of the project, she had recommended that the producers first “speak with the Jamaican language unit at the University of the West Indies.”

Consequently, she said a British Jamaican was also co-opted to work with Kingsley with respect to his speech and that she used the technique for presenting the Jamaican language in writing, which was developed by Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy in 1961 to ensure Ben-Adir was able to get the speech patterns correct.

“She learnt it and she taught it to Kingsley, so he was able to read it – the proper, proper writing as (Linguistics Professor) Carolyn Cooper would call it – but, of course there is something called the lived experience – to fine-tune certain sounds and certain tones and certain pitches and certain phrases even,” Ellington explained.

Ellington also praised Ben Adir for his performance as lead actor, noting that not only did he grasp the use of Patois, but he also exercised humility and emotional intelligence during the experience, which she described as a team effort.

“Different actors have different abilities.  Some are just excellent with accents.  This young man… he has emotional intelligence about his craft.  He not only watched hours and hours and hours of Marley interviews, but he was prepared to be guided… and he was so open and willing.  Him willing fi learn an him listen…,” she stated.

“With talent you have to have training and you have to have application.  With application you have to bring in all of those elements that can help you achieve what you want to achieve,” the Media and Communication lecturer said.

According to her, the film crew and other members of the project all worked as a close, dedicated unit to ensure all went well, noting that any doubts evaporated as soon as the creation of the biopic got going.

“There was care and thought put into this thing and anybody who said there were outsiders initially, for whatever reason, it quickly dissipated, and you realise you are on one path here and you have to honour an icon and do it in a way that is respectable, authentic, true and honest,” Ellington said.

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