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February 16, 2024 9 min read

For me, the movie was about a man's lifelong search to find peace for himself”: The actor talks bob Marley: one love


Cast by Bob Marley’s family to embody the reggae icon on the big screen, the 38-year-old was given unprecedented access to private interview recordings and the personal memories of those closest to him. As One Love hits screens, he's bringing that untold story of an icon to the world.


Jumper GIVENCHY, shirt AMI, necklace CARTIER, jeans GIVENCHY


“We all think we know Bob because we know his music. But looking back now, before I started, I really didn’t know anything at all,” Kingsley Ben-Adir tells me as we sit down to talk at London’s Corinthia Hotel in December, two months before the release of Bob Marley: One Love. “And what I found out was game-changing.”

When Ben-Adir first got the call about potentially starring in the biopic that charts a pivotal moment in the story of the greatest reggae artist of all time, his mind raced with all of the reasons it wouldn’t work. Their differences in height, for example, or the fact that he was neither a singer nor a dancer. “I looked at the scenes and I said no,” he tells me now, nine months after filming wrapped on the project, primed to be one of the box-office runaways of the year. He sits against the contrasting backdrop of ornate fixtures and One Love posters in the suite-turned-interview room in which I find him. There’s a dense junket day ahead, but his reflections on his time spent making his biggest project to date unfurl with ease. “I said, ‘[the role’s] not for me,’” he continues. “I don't think it's right. I can't sing, can't dance. I don't look like Bob. He's five foot seven, I'm six foot two.”

Cinema’s certainly had no dearth of music industry re-tellings in recent years, but One Love emerges in a world of its own. The project, directed by Reinaldo Green (King Richard) focuses on the star’s nuanced journey creating Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ninth studio album Exodus, a time between an assassination attempt and his ascent to the next rung of record-breaking global stardom, between growing up in the throws of a civil war and finding a space of solace and safety in his craft. Selecting the actor to be tasked with documenting such a seismic time in Marley and, in turn, music’s history required the utmost precision, something the significant involvement of Marley’s family undoubtedly aided – his widow Rita and son Ziggy were both producers.

“I found out that the Marleys were going to be a part of the casting and that if I put something on tape, they would watch it straight away,” Ben-Adir explains. “So I sent a tape of Bob in the studio, and they all approved. I got a call saying that Ziggy wanted me to fly out and spend time with the family, so I went and spent just under a week with him and his kids. And he just looked at me and said, ‘You can do it.’” With the family’s co-sign in his possession, jumping in headfirst seemed like the only viable next step. “I couldn't say no, in a way. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend a year and a half getting to know Bob? Spending time with the music, with the support of the family…?” His previous qualms dissipated. “I made peace with the fact that no one really knows how tall Bob was. He's just big. Bob's just big in life.” And he signed on.

Getting into the mind of any character is a daunting task, but when said character is immortalised in music history, the accompanying challenges, one would imagine, would proliferate. However, between appearances as Malcolm X in Regina King’s One Night in Miami and as Barack Obama in Billy Ray’s political mini-series The Comey Rule, Ben-Adir had form on re-acquainting audiences with history’s most renowned. “The experience of playing Malcolm gave me a kind of insight into what it's like to be in a situation where you're playing someone who means so much to so many people,” he says. “It is kind of pressured, but I turn the volume down on that [pressure] straight away.”

Instead, in many ways, the key is looking past the real-life context, approaching it in the same way he might with purely fictionalised roles, such as Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie or Gravik, a reptilian humanoid in Marvel series, Secret Invasion. “As long as there's enough time and I feel like I can put the best version of what I can do forward, then I can minimise the worry about what people are going to think. You just get busy with the work.”

“I think the only thing that's different about playing people who really existed or people who mean so much to so many people is that there's a technical thing where you actually have to pay attention to how they spoke and how they moved physically. But other than that, [in any character] you're trying to get to the bottom of or make a decision about their hopes, fears and dreams.”



Achieving that technical feat of embodying Marley in granular detail was the result of an exhaustive “talking and listening and research” process, Ben-Adir says. It saw him privy to a catalogue of archival recordings of Marley, unseen or heard by the rest of the world. Prior to the four-month shoot, immediately after he signed on, Marley’s daughter Cedella sent him a file of unreleased interviews of her father, including hours of footage of him talking freely to journalists. “I had this huge document of Bob speak which I started transcribing from the moment I got the job. I was doing it throughout Barbie and it went on all the way until the end [of filming],” he explains. Understanding it all wasn’t a given, however. “[Jamaican] Patois is not a dialect. And I think possibly the studio and everyone involved who wasn't Jamaican thought that it was going to be just learning a dialect like a regional accent.” They quickly realised this wasn’t the case. “It was much more complicated than that. It almost may as well have been French.”

With the help of Jamaican friends and experts, he broke down each interview one by one to better understand Marley — what he was saying, how he was saying it and all the subtext in between. “I got [the interviews] typed up and eventually translated them into a phonetic language where I was able to understand exactly what he was saying word for word. And then how he pronounced everything word for word.”

“The process of that over months and months and months meant that I was just really digesting and absorbing all of the things that Bob was saying. It helped me to understand him on a much more human level. He was saying his point of view, his hopes, his fears, his dreams. They all come out in these interviews. I was able to improvise when I got to set because I turned up on the first day and I had 150 pages of Bob speak already in me.”

From there, the second part of his process was gathering Marley’s story from the perspective of those around the icon — talking to family members and professional collaborators. He also spoke to trauma specialists to gain insight into his internal monologue and psyche while creating Exodus. “I had the luxury of having the family and all of Bob's close friends. I mean, I had access to everyone. Everyone who knew him and who loved him and who was connected to him. And also people who just worked with him on a more professional level, who had much more of an objectivity in a way. Everyone's got different stories.” He pauses, really emphasising how much of a rarity that level of access is. “On day one, we were about to shoot the first scene, and his son was there. His daughter was there. His best friend was there. Another one of his kids was there. I mean, I don't know how many of the Marleys were there, but they were all behind the camera.”

Did having loved ones present who were by Marley’s side in those more turbulent moments add yet further emotional magnitude to Ben-Adir’s performance? And, surely an acute level of pressure? “There was one scene in the hospital, in the doctor's office, where I don't know what happened,” he explains. “It felt like Bob was there or I just felt like I suddenly realised that he was in that situation and what it must've felt like. And I think I felt the pain of that because his son was watching me and I was like, ‘Wow, you went through this.'”

“Creatively, it was a pressured situation. It was about trying to find him in a way that wasn't mimicking him or doing an impersonation but just trying to find the essence of how Bob would have been in each one of those scenes. It’s trying to find an understanding of the kind of pressure he was under and trying to tap into some sort of vulnerability and him on a human level.”

Grasping the trauma that the family went through, and that Marley himself endured, was paramount for Ben-Adir. It also informed reflections on his own life outlook in the process. “My understanding of where we meet him at the start of the film caused me to think in a really serious way about safety and an internal sense of peace and self-love,” he tells me, referencing the trauma of the assassination attempt and Marley’s upbringing during the civil war in Jamaica. “All of the external themes, like spreading unity and love, but on a more internal level, like what does it mean to feel like you're not safe? What does it mean to feel like your people don't love you? What does it mean to feel on guard?”

“And to meet Bob there, you really have to check yourself and where you stand with all of those things personally. Normalising behaviours or violence or anything dysfunctional when it's been part of your childhood is survival.” He thought a lot about the undiagnosed Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Marley is thought to have suffered from. The condition, in contrast to PTSD, relates to a series of traumatic events over time, rather than one particular instance. “My understanding is that, if you're in a car crash and you see something horrific, that that's a traumatic incident, but complex trauma has much more to do with repetitive behaviours throughout your childhood or things you've gotten used to that have caused you to react in ways that aren't helpful to your day-to-day life. And I think wherever there's violence... I mean, I grew up around Kentish Town and I know that a lot of people that I went to school with are definitely undiagnosed with Complex PTSD.”

After Marley’s assassination attempt, he experienced a vast flow of musical creativity. “He went and created one of the greatest albums of all time, within six fucking weeks.” Ben-Adir pauses, contemplating the implications. “I feel like Bob had music and he found God and those were his places of safety. Those were the places that made him feel like it was going to be okay. I really checked in with everyone around me who knew Bob just to make sure that grounding in that psychology was right. And I think it was.”

“And Bob says it, you know? The more I listened to him and the more I understood, the more I heard him talking about suffering and struggle and how self-care and self-protection and self-love are so important. For me, the movie was always about a man's lifelong search to find peace for himself.”

If Marley had music, Ben-Adir has film. “I didn’t even realise it, but I bury myself in the work sometimes to feel like I’m going to be okay. It forced me to have to think about the way that I work and when it's healthy and when it's not. I definitely got to the end of this job — even though I loved every minute of it and I wouldn't change anything about it — with a strong feeling that I couldn't do that three times a year. So it was about taking care of myself.”

Looking back on his time with the Marley family – the hours and hours of research and transcriptions, filming in Jamaica and stepping into a role that will continue the legacy of Marley and contribute significantly to his own – Ben-Adir’s primary hope is for people to understand Bob Marley as he’d like to be remembered. “Bob's music will live on whether this film comes out or not, but I hope the film maybe sheds some light or reignites an interest in the lyrical content specifically, what he's actually saying, and that that will cause people to go back and really check in with Bob's music.”

“What do you think?” He asks me as we start to wrap up our conversation, interested in my perceptions of Marley as someone in my mid-20s. “Do you think there's a curiosity around him as a character, in your generation? Do young people pay for tickets to go to the cinema?” The flipping of the tables prompts a pause from me, taking in Ben-Adir’s genuine and strong care for how the film will connect. “There is curiosity, for sure”, I reply, although I don’t think many people know a story like the one Ben-Adir and the film uncovers. He nods.

“There's a lot of people who don't know much about Bob's life or who he was as a person but feel like they know him through his music. You think you know him, you feel connected to him because you’ve grown up with him.” He smiles. “Then you dive in and it keeps unravelling.”

Bob Marley: One Love is out in cinemas now


Interview taken from Man About Town Spring/Summer 2024.

Photography by Bex Aston
Styling by Martin Metcalf
Words by Sophie Wang
Grooming by Liz Taw at The Wall Group
Editorial Director Charlotte Morton
Editor Andrew Wright
Creative Director Jeffrey Thomson
Art Director Michael Morton
Production Director Ben Crank
Production Assistant Lola Randall
Photography assistant and videographer Nick Radley
Photography assistant Joshua Hippolyte
Fashion assistant Sabrina Leina


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