The director of the new Bob Marley film casts an actor without musical training | Bob Marley

He was the king of reggae, a giant of Jamaican music whose life was cut short in 1981, aged just 36. Now, Bob Marley will be celebrated on the big screen with a film that will be shot this fall in London and Jamaica.

Kingsley Ben-Adir, a rising star in British cinema and theatre, whose previous roles include Malcolm X in One night in Miamiwill play Marley in the Paramount movie.

The director who chose him is Reinaldo Marcus Green, after the success of his debut as a director in the studio, King Richard, in which Will Smith played Richard Williams, who coached his daughters Venus and Serena to become tennis superstars. It received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, with a Best Actor win for Smith.

Green told the Observer that in the casting of Marley, he chose an actor rather than a musician: “I was more interested in his acting. The same way I approached King Richardthe two young actresses who play Venus and Serena [Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton] had no athletic ability. It’s about being great actors and then practicing.

Ben-Adir, among the nominees for the 2021 Baftas rising star award, also played Colonel Ben Younger on the BBC show Peaky Blinders.

Bob Marley, in a 1977 portrait for Observer magazine. Photography: David Newell Smith/The Observer

Green said: “I was blown away by his audition tape. It was exquisite. I went back to see his other work and realized what a strong performer he was.

Marley, born to a black mother and white father, rose out of poverty, beginning his singing career in the 1960s with vocal group the Wailers and becoming one of the best-selling artists of all time. . Poverty and oppression, along with dignity and hope, were among the themes of enduring hits, including Get Up, Stand Up; No woman No Cry; and may you be loved. His spiritual beliefs in the Jamaican Rastafari religious movement inspired him to advocate for the poor and dispossessed.

Green said Ben-Adir is also mixed-race, sharing “core characteristics that are so important in casting”: “Then it’s about performances and ideas. He will never be able to play as Bob during the time he has to prepare for the role. But he can immerse himself in the world of Bob and the people around him, understanding everything from how to hold the guitar to what it’s like to be a musician.

“At this time, we don’t know how many Kingsley will actually sing. There may be a combination of real vocals and real songs. You can’t impersonate Bob Marley. You have to have an essence of who he was.

He added that in addition to reading books about Marley and watching and listening to his performances, he “will leave his fingers bleeding trying to learn how to play the guitar and take the method to a whole new level.” .

Green – born the year Marley died – won the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Debut Feature at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival for his film Of monsters and menan acclaimed hard-hitting drama about young African-American men.

He said that the box office success of Bohemian Rhapsody – which earned Rami Malek an Oscar for his portrayal of Queen singer Freddie Mercury – made filmmakers aware of the huge public appetite for films about musicians: “Leonard Bernstein is being created this year. Also, Elvis Presley, Madonna and Martin Scorsese’s biopic Grateful Dead… There’s an explosion of musical biopics. Bohemian has set the bar in terms of reach.

Green wrote the screenplay with Zach Baylin, who earned an Oscar nomination for his King Richard script.

Demi Singleton as Serena Williams, Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams and Will Smith as Richard Williams in King Richard.
Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney as the Williams sisters, and Will Smith as their father, Richard, in King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Photography: Chiabella James

He also collaborates with Marley’s children, including his sons Ziggy and Stephen and his daughter Cedella, as well as those close to him: “Now that Zach and I feel that the script really sings, we can sit down with the family and the inner circle of Bob to fill in the blanks. We really want the grades to be correct.

He spoke of the family’s concern that Marley be portrayed “in an authentic and meaningful way”: “We talk all the time. At each stage, the scenario, the casting, the hairstyle, the make-up.

Rather than making a lifelong biopic, the film will instead focus on the 1970s, when Marley survived an assassination attempt in Jamaica and fled to London, where he recorded his album. Exoduswith hits like Jamming, Three Little Birds and One Love.

Although it will celebrate his life, it will portray a man who was “imperfect and complex”, with “so many contradictions”, Green said: “He gave a lot of joy and spread messages of love and peace that are more important than ever today, but we want to show all sides of Bob, including his toughness, without watering it down.

He added: “I want it to be for people who know and love Bob, and who can still discover things about his life that they didn’t know, as well as introduce him to a new generation.”