Sir Ben Kingsley decided to appear in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings after having a conversation with his Iron Man 3 character.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings director Destin Daniel Cretton says Sir Ben Kingsley decided to appear in the film after having an imaginary conversation with his Iron Man 3 character. In Iron Man 3, Kingsley plays the belligerent Trevor Slattery, an out-of-work actor employed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to pose as a stereotypical version of “The Mandarin” to mask illegal, Extremis-related activities as terrorist attacks. In a one-shot included with the home release of Thor: The Dark World, “All Hail the King,” it is revealed that the real leader of the Ten Rings organization is unhappy with Slattery’s imitation of him.
On top of featuring Marvel Studios’ first Asian lead, the 25th film to take place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe stars a predominately Asian and Asian-American cast, including Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, Fala Chen, and Meng’er Zhang. The film finally introduces Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi (Liu), and his father, Xu Wenwu (Leung): the real Mandarin. Despite its status as a relatively standalone origin film, Shang-Chi has subtle connections to the larger MCU, including references to the Blip and an appearance by Trevor Slattery himself as a prisoner of Wenwu.
In an interview with Variety, Cretton discussed including Kingsley in his movie as a way of connecting it to the larger MCU. When the director called Kingsley to talk about reprising the role of Slattery, the actor surprised Cretton by having a full-blown conversation with himself as the Iron Man 3 character. According to Cretton, during their phone conversation, Kingsley would ask something and then hold the phone away from his mouth to make it sound like Slattery was shouting back from nearby. Read Cretton’s full explanation below:
“That first conversation ended with Sir Ben Kingsley shouting to somebody from the other room,” Cretton said. “This is after about an hour of wondering if Sir Ben is going to do our movie. Trevor starts shouting from the other room, ‘Who are you talking to?’ ‘I’m talking to Destin.’ ‘Who’s Destin?’ ‘Oh, he’s directing the new Marvel movie. They want you to be in it.’ ‘They want me to be in it?! When do we start?!’ ‘Uh, I don’t know, we haven’t gotten into that yet.’ It went on for about two minutes,” laughed Cretton. “By the end, he just said, ‘Thank you for the chat. Trevor is very excited, but I’ll talk to you later.’”
Kingsley’s role in Shang-Chi serves a purpose beyond comedic relief. Slattery’s time sobering up as a Shakespearean fool imprisoned in Wenwu’s compound afforded him the uncanny ability to communicate with a creature from Ta Lo, where the film’s third act takes place. In addition to moving the plot forward, Slattery’s presence (and verbal apology) in the film adds another layer to Shang-Chi’s deconstruction of stereotypes. In the original comics, Shang-Chi’s father is Fu Manchu, a character notorious for its depiction of offensive stereotypes. The source material’s version of The Mandarin is also a racist caricature. In fact, Iron Man 3 writer and director Shane Black has said he wrote Slattery to avoid featuring Fu Manchu in the film. Thankfully, Cretton and co-writer Dave Callaham’s Wenwu subverts expectations, retcons Iron Man 3’s Mandarin, and gives audiences an effective MCU villain.
Cretton went on to talk about how much both he and Kingsley enjoyed the Oscar-winner’s return in Shang-Chi. As evident by Cretton’s story, Kingsley loves his craft even when he’s not on stage or camera. Even though Slattery isn’t necessarily a major character in Shang-Chi, Kingsley wanted to make sure his character felt layered and genuine. If there’s one thing that can be said about Shang-Chi, it is that it’s honest — from the characters, to the action sequences and fight choreography (which is performed by most of the actual cast). That genuineness seems to resonating with audiences, too. Early reviews for the film are overwhelmingly positive, and Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is already breaking box office records in a time when many thought the COVID-19 pandemic would stand in its way.
More: Shang-Chi: Why Marvel Is Right To Replace Fu Manchu With The Mandarin
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