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Ben Whishaw, 'Cloud Atlas' Star, On Understanding The Epic Film

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Ben Whishaw, right, with Jim Broadbent in
Ben Whishaw, right, with Jim Broadbent in "Cloud Atlas"

Ben Whishaw is about to get really busy. The 32-year-old British actor plays not one, but five roles in "Cloud Atlas," inhabiting everyone from a cabin boy in the 19th century to a record store clerk in the 1970s to one of the film's main characters: Robert Frobisher, a young composer with designs on writing one of the most memorable compositions of the 20th century.

Two weeks later, audiences can catch Whishaw playing Q in Sam Mendes' highly anticipated "Skyfall." As it that weren't enough, he's also rumored to play one of the leads in Steven Spielberg's "Robopocalypse," alongside Chris Hemsworth and perhaps even Anne Hathaway.

Whishaw spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about what it was like to make "Cloud Atlas," if he understands the film as structured, and how he wound up giving gadget advice to James Bond.

What was it that got you involved with "Cloud Atlas"?
I got involved because of [director] Tom Tykwer, really. He mentioned the project to me about three years before we started doing it. He said there would be a part for me if they ever managed to get the funding, which he was not certain of [laughs]. Two years ago, he sent me the script and said, "Email me what you make of this." I was kind of blown away. I read it in one sitting -- it took me about four hours to read, but I was not able to put it down. Which is pretty rare for me with scripts. I find them genuinely quite hard to read, but this sucked me in. I knew that even though I felt like I understood only a fraction of it that I wanted to do it.

Do you understand it any better now that you've seen the finished film?
I feel like I understand. I get different things each time I see it. I've been trying the last three days to give concise and intelligent answers. Every time I start thinking about it, though, I make another connection, or I question what I had previously thought the film was about. It's constantly changing. I've never had that experience with a film I've been in before. I think that says something about how unusual and rare it is. That's one of the great things about the Wachowskis' films and about Tom's films: They don't draw a line. They don't say, "This is very serious and therefore it must be slightly boring, heavy and punishing." It's not a punishing to watch at all. It wants to invite you to come along on the journey, even though the journey is a strange one. I think it's accessible, and very playful and very fun. There's great action sequences, fantastic comedy; it hits all those genres so well, while still magically being one coherent piece of work. I don't know how they've done that.

How did they do it? What was filming this like, with the multiple sets and directors and genres?
The Wachowskis had a set, Tom had a set, and the actors were ferried from one to another as they were needed. I very rarely saw Tom and the Wachowskis together, but you just knew they spent hours bonding and honing this material. I think the material came about because of a very deep friendship that already existed between the three of them. I'm sure it has only gotten richer, and has certainly been tested in ways that it hadn't been before in the making of this film.

Your main character is Robert Frobisher, but you still appear as five other people throughout the film. How do you handle that as an actor?
My workload was not as difficult in that respect as other people. They were doing some schizophrenic stuff. I really had one big story and some lovely little supporting characters, which had to be as real as possible and sit within each story in a believable way. It was more fun than anything else. It was like dressing up, really. Like being a child again. What's been fantastic about "Cloud Atlas" is it was an opportunity to do the sort of acting that I always dreamed about doing, but very rarely get the chance to, which is a total transformation. A physical transformation. Which I think used to happen far more in acting, but it's become a bit unfashionable for actors to do that. But I love putting on a fake nose and a funny wig and that used to be what acting was like 50 years ago. Those great British actors did that all the time.

The relationship Robert has with Rufus Sixsmith needs to resonate throughout the entire story, but you only have a few moments to set it up in the film. Did you and James D'Arcy have a lot of rehearsal time together?
To be completely honest to you, that is one of the real surprises to the film to me. I had no idea that story would feel that way in the end result. That was a total surprise. James and I didn't get to rehearse at all, but James is the most wonderful guy. He's so much fun. He's such a generous actor, such a beautiful actor. He made it very easy to immediately go into this relationship without having any time at all to discuss or rehearse. Sometimes you can jump into things and you tap into your intuition, which can be better than weeks of preparation. Sometimes you're just blessed with that.

You also play Q in "Skyfall." How did that all come about?
I had spoken with Sam Mendes, maybe two years ago, about working with him on a play. It ended up not happening. He asked to see me again, and we went and had dinner. I thought he was going to ask me to do another play, but he said he was doing this Bond film. It was just utterly out of the blue and unexpected. I'm delighted to be involved in it. It's really something completely new for me. I'm excited to see where the character is going to evolve to.

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