Rich, tightly-woven character studies are really a cornerstone of what makes cinema so great.  

Brad Silberling, director of City of Angels, Moonlight Mile, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and 10 Items or Less, among other titles both on the big-screen and on television, has achieved just that in his latest that he directed and wrote, the portrait of a war-criminal on the lamb ("The General" brought to life by the great Ben Kingsley) called An Ordinary Man, in select theaters and on-demand / Digital HD April 13.

What is particularly fascinating about An Ordinary Man is the multi-dimensional study of evil in Kingsley's character of The General (the idea for which was planted in Silberling's mind by a newspaper article), and how he is deeply affected by an unexpected relationship with his maid (stunningly portrayed by Hera Hilmar of Da Vinci's Demons), who indeed shows herself to be much more than that to him in a number of ways. Silberling expands on the psychological dynamics of the men who formed the character of The General in the interview below.

In the process of taking in the film, we get a deeper understanding into the multi-dimensionality of evil, very much based on real history – especially that of the Balkans – and the psychology of totalitarianism and psychotic nationalism brought to stunning life in Kingsley's character, despite his affability and charisma and despite the fact that the character speaks with an English accent in the film. That last point should not distract from what An Ordinary Man is though – an intense psychological character study that transcends national borders and indeed language itself, while being filmed exclusively in its setting in the Balkans. In many ways, retaining the cadence of Kingsley's speech itself (a decision both the actor and director came to) actually helps English speakers understand the dialogue better and also helps to affect a more genuine performance from the actors.

The characteristics of The General are characteristics of many authoritarian leaders – and they will likely surprise you as they did me in both the film and Silberling's creative-process in crafting them for the audience. In the process, we get a richer understanding of the roots of evil in the human condition, and how truly multi-faceted they are.  

Hello Brad!

Hello. So, The 405?

Yep. We are based in London, but I am American… and our writers are all over the world.

Cool.

I'd like to start if I may by with a question I ask everybody: Favorite films and directors? Which would you consider most influential on you?

Boy. I can only give you a short list and there's so many, living and passed. I'll give you a quick 5. Ozu, Peter Weir, Ermanno Olmi, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Coppola, and that's a short list [Laughs]

[Laughs] absolutely. It's a short question with huge answers.

You know, for every director you get tortured by the question of favorite films and directors? [Laughs]

[Laughs]

For me it doesn't change every week, but it changes maybe every 3 weeks. There's too many to name but there's a select few who always click me into an unexpected canvas and always just turn me and that can be with like Floating Weeds which is one of my absolute favorite films that Ozu made or with Coppola it's like The Conversation and again it's just like unexpected landscapes that end up having a shocking emotional pull.

Getting into An Ordinary Man, what was the spark of inspiration behind writing and making the project? Was there something more on that front than the newspaper article?

Well, yes in so far as you kind of have to tenderize the meat before you dive the fork in… [Laughs]

Starting back in around 2003, I've taken 3 of my films to the Sarajevo Film Festival, which really captured my heart and was really my first exposure to the region and to the personalities there and to the loss that they've suffered and the complexity of those losses from many sides.

So, I was sort of pre-disposed to a fascination with the Balkans and when I read that particular piece which was just about The Hague Tribunals and them beginning to try to square themselves with the remaining war criminals that were still at large…

I was struck by that notion of these men – in the case of these men in Belgrade hiding in plain sight, it was Ratko Mladić, it was Radovan Karadžić – men who just still believed that they were royalty and that they were the truth of their country and unrepentant, just unrepentant…

So, that was all sort of in play in my mind. In the case of Mladić, what cinched it was that I read, and he seemed like such a ridiculously outsized personality and everything was conviction, no sort of nuance or balance, everything was "country"

I found it interesting how Karadžić practiced "alternative medicine" while on the lamb there too.

I read that Mladic’s own daughter in her 20's had committed suicide with his military pistol

Wow.

(L-R) Hera Hilmar as Tanja and Ben Kingsley as The General in the drama, thriller film AN ORDINARY MAN a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

Yeah. After the war, she had read a German journalist who had written a pretty straight account that she trusted so she killed herself. And her father refused to believe A- that it was true, that he was at fault and B- he even denied that it was a suicide.

That's when I was struck by the idea that if a young woman steps into the lair of this man who desperately needs human contact and connection because he's been a social animal up to this point, what of that? And realizing that he would probably, in his own way, even if by the kidnapping or hostage taking, that he would somehow vicariously try to experience a relationship he never got to have with his own daughter, which would create a loss all over again.

Fascinating.

So, all of that kind of worked its way into my brain and our little fable came out.

Very interesting. You kind of answered my next question there to: The film had a lot to say about the humanity of evil but also its multi-dimensional nature in the character of the General… that here you have this man who has committed the vilest of war crimes and in fact he's not a foaming at the mouth jackal…

Sure.

 …he's in fact rather charming and perhaps even capable of empathy. I'm wondering if we could get a deeper idea of the philosophy in An Ordinary Man as it relates to good and evil.

Yeah, well, I'll put it this way: for these people, I'll say men, but it's not always men, for these people to do what they've done, you have to be in a position of that sort of leadership and make these decisions which at times are as heinous as they are.

They got there somehow. In this case, that quality of performing and frankly entertaining and seducing, all of that is part of the makeup of somebody who then shows such evil, look at Hitler. Look at, you prey on the right moment with people that are vulnerable and provide for them a sense of dark hope or excuse or leadership.

It's a fascinating makeup, and when I was watching material on some, specifically these fugitives in the region – especially the material on Mladić, I saw material on him just hours before the Massacre at Srebrenica, where he's holding court. He loves the cameras. He's handing out candy to the kids who he will have killed within hours…

Ben Kingsley as The General in the drama, thriller film “AN ORDINARY MAN” a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

Wow. Yeah. I'm sure could find instances of that sort of sociopathy throughout history's authoritarian regimes. Downright terrifying Brad, but something that as people, I think we have to look at and understand.

…that's the sociopathic quality of somebody who is charming and like I say wants that attention, needs it. That's why I knew that, in many ways, that character, left alone in that apartment, it's like the beginnings of punishment in a certain way for that kind of personality: he needs an enemy to subjugate, he needs troops to command, he needs the cameras, he needs an audience.

That's a human being. That's not a Marvel character. Sadly, I do believe that the worst behavior we see is actually perpetrated by human beings who have dimension. We may not love the dimensions but there they are and that's how they've gotten there and in a way I wanted the audience to have that discomfort of actually being seduced by the character and entertained by him, and going "wait a minute, he's someone who's done these things".

So, we're right in the shoes of the rest of the world, experiencing how they can actually effectively worm their way in. That was my intention, and again it's not a comfortable one for the audience.

But it is a necessary one, I think, to understand this kind of evil. And you effect it very well in the film – in an entertaining-throughout way.

As you are on the way to shoot for the day, the last question I have for you Brad is what's next for you?

I just, again, live for its different canvases that I'm always looking for a story that on a personal level that exposes me to unexpected intimacy – which was obviously true with An Ordinary Man.

I've written a new film called Sonny Falls that I'm in the middle of trying to put the cast together for, hoping to make that. That's actually a comedy-drama, but its very character based. Hopefully it'll be another wonderful, it won't be Ben Kingsley in this case, it'll be an American actor, but just to go off and make another film that I get to lose myself in for a couple of years, which is a journey I always love.

(L-R) Hera Hilmar as Tanja and Ben Kingsley as The General in the drama, thriller film AN ORDINARY MAN a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.