Bob Marley Is Remembered as a "Superhero" — but Kingsley Ben-Adir and Ziggy Marley Aim Deeper in 'One Love'

"If you look at the state of the world and the characters that are influential in it, I don't see anyone talking about love and unification of humanity"

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

BY Nathan AbrahaPublished Feb 15, 2024

Over 40 years since his untimely passing, the afterglow of Bob Marley's legacy continues to shine bright. A new biopic of the iconic reggae singer directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, Bob Marley: One Love, presents the artist's story for a new generation — one that didn't sing alongside him at concerts or blasted his music at protests, yet needs his message nonetheless.

Leading the film is British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir who has made a nice habit of portraying important cultural figures such as Malcolm X and Barack Obama, and now arguably his toughest test comes in the form of the reggae superstar.

"I spent a lot of time in the beginning looking at the big concert scenes and watching Bob's famous interviews," Ben-Adir tells Exclaim! over a Zoom call from Miami, FL. "I was kind of overwhelming myself [with] the pressure and understanding of how much Bob means to so many people around the world."

Jumping around snapshots of Marley's life, One Love opens with a press conference discussing the infamous 1978 One Love Peace Concert, an event meant to quell the violence between Jamaica's two rival political parties at the time. Marley fights for the concert to be held regardless of reservations around his own safety.  

The film is filled with moments showcasing Marley's tenacity and integrity — including the 1976 assassination attempt on his life, when both he and his wife Rita (played by Lashana Lynch) were shot, but Marley nevertheless took the stage two days later.

"Bob was a superhero to so many people," says Ben-Adir with a bright smile on his face.

But for as bombastic and heightened Marley's legacy is in the public consciousness, Ben-Adir focused his efforts on capturing a certain tranquility in the singer. "The showier side of things, like Bob's iconic hand gestures, I always felt those should come naturally once you know the psychology," Ben-Adir says. "The internal world is most important."

He continues, "Trying to relate to Bob on that level is what interests me as an artist. Anyone can do an impersonation, but to understand what spirituality meant to Bob, to understand what music meant to him on a personal level, that was the way I thought best to find his voice."

Very few figures in pop culture history have reached the iconic status of Bob Marley, and taking on this mantle would present a great challenge for any actor. But for Ben-Adir, reassurance came in the form of those closest to the reggae legend: the Marley family.

Along with Rita, two of Marley's children, Ziggy and Cedella, serve as producers on the film. Their involvement greatly guided Ben-Adir's process, keeping in mind "the intention and the collaboration of the family was only ever to try to find a little bit of Bob's spirit and try to share with the audience a bit of his personal journey."

And a big part of Marley's journey revolved around his home country Jamaica.

"We knew that we couldn't make a film about my father without filming in Jamaica," Ziggy tells Exclaim! during a Toronto stopover on the One Love press tour. "Trench Town is where he grew up, where I was born, where the family lived for a few years. We knew that we had to go back into those streets, in those real environments, to capture the authentic feeling of Bob's life."

In addition to filming in Jamaica, One Love boasts the involvement of 252 Jamaicans in the cast and crew, which Ziggy explains was crucial in making the film: "That is the way my father would want it to be. Everyone that worked on the film — the cast, the crew, director, producers — we had that kind of camaraderie and understood that the person we are making this film about, his energy have to be a part of our energy to represent him right on film."

Echoing the importance Ben-Adir placed on capturing Marley's spirit, Ziggy takes it a step further insisting that his father's message is needed today now more than ever.

"If you look at the state of the world and the characters that are influential in it, I don't see anyone talking about love and unification of humanity. Nobody is spreading love to the human race," says Ziggy. "The One Love message that we're spreading throughout the world right now, for my father, that was what was most important to him."

As One Love hits theatres, Ben-Adir reflects on his journey preparing for the role and a look of thoughtful introspection flashes across his face. The actor is clearly proud, not only of his portrayal of the superstar Bob Marley, but also his discovery of the man Robert Nesta Marley.

"Bob was a guy who went through a lot. [He was] a kid that grew up in the ghetto and went on this incredible journey to world superstardom, but to [also] get his message of peace, love, unity and togetherness across?" Ben-Adir pauses. "It's a whole life lived."

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