Sir Ben Kingsley has talked about sporting a full facial moko in the sci-fi movie Ender's Game, saying it gave his character a missing ingredient.

To get the look of space military man Mazer Rackham that director Gavin Hood wanted for his big-screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card's book, Kingsley spent hours in makeup.

He didn't have any reservations about having the "tattoos" done but says the South African director skirted around the issue.

"Gavin was quite nervous about mentioning them because he was afraid I might say I wouldn't wear them," he says.


"He nervously embarked on this dissertation about whether I would want a Maori expert and the meaning of the tattoos, and I said, 'Hold it right there. If it helps you tell your story, I shall put them on in make-up'. It's that simple with me."

Kingsley saw first-hand the impressions the tattoos made on his fellow cast members, which included his Hugo co-star Asa Butterfield, as well as Hailee Steinfeld and Harrison Ford.

"Everyone was gathered together for Gavin's birthday. I walked in, in my Maori makeup for the first time, and it changed the way my fellow actors looked at and listened to me," he says.

"It was the missing ingredient in my character that I didn't need to act."

Kingsley says the moko suited the warrior character.

"In the army, there are campaign medals and ribbons. A Maori warrior is allowed to wear these campaign medals on his face."

Ender's Game screens in New Zealand cinemas from December 5.