KINGSLEY, Ben






Nationality: British. Born: Krishna Banji in Scarborough, England, 31 December 1943. Education: Attended Manchester Grammar School; Salford University, M.A. (hon.); assoc. artist, Royal Shakespeare Co., 1968. Family: Married 1) the actress Angela Morant; 2) Alison Sutcliffe, 1978; children: Edmund William Macaulay, Ferdinand James Macaulay, Thomas Alexis, Jasmin Anna. Career: Appeared in plays including Hamlet , 1975–76, Edmund Kean , 1981–83, Othello , 1985–86; 1973—film debut in Fear Is the Key ; 1984—in TV mini-series documentary Playing Shakespeare ; 1987—in TV mini-series The Secret of the Sahara . Awards: Best Actor and Best Newcomer, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1982, Best Actor, Standard Film Awards London, 1983, and Best Actor Academy Award, 1983, for Gandhi ; Distinguished Service Award, for Murderers among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story , 1989; Best Actor, Golden Camera Berlin award, and Evening Standard Film award, for Schindler's List , 1995; Fantosporto (Portugal) Special Career Award, 1995. Address: c/o Zakiya & Associates, 110 St. Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4AD, England.


Films as Actor:

1973

Fear Is the Key (Tuchner) (as Roche)

1982

Gandhi (Attenborough) (title role); The Merry Wives of Windsor (David Jones—for TV) (as Frank Ford)

1983

Betrayal (David Jones) (as Robert)

1984

Sleeps Six (James Cellan Jones)

1985

Harem (Joffe) (as Selim); Turtle Diary (Irvin) (as William Snow); Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe (Giles Foster—for TV) (title role); Camille (Desmond Davis—for TV) (as Duval)

1987

Testimony (Tony Palmer) (as Dmitri Shostakovich); Maurice (Ivory) (as Lasker-Jones)

1988

Pascali's Island (Dearden) (as Basil Pascali); Without a Clue ( Sherlock and Me ) (Eberhardt) (as Dr. Watson)

1989

Slipstream (Lisberger) (as Avatar); Murderers among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story (Brian Gibson—for TV) (title role)

1990

The Children (Tony Palmer) (as Martin Boyne); Una Vita Scellerata ( A Violent Life ) (Battiato); The Fifth Monkey (Rochat) (as Cunda); Romeo-Juliet (Acosta) (voice only)

1991

L'Amour necessario ( Necessary Love ) (Fabio Capri) (as Ernesto); Bugsy (Levinson) (as Meyer Lansky); The War That Never Ends (Jack Gold—for TV) (as Pericles)

1992

Sneakers (Robinson) (as Cosmo); Freddie as F.R.O.7 ( Freddy the Frog ) (Acevski—animation) (as voice of Freddie)

1993

Dave (Reitman) (as Vice President Nance); Schindler's List (Spielberg) (as Itzhak Stern); Searching for Bobby Fisher ( Innocent Moves ) (Zaillian) (as Bruce Pandolfini)

1994

Death and the Maiden (Polanski) (as Dr. Roberto Miranda); Liberation (Schwartzmann—doc) (as narrator)

1995

Joseph (Roger Young—for TV) (as Potiphar); Species (Donaldson) (as Xavier Fitch)

1996

Twelfth Night (Trevor Nunn) (as Feste); Moses (Young) (as Moses)

1997

The Assignment (Duguay) (as Amos); Weapons of Mass Destruction (Surjik) (as Julian Messenger); Photographing Fairies (Willing) (as Reverend Templeton)

1998

Parting Shots (Winner) (as Renzo Locatelli); The Tale of Sweeney Todd (Schlesinger) (as Sweeney Todd); Crime and Punishment ( Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment ) (Sargent—mini for TV) (as Porfiry)

1999

A Force More Powerful (York) (as narrator); The Confession (David Hugh Jones) (as Harry Fertig); Alice in Wonderland (Willing—for TV) (as Major Caterpillar); Peace Is Every Step: Meditation in Action—The Life and Work of Thich Nhat Hanh (Maida) (as narrator); Spooky House (Sachs) (as The Great Zamboni)

2000

What Planet Are You From? (Nichols) (as Graydon); Rules of Engagement (Friedkin) (as Ambassador Mourain); Till the End of Time (Rydell) (as Alfred Stieglitz)



Publications


By KINGSLEY: books—

Ganen, Anita, and Kingsley, Ben (contributor), The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra: Benjamin Britten's Compositions on CD , New York, 1996.

By KINGSLEY: articles—

"In Search of Ghandi," interview with W. Allen and N. Kent, in Stills (London), November-December 1982.

Interview with Michael Buckley, in Films in Review (New York), January 1983.

"La magnifica obsesion," interview with B. Valle, in Casablanca , April 1983.

Interview with Dominique Benjamin, in Séquences (Montreal), January 1986.

"Le plaisir des mots," interview with Yves Alion, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), December 1988.

"Pascalis tragedi," interview with P. Nore and F. Skarderud, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 31 no. 2, 1989.


On KINGSLEY: articles—

Current Biography 1983 , New York, 1983.

Golightly, Bill, "Ben Kingsley," Horizon (New York), March-April 1989.

Morrison, Mark, Arion Berger, Kathy Bishop, and Steve Pond, "Double Impact," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), December 1991.

Connelly, Christopher, "The Young and the Restless," in Premiere (New York), October 1992.

Case, Brian & Charity, Tom, "The Reich Stuff: Oskar Winner," in Time Out (London), 9 February 1994.

Ben Kingsley (right) with Martin Sheen in Gandhi
Ben Kingsley (right) with Martin Sheen in Gandhi

Mury, Cécile, "Ben et ses doubles," in Télérama (Paris), 15 March 1995.

Heilpern, John, "Empire of the Stage," in Vanity Fair (New York), November 1995.


* * *


Ben Kingsley rose to fame as the star of Richard Attenborough's biopic Gandhi (1981), his second screen appearance following a supporting role in the Alistair MacLean thriller Fear Is the Key released almost a decade earlier. Actor Attenborough had sought to film the life of the martyred Indian leader since the 1960s after turning producer-director. His friend and mentor, David Lean, had been fascinated with the subject for a long time as well, but had been unable to secure financing or approvals from the various powers that be in and out of the government of India necessary to shoot the film on location. Attenborough persevered, using a substantial amount of his own money to develop the project, which eventually found a backer in Goldcrest Entertainment. After considerable give and take (mostly give), the director received permission to film his considerably watered down, politically correct look at the life and times of Gandhi in India. His boldest stroke was casting the unknown Kingsley, whose father was Indian and mother British, in the title role. On screen for most of the epic's rather ponderous 188 minutes, Kingsley carried the weight of the film almost entirely on his own shoulders and did so magnificently, delivering a performance of such restrained fire and spiritual strength that he earned a Best Actor Oscar. Though he has the unique ability to portray diverse ethnic types quite convincingly without resorting to make-up (in much the same way that Meryl Streep carries off foreign accents), Kingsley's selection of roles and films since then are somewhat of a mixed bag.

The pretentious Betrayal (1983), from a play by Harold Pinter, found Kingsley in a love triangle with Jeremy Irons and Patricia Hodge, the central gimmick of which is that the events of the story unfold in reverse, beginning with their resolution. He played an Arab sheik who kidnaps Nastassja Kinski for his desert nights in the sexand-sand epic Harem (1985), a French-made extravaganza marked by all the subtlety of a Harlequin Romance novel. In the gentle drama Turtle Diary (1985), scripted by Pinter, he and Glenda Jackson play a pair of shy people who form a romantic relationship based on their mutual need to save some giant turtles in a zoo. As Dr. Watson in Without a Clue , he hires a bumbling actor played by Michael Caine to bring his fictional character of Sherlock Holmes to life. Alternately too stiff and too strained in his efforts to hit his comic marks, Kingsley demonstrated here that comedy, particularly farce-comedy, is not his forte, and has tended to avoid it since. And as a scientist who unlocks a DNA code transmitted from space to create an Alien -type she-monster in Species , he fairly disappeared (along with most of the cast) in that laughable sci-fi opus's non-stop parade of spectacularly grisly special effects.

Although he had played the composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the Tony Palmer-directed biopic Testimony (1987), the film was barely released. Only when the 1980s began to wind down would Kingsley find another role equal in challenge and visibility to the one that brought him fame as the decade began. In the title role of the Abby Mann-scripted made-for-television biopic Murderers among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story , Kingsley was, in the words of critic Leonard Maltin, "mesmerizing . . . as the Holocaust survivor who dedicated the rest of his life to hunting down the war's Nazi bigwigs."

The 1990s have provided a range of roles for Kingsley, many of them in the kind of big-budget, commercial Hollywood product he had seemed studiously intent on avoiding after Gandhi. He brought a disturbing, smiler-with-a-knife sincerity to the part of Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in Bugsy (1991). In Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), based on a true story, he movingly revealed the inner turmoil of a chessmaster guiding a child prodigy whose genius for the game he too had exhibited in childhood but failed to fulfill. As the vice president in the political comedy Dave , he all but disappeared into the background, but that is the nature of the position itself, as the film suggests. And his part, as well as performance, in the cyber-caper comedy Sneakers is so unassuming that one almost forgets once the film is over that Kingsley was even in its high-profile cast.

As the Jewish business manager of the German profiteer Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who saves the lives of more than a thousand Holocaust victims in Schindler's List , Kingsley perfectly conveyed the conflicting emotions of a man who keeps expecting his benefactor to turn against him and his people, then comes to trust and admire the man for daring to stand against the exterminating Nazi tide. The performance earned Kingsley a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, although the role is actually a co-starring one.

Kingsley fared best among the largely miscast three-character drama Death and the Maiden , Roman Polanski's adaptation of Ariel Dorfman's play about a Chilean woman (Sigourney Weaver) who seizes the opportunity to get back at the man (Kingsley) who she believes raped and tortured her while she was a political prisoner, when he unwittingly stops by with her husband (Stuart Wilson) for a drink. As Weaver applies the screws, Kingsley almost convinces the viewer he's the victim in this dark and twisted tale of revenge and role reversal.

Kingsley felt Polanski was one of the most creative directors he'd ever worked with, although Death and the Maiden , their only collaboration together (so far), was neither a hit with audiences or most critics; it did little to enhance the careers of either man, though of the two, Kingsley has continued to work quite busily on stage and on the big screen as well as the small where he has appeared in a number of epic mini-series such as Turner Network Television's Moses to which he brought a quiet dignity to the title role patented by Charlton Heston in DeMille's The Ten Commandments.

—John McCarty



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