The Iconic Sir Ben
Up Close and Very Personal
Inside Hollywood With
Sir Ben Kingsley has created memorable characters
his body of work, was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II for services
to the British film industry. Courtesy Photo
ngland's Sir Ben Kingsley is one of the world's most respected
actors. His film career, which spans over 40 years, began with
his breakout performance in Gandhi. He won the Best Actor
Academy Award for his portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi, which
catapulted him into instant international fame. He also won a Golden
Globe, BAFTA, and London Film Critics' Circle Award
for his riveting performance. Subsequently, he has acted in three other
films, which were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar
Bugsy, Hugo, and Schindler's List, with Gandhi
and Schindler's List winning in that coveted category, as well
as six other categories.
Left: L-R: Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, with
Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, in the Academy Award-winning film Schindlers
List. Right: Ben Kingsley gave a stirring performance as Itzhak
Stern in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.Courtesy
Kingsley's performance as Itzhak Stern
in Schindler's List garnered him a BAFTA nomination. He
also won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his role of Otto
Frank in the television movie Anne Frank: The Whole Story,
as well as a nod for his role of Sweeney Todd in another television
movie The Tales of Sweeney Todd.
Ben Kingsley played notorious mob boss Meyer Lansky
in Bugsy. Courtesy
Ben Kingsley and Patricia
Clarkson co-star in a story about two people coming together during
a major life's transition and how they influence each other.
Photo: Broad Green Pictures
Every role Kingsley has portrayed is a masterpiece
of acting and includes Oscar-nominated roles in Sexy Beast,
and House of Sand and Fog. Some of his other films include: Sneakers,
Searching for Bobby Fischer, Death and the Maiden, The
Confession, Rules of Engagement, Oliver Twist, Elegy,
Shutter Island, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Iron
Man 3, and Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Kingsley was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire,
England. His father, Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, is of Gujarati
Indian descent, and his mother, Anna Lyna Mary, was English.
His birth name was Krishna Pandit Bhanji, but as he became a
successful stage actor, fearing that his real name could be an obstacle
to his career, he changed his name to Ben Kingsley.
In his latest film, Learning to Drive, Kingsley
gives yet another multi-textured portrayal as Darwan, a highly
educated Indian gentleman who works as a taxi driver and driving instructor
in New York City. Written by Sarah Kernochan and directed
by Isabel Coixet, the film co-stars Patricia Clarkson
as Wendy, a woman in transition following her divorce. She hires
Darwan to teach her how to drive, but the lessons they learn
from each other transcend just driving lessons. The supporting cast
includes: Jake Weber, Sarita Choudhury, and Grace Gummer.
Kingsley currently resides in Spelsbury, Oxfordshire,
England with his fourth wife, 34-year-old Daniela (Danny) Barbosa
de Carneiro. Courtesy Photo
At a recent press day, Kingsley sat down with
a group of select journalists and discussed his career, and the following
has been edited for content and continuity for print purposes.
I have a really important question to ask you.
Your father is Indian and your mother is English. How do you take your
Kingsley: Oh, so we've segued into tea. (Laughter)
My mother was part English, part Russian Jewish. My father
was Ismaili and was actually born in Zanzibar, in East
Africa, where there is a very large Ismaili community. But,
to answer your question, I like my tea strong with milk.
Can you explain your relationship with the Sikh
Kingsley: From my perspective, and I speak with some
accuracy, if you know one Sikh man, you know all of them because
there is a tremendous consistency in their behavior, their approach
to life, their courtesy, and kindness to others. So in the script, I
believe when Darwan says, "This is the Sikh way,"
it is. It is not sentimental. It is not something he's made up. It is
actually the way they do things. From my perspective as a portrait artist,
because I had to create a portrait to present to the screen, I see a
warrior race of men and women.
Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi garnered
him the Best Actor Academy Award as well as a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and
London Film Critics' Circle Award for his riveting performance. Courtesy
Did you base your character of Darwan on anyone
Just think of the number of people I've met in my career.
I do have an extraordinary memory and even though they may drift into
the periphery of my memory, I can bring them back when I need them.
When I was filming Gandhi, every day I was greeted by my Sikh
bodyguard driver. I drove to the set looking at the back of his head
his turban, how he gently moved from side to side whenever I asked
him a question how he would have ferociously defended me had anything
happened. I think one of the indelible images I have of him was him
looking at me in his rear- view mirror.
Do you have one particularly memorable moment
during that shoot?
He was driving me away from the largest crowed you've
ever seen on screen in the cinema. It was a traumatic day for me because
I was on the funeral wagon, hardly breathing for nine hours. When I
got to the end of the road, I had to ask my first AD (assistant
director) dressed in a British uniform, because all the
ADs were extras in the film. I said, "Steve, how
many people are here?" "40,000 sir." "How
am I going to stand up in front of 40,000 people? I've been dead
for nine nights." He lifted me up and I saw all those people who
were very quiet because I had just broken the spell. I had come back
to life. Fortunately, I was not wearing jeans under my Indian
costume. He helped me stand and I turned to the crowd. One person started
to applaud and then they all started to sing. The women, who had a blue
stripe on the edge of their Saris, lifted me off the back of
the wagon and carried me to a waiting car. The driver started his car
and we had to move through 40,000 people to get back onto the
main road to go home. The driver looked in the mirror and said, "Well
done sir." That's what he said. "Well done sir." I treasure
that moment and that's whom I'm playing in Learning to Drive.
He'd be very proud if he knew I used him.
Kingsley on his character's religious practices:
I really think that he believes that going to temple and praying
is a ritual that sustains him. Photo: Broad Green
What traits did you love about Darwan?
Kingsley: His stillness, his kindness, his strength,
his economy of words and his decency, expressed in a very unsentimental,
practical way. I would say that they are very unsentimental people,
but very emotionally developed. I loved that about him and it's a great
leap to play. After his brother has been shot, and his family tortured,
he comes over to America to start a new life, and is still on the receiving
end of abuse and misunderstanding. When Wendy asks him how he copes
with adversity, he says that he prays every day. I really think that
he believes that going to temple and praying is a ritual that sustains
him. So, although he's well integrated into his new world, he still
needs that faith to help him through each day.
Did you actually film in the temple?
Ben Kingsley worked with
Patricia Clarkson in "Elegy."
Kingsley: We were allowed to film in the temple and
as you know, not long ago, Sikhs were shot in their temple. Harpreet
Singh Toor is a spokesman for the Sikh community in Queens,
New York. He wore a turban and matching tie, and was beautifully
color coordinated. He made sure that we were allowed to film in the
temple so all those scenes are in a Sikh temple. It was an island
of peace, tranquility, order, affection, dignity, and nurture in the
middle of Queens, which can be a bit crazy. You walk into that
temple and people are slipping off their shoes and saluting. Many people
would come up to me and talk in Punjabi. I said, "I'm very
sorry, but I don't understand. I'm a total imposter." (Laughter)
Had you met Patricia before?
Kingsley: Yes. In Elegy.
We more than met. We were in bed together. (Laughter)
Kingsley on feelings of attraction his character
has towards Wendy:
Whenever he needs to shut off from her
extremities, he would fold his arms to keep himself contained.
Photo: Broad Green Pictures
How was it to play a character where you have
this deep connection, but not on a romantic level?
Kingsley: Great question. Also, talking about intimacy,
the genius of the screenplay was let's not set them it in a park where
they have oceans of space in which to escape from one another. We're
in a tiny car for a lot of the film right next to each other. I don't
know whether you noticed, but whenever he needs to shut off from her
extremities, he would fold his arms to keep himself contained. I think
that's a beautiful device in the film.
Kingsley on Darwan and Wendy: They take from
each other the best
Photo: Broad Green Pictures
All the signals are here for intimacy. We know how this
film is going to end. But, no you don't. It ends, I believe, not being
trapped in a carnal relationship, but they take from each other the
best, which is his appreciation of a liberated woman, and her appreciation
of a warrior man. Let's face it. Sexual contact ends in fatigue and
Was there one memorable moment during the shoot?
Kingsley: It was one sustained, unbroken moment thanks
to our beautiful director. On many film sets, moments are invaded and
broken. From day one, when dear Isabel saw me arrive on set,
we sat together in the car and Patricia started to cry.
Your character's profession in India was that
of a professor which was not valid in the U.S. How do you think he felt
being relegated to a taxi driver and part-time driving instructor?
Kingsley: I'd like to think that he was a really good
professor because in his DNA is that will to teach and it's unstoppable
in him. So, that is beautifully translated into a driving instructor
and you see from the opening of the film, that he is instructing at
a much higher level than just driving.
In an arranged marriage, Darwan marries Jasleen
(Sarita Choudhury) and these two strangers embark on the challenge of
trying to understand and please each other.
Photo: Broad Green Pictures
What do you think of the scene where he wants
his new wife to read him a poem as he lies in her lap?
Kingsley: There you have a highly educated man, probably
a professor of English literature, loving those poems, and realizing
that the poor girl can't read. But, she does make an effort. She goes
to class and he's very proud of her. He tells her she's got to go out
into the world. You know the friend she meets in the grocery store?
That's my wife. (Big ohhh from the journalists she's very
beautiful.) She's actually Brazilian and worked with
a coach on a Punjabi accent. She's a very good actress and I'm
proud of her performance.
How did that casting come about?
Kingsley: I asked our director, Isabel, and she
said, "Marta? She's perfect for Marta." So,
Danny and I went for lunch with Sikhs. There were five
men and they were helping her pronounce the word "pearl,"
and there were five different versions. (Laughter) (He does all
five variations much laughter)
You worked with female directors before. Is there
a basic difference in their approach?
Kingsley: I do believe that the female director, as
well as the writer, can bring an eye to male vulnerability that some
man can't, because they can't face it. That said, Martin Scorsese
puts male vulnerability on the camera beautifully, and Isabel
does as well. She operates the camera, so what you seen on screen, she
Ben Kingsley as Demetrius and Frances de la Tour
as Helena in Peter Brooks stage production of "A Midsummer
Nights Dream." Courtesy Photo
What is the best advice you've received from a
I remember when I was working with the great Peter
Brook on Midsummer Night's Dream that I had a long
conversation with him. He was a great mentor and said that the actor
should always find the quality in the person he's representing that
is greater than the quality in you, so you always have something to
One last question: Do you drive?
Kingsley: (Laughs) Yes, of course. I drive
a stick shift.
Congratulations on yet another splendid acting
Kingsley: It's been a pleasure.