Sir Ben Kingsley Interview From Gandhi to the MCU

As Kingsley prepares to premiere Marc Turtletaub’s “Jules” at the Sonoma International Film Festival, he reflects on his IndieWire career.

Sir Ben Kingsley, 79, has one foot in Beverly Hills and the other in Oxfordshire, England – nearly 200 miles southeast of his hometown of Lancashire, where he was raised by his British model and actress mother and father, a Kenyan-born family. doctor of Indian origin.

“(Oxfordshire) is more Shakespearean country,” Kingsley said by phone. “The Cotswold Hills, the limestone hills that run through the middle of the British Isles across the Channel into France. It looks like Normandy. Our house looks more French, a small castle. It looks like it should be on the wine label.”

As usual, wine is front and center at this year’s Sonoma International Film Festival, where Kingsley is attending the world premiere of “Jules,” from director Marc Turtletaub and writer Gavin Steckler. In this sci-fi heartbreaker, Kingsley subtly portrays the elderly suburban Pennsylvanian Milton. He loses control of his memory, so no one believes him when a flying saucer lands in his backyard and he finds a shivering alien (Jade Quon). Two other lonely neighborhood seniors (Harriet Sansom Harris of “Licorice Pizza” and Jane Curtin of “SNL”) come to share Milton’s secret and start a family around the friendly stranger they call Jules.

Kingsley saw Shakespearean mythological archetypes in the script. “Really good material is quite rare,” the actor said. “If I find that the writing is good and the character is really beckoning me to play him, I’m prompted to write a condensed one-line version of the story.” The actor slipped the one-liner into his pocket on set, “close to my heart. It’s a wonderful way to build a lodestar throughout the show.”

In the case of “Jules,” the line was: “Once upon a time, where there was not, there was a man who guided a man to the afterlife by the hand of a child.”

“Jules” could be his 90th movie (Kingsley isn’t sure) if you count all the TV movies that have featured the likes of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach from the BBC’s early days to the present day. “I rarely look back,” Kingsley said. “I am indebted to the members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, especially director Peter Brook, with whom we worked on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and toured America, London and Stratford-on-Avon. It was a groundbreaking, extraordinary experience to be in that room with that man for 10 weeks of rehearsal. He was driven and focused and taught me what it means to be an actor.”

Richard Attenborough directed Ben Kingsley on the set of GANDHI, 1982

Richard Attenborough directs Ben Kingsley in Gandhi

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Kingsley’s years at the RSC taught him “how to bring extra language and gestures to life to light up a performance”, he said. “I couldn’t have played Gandhi without Shakespeare. My stamina, commitment and body language communication made this possible.” But as much as the theater is credited with training him for the title role in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film “Gandhi” — the first of four Oscar nominations and his only win — Kingsley has no plans to return to the theater.

“When I was introduced to cinema after years in classical theatre, I learned the subtle and crucial difference,” he said. “If I were a craft painter and not an actor, theater would be landscape painting and cinema would be portrait art. I’m a portrait artist now, not a landscape artist, and I have no desire to go back. Things can change. But I’m so inspired by the cinematic portrait that I find it completely consuming and engrossing. My portrait artist is very separate from my canvas. I put everything on the portrait. This is not me. It is framed by a cinema or TV screen. At the end of the day, I put down my brushes and leave feeling rested, then come back.”

After ‘Gandhi’, Kingsley briefly returned to the boards and searched raging in the 1983 one-man Broadway show about the early 19th-century tragedy “Edmund Kean.” He then appeared in two acclaimed Harold Pinter films, ‘Betrayal’ (1983) and ‘Turtle Diary’ (1985).

OPERATION FINALE, Ben Kingsley, 2018. ph: Valeria Florini / © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Operation Finale”

©MGM/Courtesy of Everett / Everett Collection

Kingsley is proud of his projects honoring the Holocaust. Most notably, he played Oskar Schindler’s influential accountant, Itzhak Stern, in Steven Spielberg’s Best Picture-winning Schindler’s List (1993). He also appeared in the Emmy Award-winning “Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story” (1989, HBO) and “Anne Frank: The Whole Story” as Otto Frank (2001, ABC). On the other side of the coin, when asked to name the most evil character he has ever played, the answer comes immediately: Nazi architect Adolph Eichmann in Chris Weitz’s “Operation Finale” (2018), in which he starred alongside Oscar Isaac.

It’s clear that while Kingsley enjoyed portraying the ultra-violent Don Logan for Jonathan Glazer in ‘Sexy Beast’ (2001), the actor attributes his best words to his experience directing Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ (2010) and ‘ Hugo” movies. (2011). “He rules like a lover, with all the sensitivity, intelligence, and romance of the Italians,” he said, “not like a commander-in-chief, not like a tyrant, not like a boss, but with attention to one’s aspirations. He is so affectionate.”

Following: In another demonstration of range, Kingsley returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the slippery character actor Trevor Slattery, who previously appeared in Iron Man 3 (2013) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2012). . “I’m working on Trevor Slattery as we speak,” he said proudly. “I’m doing a TV series for Marvel Comics!” Created by Destin Daniel Cretton and co-starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Wonder Man” is coming to Disney+ later this year.

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