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Bald Power: Sir Ben Kingsley plays cross with Jennifer Connelly in 'House of Sand and Fog.'


Cinequest 2005
Cinequest's 15th anniversary
Capsule reviews (part 1)
Capsule reviews (part 2)
Capsule reviews (part 3)
Ben Kingsley
Harold Lloyd
Suzanne Lloyd Q&A
'Charlie the Ox'
'Missionary Positions'
Festival schedule
Preview (from February 2)


Sexy Beast

Cinequest award winner Ben Kingsley moves easily from Gandhi to gangsters

By Richard von Busack

IN SOME small respect, Cinequest Maverick honoree Sir Ben Kingsley could attribute his career to being mistaken for Vittorio Manunta. Don't Take No for an Answer is how Kingsley remembered the title of the key film. (The Internet Movie Database identifies it as either as Peppino e Violetta or Never Take No for an Answer). It was a sacred drama about a sick donkey taken to the Vatican for healing.

"I looked like the little Italian boy who played him," Kingsley recalled. "So I was lifted up by the cinema's manager, who cried in a broad Manchester accent, 'Here's little Pepito!' I was hoisted above the crowd and applauded and hailed."

The applause has rarely stopped since, whether for his celebrated role as Gandhi or as aide-de-camp to Oskar Schindler. Kingsley was born Krishna Bhanji in the seaside resort of Scarborough. His father was a Kenyan-born physician of Indian descent, and his mother was an English fashion model.

Kingsley's youth in 1950s England included time playing guitar in a skiffle band. Dick James, who had recorded the Beatles, suggested to Kingsley that he could become a rock star, but his theatrical career began shortly afterward.

Upcoming roles for Kingsley include Fagin in Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist; he previously acted for Polanski in the far too little seen political thriller Death and the Maiden. Kingsley possesses a too often unused facility for comedy—he says he has some unabashed comedy piece on the horizon—but I asked if he planned to tease out the hideo-comic qualities in Dickens' character.

"I've based Fagin on someone I knew back in Manchester," Kingsley said, "who ran a weird antique shop under the arches of the railway bridge. He always wore 10 overcoats tied together with rope, and his hands were greenish black from handling coins and old metal. Fagin will be funny, but he won't be a cozy sort of funny."

Kingsley is a particularly inspired player of gangsters. "I admired Meyer Lansky [whom Kingsley portrayed in Bugsy] because I think he was a great patriarch. Fagin might have been an abandoned child brought up by his grandparents, who didn't speak English. Perhaps they only spoke Russian. Don Logan, of Sexy Beast, I considered as the most unhappy wounded child in the world. I find imaging a life of total dishonesty very exciting; it's a privilege to be able to explore that sort of life from a safe place."

Asked for a dream role, Kingsley says he would like to play the commander of the Sixth Fleet. He imagines "the extreme demands of battle, the admirable bravery ... a chance to explore virility and sublime responsibility." He dined once with Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, who commanded the forces at Kosovo. What the two of them had in common, Kingsley suggested, was that the outside world didn't have the slightest idea of what either of them did, what it entailed—"nobody has the faintest idea," he repeated.

For his appearance in San Jose, Kingsley promises to try to explain his art further. With Don Logan's own intensity, Kingsley finished: "I will not trivialize what I do."

Ben Kingsley will receive a Maverick Spirit Award and answer questions on March 5, 2pm, at the California Theatre. Tickets are $20. (408.295.FEST) Other Maverick Spirit Award Winners include Blanchard Ryan (querulous shark bait in 'Open Water'), March 6, 10:30am, San Jose Rep (pass-holders and contributors only), and Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah (subject of the documentary 'Emmanuel's Gift'), March 6, 7:15pm, San Jose Rep, $9.

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From the March 2-8, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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