Krishna Pandit Bhanji
31 December 1943
|Children||4; including Ferdinand Kingsley|
Sir Benjamin Kingsley (born Krishna Pandit Bhanji; 31 December 1943) is an English actor. Throughout his career spanning over five decades, he has garnered numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Grammy Award, and two Golden Globe Awards.
Born to an English mother and a Gujarati father with roots in Jamnagar, Kingsley began his career in theatre, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967 and spending the next 15 years appearing mainly on stage. His starring roles included productions of As You Like It (his West End debut for the company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1967), Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream (including Peter Brook’s 1970 RSC production of the play), Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
In film, Kingsley is known for his starring role as Mahatma Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), for which he subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Actor and BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He also appeared as Itzhak Stern in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List (1993), receiving a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Subsequent roles have included Twelfth Night (1996), Sexy Beast (2000), House of Sand and Fog (2003), Thunderbirds (2004), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Shutter Island (2010), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Hugo (2011), The Dictator (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013), Ender's Game (2013) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021). He has also voiced Archibald Snatcher in The Boxtrolls (2014), and Bagheera in the live-action adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book (2016).
Kingsley was appointed Knight Bachelor in 2002 for services to the British film industry. In 2010, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2013, he received the Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Filmed Entertainment.
Kingsley was born as Krishna Pandit Bhanji (Gujarati: કૃષ્ણા પંડિત ભાણજી) on 31 December 1943 in Snainton, North Riding of Yorkshire, the son of actress and model Anna Lyna Mary (née Goodman; 1914–2010) and Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji (1914–1968).
His mother was English; she was born out of wedlock, and "was loath to speak of her background". His father was born in the East Africa Protectorate (which later became, in 1920, the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya) to a family from the Indian city of Jamnagar, of Khoja Gujarati descent. Kingsley's paternal grandfather was a successful spice trader who had moved from India to the Sultanate of Zanzibar, where Kingsley's father lived until moving to the UK at the age of 14. Kingsley grew up in Pendlebury, Lancashire. He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School, where one of his classmates was actor Robert Powell.
Kingsley's maternal grandfather was believed by the family to have been of Russian- or German-Jewish descent, while his maternal grandmother was English and worked in the garment district of London's East End. Kingsley stated in 1994, "I'm not Jewish, and though there might be some Russian-Jewish heritage way back on my mother's side, the thread is so fine there's no real evidence." In a 2016 interview, he indicated that his maternal grandmother was impregnated by a Russian Jewish immigrant who later abandoned her, which led her to become a "vile anti-Semite."
Kingsley studied at De La Salle College in Salford, which later became home to The Ben Kingsley Theatre. While at college he became involved in amateur dramatics in Manchester, making his professional stage debut on graduation, aged 23. In 1966 he was spotted by music producer and manager Dick James (The Beatles' publisher), who offered to mould Kingsley into a pop star, but Kingsley chose to join the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1967 after an audition before Trevor Nunn.
Devoting himself almost exclusively to stage work for the next 15 years, he made his West End debut for the company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1967 in a production of As You Like It. Further productions for the RSC included Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream (starring in Peter Brook's acclaimed 1970 RSC production as Demetrius), Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
In the 1960s, he changed his name to Ben Kingsley, fearing that a foreign name would hamper his career. On the impact of adopting an English name, Kingsley told the Radio Times, "As soon as I changed my name, I got the jobs. I had one audition as Krishna Bhanji and they said, 'Beautiful audition but we don’t quite know how to place you in our forthcoming season.' I changed my name, crossed the road, and they said when can you start?" Kingsley played Mosca in Peter Hall's 1977 production of Ben Jonson's Volpone for the Royal National Theatre. He also starred in the role of Willy Loman in a 1982 Sydney production of Death of a Salesman opposite Mel Gibson.
Kingsley made the transition to film roles early on, with his first role coming in Fear Is the Key, released in 1972. Kingsley continued starring in bit roles in both film and television, including a role as Ron Jenkins on the soap opera Coronation Street from 1966 to 1967 and regular appearances as a defence counsel in the long-running British legal programme Crown Court. In 1975, he starred as Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the BBCs historical drama The Love School and appeared in the TV miniseries Dickens of London the following year. He found fame as Mohandas Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in 1982. The film was a critical and financial success, and Kingsley won the Academy Award for Best Actor, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, for his performance.
Kingsley has since appeared in a variety of roles. His credits included the films Turtle Diary, Maurice, Pascali's Island, Without a Clue (as Dr. Watson alongside Michael Caine's Sherlock Holmes), Suspect Zero, Bugsy (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), Sneakers, Dave, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Schindler's List, Silas Marner, Death and the Maiden, Sexy Beast, for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and House of Sand and Fog, which led to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He won a Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2001.
In 1997, he provided a voice in the video game Ceremony of Innocence. In 1998, he was the head of the jury at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival and starred in the family film Spooky House, saying he had to choose a role in a lighter film after acting in subsequent multiple roles that left him feeling traumatized. In July 2006, he received an Emmy nomination for his performance in the made-for-TV film Mrs. Harris, in which he played famed cardiologist Herman Tarnower, who was murdered by his jilted lover, Jean Harris. Later that year, Kingsley appeared in an episode of The Sopranos entitled "Luxury Lounge", playing himself. In 2007, Kingsley appeared as a Polish American mobster in the Mafia comedy You Kill Me, and a hitman in War, Inc.
In 2010, Kingsley worked voicing a character named Sabine in Lionhead Studios game Fable III and starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese. The same year Kingsley made his Bollywood debut in the thriller Teen Patti. In 2011 he appeared in Scorsese's next film, Hugo, and signed up to appear in a new feature by Neil Jordan and John Boorman entitled Broken Dream. In 2013, he appeared as Trevor Slattery in Iron Man 3, and as the hero Mazer Rackham in Ender's Game. Kingsley's 2014 film roles included Exodus: Gods and Kings, as Nun, a Hebrew slave, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, as Merenkahre, a simulacrum of an Egyptian pharaoh and father of Ahkmenrah (in one scene, the character discusses his Hebrew slaves).
In 2015, Kingsley played a Sikh driving instructor in the film Learning to Drive. He voiced Bagheera in the live-action adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau and recorded Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi in book-on-tape format. In 2018, Kingsley was the narrator for Amazon Prime's documentary All or Nothing: Manchester City which followed Manchester City's record breaking 2017–18 Premier League campaign. In 2018 he was the voice of General Woundwort in the BBC adaptation of Watership Down. He reprised his role as Trevor Slattery in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was released in September 2021.
Kingsley has been married four times and has four children: Thomas Bhanji and artist Jasmin Bhanji, with actress Angela Morant, and Edmund Kingsley and Ferdinand Kingsley, both of whom became actors, with theatrical director Alison Sutcliffe. He divorced Alexandra Christmann in 2005, having been "deeply, deeply shocked" after pictures of her kissing another man surfaced on the internet. On 3 September 2007, Kingsley married Brazilian actress Daniela Lavender at Eynsham Hall in North Leigh, Oxfordshire.
Kingley's father was a Gujarati Khoja who practiced Isma'ili Islam, though he was not raised in his father's faith, and identifies as a Quaker.
Kingsley appeared in The Children's Monologues on stage in London alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne. It was performed on behalf of Dramatic Need, a UK-registered charity that sends international arts professionals (such as musicians, artists and actors) to host workshops in underprivileged and rural communities in Africa.
In 1984, Kingsley won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Nonmusical Recording for The Words of Gandhi, received an honorary degree from the University of Salford, and was awarded the Indian civilian honour Padma Shri. He was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2002 New Year Honours for services to the British film industry. The award was announced on 31 December 2001, which happened to be Kingsley's 58th birthday. After being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, Kingsley stated:
I told the Queen that winning an Oscar pales into insignificance—this is insurmountable. I'm fascinated by the ancient, by mythology, by these islands and their tradition of story telling. I feel that I am a story teller and to receive a knighthood is really recognition of that.
His demand to be called 'Sir' in film and TV show credits was documented by the BBC, to some criticism. Since then, Kingsley appears to have altered his stance; credits for his latest films refer to him as Ben Kingsley. Co-star Penélope Cruz was reportedly unsure what to call him during the filming of Elegy as someone had told her she needed to refer to him as "Sir Ben". One day it slipped out as such, and she called him that for the remainder of the shoot. Kingsley has denied accusations that he prefers to be referred to by his title, saying, "If I've ever insisted on being called 'Sir' by colleagues on a film set then I am profoundly sorry. I don't remember ever doing that and I tend not to forget." In May 2010, Kingsley was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In April 2013, Kingsley was honoured with the Fellowship Award at The Asian Awards in London.
Although born and raised in England, Mr. Kingsley is half Indian: his mother was an English model and his father, a physician, was Indian.
...[H]is grandfather (a spice trader) [...] was a prominent member of the Ismaili Koja community in Zanzibar (in the Indian Ocean). Ismaili's are Shi'a Muslims, and followers of the Aga Khan (a descendent of the prophet Muhammad).
I'm not Jewish," he said, "and though there might be some Russian-Jewish heritage way back on my mother's side, the thread is so fine there's no real evidence...
I was looking at the roles that I've done over the last five, just five years. They include a serial killer, a concentration camp victim, a total tyrant, a lunatic, a man whose child dies in his arms and he takes revenge by killing the three people responsible – so I noticed I was going into some pretty dark areas, and I was pretty well carrying the moral agenda of every film I was in on my own shoulders. And given that I have a fairly wide choice most of my career on what to do next, I decided I had to do something that did not involve me being traumatized to any extent by the role. I would choose to do something much lighter – that doesn't mean any easier, it means lighter, not necessarily have the whole moral agenda of the holocaust, or serial killing, or crime and punishment on my shoulders. Just to do something that was without that particular agenda, that's why I chose this role.