Magazine article The Spectator

'I Never Talk to Anybody'

Magazine article The Spectator

'I Never Talk to Anybody'

Article excerpt

Tanya Gold asks Sir Ben Kingsley about his upbringing, his new film, and drawing a line between reality and acting

So Ben Kingsley, or, as he apparently demands to be called, Sir Ben Kingsley, who are you? I'm sitting in a windowless corridor in the Dorchester Hotel, waiting for him. It's amazingly pink, this corridor.

It looks like a cake. He comes out to collect me and he doesn't look like he belongs here at all.

Perhaps it's because misery clings to all his famous roles - Gandhi, Simon Wiesenthal, Otto Frank, the sociopath gangster Don Logan, the accountant Itzhak Stern in Schindler's List. And now he's neither in prison nor a concentration camp, but standing behind an enormous teapot, looking as Home Counties as a John Lewis valance.

We sit down and I am slightly tongue-tied because I think he's a great actor, one of the best. His performance in Schindler's List was astonishing. When I say so Kingsley says 'Gulp', very theatrically. Then he goes into a long spiel about how the premiere of his new film, The Prince of Persia, is taking place all over the world today.

The film is awful, as bad as movies get, and I am hoping he'll roll his eyes, admitting in code how terrible it is, but no, he's quite serious about pretending this schlock was a great experience: 'It's terribly exciting.' I haven't bothered turning on the tape recorder for this, but he points at it and says, 'You can turn it on.' His body language is relaxed but watchful. His accent is from nowhere.

Ben Kingsley, I know, has two methods in interviews. Sometimes he talks about growing up near Salford in the 1950s. He was called Krishna Bhanji then. His father, the Indian GP, drank and ignored him; his mother, the half-Jewish housewife, accused him of theatricality and ignored him too. He has said, 'I was not taken seriously. Everything I attempted to articulate was diminished, distorted or interrupted.' There was also a racist grandmother who hated her Jewish lover so much that she became an anti-Semite.

Sometimes he talks about this and sometimes he just draws on a glittering robe and gives a magnificent display of luvvieness, which is rather touching because it's brilliantly crafted, but is incredibly irritating nonetheless. When he says, 'Albert Camus said the only way to understand Iago is to play him, ' I realise I am definitely getting the latter. Damn.

Could he have played the Ralph Fiennes part - the Nazi - in Schindler's List? 'Yes, because we have to illustrate with all our might how terrible it was, ' he says in a low voice with an actor's stare which is straight out of the Actor's Stare Handbook. 'In a sense I have the Ralph Fiennes part in this [The Prince of Persia] too.' He plays Nizam, a bald cartoon baddie with a polished head.

So saying he has the Ralph Fiennes part in The Prince of Persia is like saying Tom has the Ralph Fiennes part in Tom and Jerry.

'Nizam tries to change the map of his universe, ' he goes on. 'Adolf Hitler did exactly the same thing.' This is a typical Ben Kingsley sentence: Big Bird is really Stalin.

I don't want to discuss the psychology of tyranny with Ben Kingsley. So I ask: What were your parents like? He gives me a violently calm look. 'That is very hard, ' he says, 'because my siblings are alive. We are treading on very dangerous ground. The repercussions could tear through my siblings.'

I'm stuck. So I tell him that another interviewer called him impenetrable. …

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