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Ben Kingsley

Ben Kingsley by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Kingsley at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con
Krishna Pandit Bhanji

(1943-12-31) 31 December 1943 (age 78)
Years active1966–present
Children4; including Ferdinand Kingsley
Ben Kingsley signature.svg

Sir Ben Kingsley (born Krishna Pandit Bhanji; 31 December 1943) is an English actor, who has a 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 Globes.

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.[1] In 2010, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[2] In 2013, he received the Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Filmed Entertainment.[3]

Early life

Kingsley was born as Krishna Pandit Bhanji (Gujarati: કૃષ્ણા પંડિત ભાણજી) on 31 December 1943 in Snainton, North Riding of Yorkshire,[4][5][6] the son of actress and model Anna Lyna Mary (née Goodman; 1914–2010) and Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji (1914–1968).[7][8]

His mother was English; she was born out of wedlock, and "was loath to speak of her background".[9][10] 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.[11][12] 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.[13][14][15] Kingsley grew up in Pendlebury, Lancashire. He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School, where one of his classmates was actor Robert Powell.[16]

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.[17] 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."[18] 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."[19]


Beginnings and stage work

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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[21]

In the 1960s, he changed his name to Ben Kingsley, fearing that a foreign name would hamper his career.[22][23] 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?"[24] 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.

Transition to film and television

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.[22]

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.[25]

Kingsley at the premiere of Hugo in 2011
Kingsley at the premiere of Hugo in 2011

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.[26][27] 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.[28] 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).[29]

In 2015, Kingsley played a Sikh driving instructor in the film Learning to Drive.[30] He voiced Bagheera in the live-action adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau[31] 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.[32] In 2018 he was the voice of General Woundwort in the BBC adaptation of Watership Down.[33] 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.[34]

Personal life and activism

Kingsley (back row, third from left) and the cast of The Children's Monologues at the Old Vic Theatre in 2010
Kingsley (back row, third from left) and the cast of The Children's Monologues at the Old Vic Theatre in 2010

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.[35] He divorced Alexandra Christmann in 2005, having been "deeply, deeply shocked" after pictures of her kissing another man surfaced on the internet.[36] On 3 September 2007, Kingsley married Brazilian actress Daniela Lavender at Eynsham Hall in North Leigh, Oxfordshire.[37]

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.[38][19]

Kingsley appeared in The Children's Monologues on stage in London alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne.[39] 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.[40]


Kingsley's handprints at Leicester Square, London
Kingsley's handprints at Leicester Square, London

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,[41] and was awarded the Indian civilian honour Padma Shri.[42] He was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2002 New Year Honours for services to the British film industry.[1][43] The award was announced on 31 December 2001, which happened to be Kingsley's 58th birthday.[44] 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.[1]

His demand to be called 'Sir' in film and TV show credits was documented by the BBC, to some criticism.[45] 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.[46] 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."[47] In May 2010, Kingsley was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[2] In April 2013, Kingsley was honoured with the Fellowship Award at The Asian Awards in London.[48]


  1. ^ a b c "Sir Ben: Knighthood beats Oscar". BBC News. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Sir Ben Kingsley gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". BBC News. 28 May 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  3. ^ "The Britannia Awards: Kathryn Bigelow and Sir Ben Kingsley". Bafta. 30 July 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  4. ^ "Kingsley, Sir Ben, (born 31 Dec. 1943), actor". Who's Who. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.23178.
  5. ^ Steele, Francesca (19 April 2014). "Ferdinand Kingsley interview: 'Yeah, but mum's dad was totally bald too!'". The Spectator. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Ben Kingsley". Belief. BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Ben Kingsley Biography (1943-)". Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  8. ^ Husband, Stuart (24 April 2013). "Sir Ben Kingsley: 'Without a mask, I haven't got a clue'". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  9. ^ Pfefferman, Naomi (18 May 2001). "Shoah dramas continue to compel actor Ben Kingsley". J. The Jewish News of Northern California. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  10. ^ Tugend, Tom (13 April 2001). "Incidental Intelligence". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007.
  11. ^ Bennetts, Leslie (13 December 1982). "Ben Kingsley's Journey From Hamlet to Gandhi". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 April 2022. Although born and raised in England, Mr. Kingsley is half Indian: his mother was an English model and his father, a physician, was Indian.
  12. ^ "Sir Ben Kingsley's gold turban". A History of the World in 100 Objects. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 27 April 2018. ...[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).
  13. ^ Bennetts, Leslie (13 December 1982). "Ben Kingsley's Journey From Hamlet to Gandhi". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  14. ^ Von Busack, Richard. Sexy Beast. Metroactive movies. March 2005.
  15. ^ Pathak, Rujul. Ben Kingsley's Chameleon Characters Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Little 15 June 2005.
  16. ^ Walsh, John (6 March 2010). "Sir Ben Kingsley: 'I was blessed by being a very popular child". The Independent. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  17. ^ Krieger, Hilary Leila (10 April 2005). "'Gandhi' brings his 'truth-force' to Palestinian audiences". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012.: "The grandmother of the knighted Royal Shakespeare Company alum spoke Yiddish she picked up while a garment worker in London's East End a century ago. "She was violently opposed to talking about this, so my poor mother was at the receiving end of a rage attack every time my grandmother was asked about her husband, her lover, whoever it was, but it's believed that he was a Russian Jew or a German Jew called Goodman", Kingsley told The Jerusalem Post".
  18. ^ Pollack, Joe (3 January 1994). "He's No Stranger to Holocaust". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 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...
  19. ^ a b "Sir Ben Kingsley's identity is as colourful as his characters". Radio Times. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Birthdays – Sir Ben Kingsley". The Times. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  21. ^ a b "Kingsley, Ben. RSC Productions". RSC. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  22. ^ a b Stated in interview on Inside the Actors Studio
  23. ^ "Sir Ben's Sexy honour", BBC News. 31 December 2001.
  24. ^ "Sir Ben Kingsley on his identity and new film Learning to Drive". Radio Times. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  25. ^ Andre Deutsch (2003 ). "Variety International Film Guide". p. 377.
  26. ^ "Berlinale: 1998 Juries". Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  27. ^ Ben Kingsley (2020). Spooky House (Extras–Interviews–Ben Kingsley) (DVD-ROM). 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.
  28. ^ "Ben Kingsley & John Hurt for Neil Jordan–John Boorman film 'Broken Dream'". IFTN. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  29. ^ "Ridley Scott In 'Exodus' Talks With Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul". 27 August 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  30. ^ Doty, Meriah. "Ben Kingsley Reveals the Challenges of 'Learning to Drive' and the Beauty of Connecting With Fans". Yahoo. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  31. ^ "Ben Kingsley To Voice Bagheera In Disney's 'The Jungle Book'". Deadline. 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  32. ^ "All or Nothing: Manchester City". Amazon. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  33. ^ John Plunkett (27 April 2016). "Netflix Bags Global Rights for 'Watership Down' Adaptation With John Boyega, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  34. ^ Boone, John (17 August 2021). "Sir Ben Kingsley Confirms His MCU Return in 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'". Entertainment Tonight. Archived from the original on 18 August 2021. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
  35. ^ Ensor, Josie (14 April 2013). "Sir Ben Kingsley: my Hollywood actress mother was jealous of my success". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  36. ^ "Kingsley Admits Devastation at Adulterous Wife Photos". Contact Music News. 16 November 2005. Retrieved 15 August 2007.
  37. ^ "Kingsley weds Brazilian actress". BBC News. 7 September 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  38. ^ Wade, Dave (25 April 2015). "The faith forgotten in its hometown". Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  39. ^ "The Children's Monologues". The Crossed Cow. 16 November 2010. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  40. ^ "The Children's Monologues". Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  41. ^ Manchester, University of Salford (24 April 2015). "Sir Ben Kingsley, recipient of honorary degree, with Registrar Stuart Bosworth". Retrieved 25 October 2021.
  42. ^ "Padma Awards". Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Retrieved 10 July 2009.
  43. ^ "No. 56430". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2001. p. 1.
  44. ^ "Parker and Kingsley receive New Year knighthoods". The Guardian. 31 December 2001. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  45. ^ "Lord Puttnam dubs Sir Ben 'barmy'". BBC News. 20 February 2006. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  46. ^ "Cruz Baffled By Kingsley's Title". Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  47. ^ Hastings, Chris (26 February 2006). "If I ever insisted on being called 'Sir' on a film, then I am really sorry, says Sir Ben Kingsley". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  48. ^ "Special Report: Asian Awards 2013". - The latest movies, interviews in Bollywood. 18 April 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2018.

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