A highly prolific performer, Sir Ben Kingsley is an Academy Award-winning actor known for his work in films like ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Bugsy,’ ‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘House of Sand and Fog,’ ‘Sexy Beast’ and ‘Hugo,’ among many others.
Born on December 31, 1943, in Snainton, England, Khrishna Bhanji switched his name to Ben Kingsley and developed a stage career with the Royal Shakespeare Company. After branching out to screen projects as well, he shot to prominence in the highly acclaimed film Gandhi, for which he won an Oscar. Kingsley has since acted in a wide array of projects that include Bugsy, Dave, Twelfth Night, Sexy Beast, The House of Sand and Fog, Hugo, Iron Man 3 and The Jungle Book, showcasing his rich range and winning a host of additional Oscar nominations and accolades. He was knighted in 2002.
Background and Early Life
Actor Krishna Bhanji, better known as Ben Kingsley, was born on December 31, 1943 in the village of Snainton, North Yorkshire, England. Raised in Salford as the son of Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, a Kenyan-born physician of Indian ancestry, and Anna Lyna Mary Bhanji, an English-born fashion model, Kingsley began acting as a teenager while also developing his craft as a musician and vocalist. Though he later described his parents as emotionally distant and lacking affection, he took the name Ben as a tribute to his father, who had been called Ben in college.
Though offered a recording contract as a singer/guitarist, Kingsley chose acting and joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967. He soon began performing in lead roles, including Demetrius in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a part which he reprised for U.S. audiences in 1971, and the title character in Hamlet in 1975. Kingsley first officially appeared on the big screen in the Alistair MacLean thriller Fear is the Key (1972), having already been featured on British TV programs.
Academy Award for 'Gandhi'
During the mid '70s, Kingsley worked with the National Theatre. He subsequently returned to the RSC, where he originated the role of Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby. When the production traveled to Broadway, Kingsley was unable to reprise the role due to film commitments. His career soared to new heights in 1981 with the title role in Richard Attenborough's acclaimed biopic Gandhi, telling the life story of the iconic, revered leader of India's independence movement. In only his second accredited big-screen film, Kingsley won numerous accolades for his performance, including an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Acclaimed Star of the Screen
Kingsley appeared in several more European films, notably a 1983 adaptation of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, co-starring Jeremy Irons, and James Ivory's Maurice (1987). He also made his Broadway return in the one-man show Edmund Kean (1984) before making his U.S. film debut in Without a Clue (1988), playing the capable Dr. Watson to Michael Caine's bumbling Sherlock Holmes. The film was an unusually comic choice for Kingsley, and was met with mixed reviews. In 1989, he again ventured into historical biopic territory, earning critical praise for his performance in the title role of the HBO feature Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story as the famed Holocaust survivor who steadfastly sought vengeance against the Nazis.
Kingsley earned his second Academy Award nomination for his sharp-edged supporting turn as Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in the Warren Beatty vehicle Bugsy (1991). After a villainous performance in the thriller Sneakers (1992), co-starring Robert Redford, he essayed a trio of more benevolent roles, including a patient coach to a chess prodigy in Searching for Bobby Fischer, a U.S. vice president in the comedy Dave, co-starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, and Itzhak Stern, the trusted friend of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) in Steven Spielberg's acclaimed Holocaust epic Schindler's List (all 1993). This last performance garnered Kingsley his best reviews since Gandhi, once again proving the actor's gift for portraying complicated characters of uncommon dignity and historical importance.
A series of less well received movies followed, including Roman Polanski's Death and the Maiden (1994), the science-fiction thriller Species (1995), the spy drama The Assignment (1997), the alien comedy What Planet Are You From? (2000), co-starring Garry Shandling and Annette Bening, and the military thriller Rules of Engagement (2000). In addition, Kingsley acted in a number of high profile TV projects, including the TNT miniseries Joseph (1995) and Moses (1996, in which Kingsley played the title role), Showtime's The Tale of Sweeney Todd (1998) and the NBC movies Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" (1998) and Alice in Wonderland (1999).
Kingsley had a busy year in 2001, beginning with his chilling, outrageous performance as the tightly wound British gangster Don Logan in the British import Sexy Beast. For the scene-stealing turn, Kingsley earned rave reviews and numerous critical accolades, including his third Academy Award nomination. The same year, he nabbed an Emmy nod for another supporting performance as Otto Frank in the lauded ABC miniseries Anne Frank. Kingsley also narrated the Spielberg-directed science fiction film A.I. Artificial Intelligence and co-starred with Mira Sorvino in The Triumph of Love, which was released in the U.S. in 2002. In 2004, Kingsley received his fourth Oscar nomination for his performance as an exiled Iranian colonel in the film adaptation of Andre Dubus III's acclaimed novel House of Sand and Fog.
Recent Blockbusters and Indie Fare
Kingsley has not slowed down and continues to take on an array of roles, with some projects more well received than others. He co-starred in big-screen outings like The Last Legion (2007), The Wackness (2008), Journey to Mecca (2009) and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010). He also worked with iconic director Martin Scorsese on two projects: the thriller Shutter Island (2010) and the family film Hugo (2011), a charming, fantastic work that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, winning several awards in other categories. In Hugo, Kingsley portrayed film trailblazer Georges Méliès, known for fare like 1902's A Trip to the Moon.
Standing out among other fare, Kingsley became part of the world of comic book fandom via his with-a-twist portrayal of the Mandarin in 2013's Iron Man 3, opposite Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle. Then in late summer 2014, the actor portrayed a Sikh cabbie in the art-house comedy/drama Learning to Drive, co-starring Patricia Clarkson, and during the holiday season appeared in Ridley Scott's big budget Exodus: Gods and Kings, which flopped in the U.S. After having appeared in the TV mini-series Tut and the drama The Walk, both in 2015, Kingsley returned to the world of children's narratives. He depicted the panther Bagheera in director Jon Favreau's 2016 adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book, a remake which went on to earn nearly $1 billion worldwide.
Kingsley has a son and daughter, Thomas and Jasmine, from his first marriage to actress Angela Morant, and two sons, Edmund and Ferdinand, from his second to theater director Alison Sutcliffe, with whom he worked on the one-man show Edmund Kean. He and his third wife, Alexandra, separated after just 15 months of marriage in 2005. Kingsley wed Brazilian actress Daniela Barbosa de Carneiro, aka Daniela Lavender, in 2007 in a small, private ceremony.
On March 19, 2002, Kingsley was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, an honor about which he has expressed deep pride.