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The Untold Truth Of Ben Kingsley

How can one man become Mahatma Gandhi one minute and then somebody as repulsive as Don Logan the next? By being a talented actor, of course, and Ben Kingsley is undoubtedly talented.

Kingsley certainly has an expansive repertoire. From saint to sociopath, from Holocaust survivor to Nazi, he's done it all. His roles include a Polish-Israeli accountant in "Schindler's List," an Iranian immigrant in "The House of Sand and Fog," a Sikh driving instructor in "Learning to Drive," and an Egyptian Pharaoh in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb." In "Iron Man 3," he portrayed an actor who played a role in a series of terrorist attacks (even though the character was technically only playing a role). He even played a caricature of himself on "The Sopranos."

But who is the real actor behind all these characters? Ben Kingsley may not get bucketloads of free stuff from the Luxury Lounge like "Sir Ben" from "The Sopranos," but there are still plenty of surprises about Kingsley. For instance, his name was once mistaken for "Christina Blange" at a casting session, and his character Don Logan has some startling real-life inspiration. So keep reading if you want to discover the untold truth of Christina Blange — sorry, we mean Ben Kingsley.

His birth name is Krishna Bhanji

Ben Kingsley wasn't always Ben Kingsley. Born to a father who was of Ismaili and Gujarati Indian descent (per The Radio Times), and a mother who was English and Russian Jewish, he was given the name Krishna Bhanji (Traveling Boy). However, he chose to change his name to garner more recognition in the English-speaking acting community.

In an interview with BAFTA, Kingsley recalled auditioning for "Rada" and hearing the casting director announce that he was ready to meet with "Christina Blange." After waiting in awkward silence, Kingsley realized, "Oh gosh, that's me." As it turned out, the director had difficulty pronouncing "Krishna Bhanji" and couldn't read Kingsley's sloppy handwriting — hence, "Christina." Ultimately, Christina didn't get the part. 

After that incident, Kingsley said his father gave him some blunt advice: if his name was hurting his chances at getting gigs, then he should simply change his name. The moment he Anglicized his name, he started getting job offers. Kingsley added, "I changed my clunky invented Asian name to a more pronounceable, and acceptable, universal name in order to play Mahatma Gandhi. There's your irony." Of course, Kingsley has embraced his new name and now can't imagine it any other way. "For many, many years I have signed my portraits Ben Kingsley," he told The Radio Times. "That's who I am."

He was once mistaken for a movie star as a child

As a young child, Kingsley received a round of applause for something he hadn't actually done, though this incident inspired him to make many applause-worthy achievements later in life.

Kingsley recalls watching a film called "Never Take No for an Answer," about a boy named Peppino (Vittorio Manunta) traveling to Rome in hopes that the Pope can heal his sick donkey. Kingsley was struck by how much the little boy looked like himself. But he wasn't the only one who noticed the resemblance. As he was leaving the theater, the owner of the cinema spotted him and assumed he was the actor from the movie. So the man hoisted up young Kingsley so the whole theater could see and began shouting "It's little Peppino!" (per The Daily Mail). Kingsley was so awestruck that he didn't bother to correct his adoring fans.

The moment moved Kingsley to tears. He told The Guardian, "I was crying because the film was so moving, I was crying because he looked just like me, I was crying because something opened up in me, I didn't know what it was." After that, the seeds of an acting dream began to take root. As Kingsley described it to The Daily Mail, he started pretending he was being tailed by an imaginary camera crew. "I didn't talk to invisible people or have a teddy bear," he recalled. "I had an invisible film crew who were following me everywhere I went, hanging on my every gesture in close-up."

His parents weren't always supportive of his career

Ben Kingsley's sons Ferdindand and Edmund are actors as well, and he told The Independent that he always showers them with praise after watching their performances. However, he insists the response he usually got from his own parents was much more lukewarm. "Whenever I performed and my parents were in the audience, I got nothing back," he said. "One always wondered what one had done wrong."

Speaking to The Daily Mail, Kingsley recalled watching a performance of "King Richard III" as a teenager that inspired him so much that he announced he wanted to become an actor. According to Kingsley, his parents acted as though he had just gotten overexcited. His father called him "the Danny Kaye of the family," referring to the actor who played Walter Mitty -– a character known for always having his head in the clouds. Kingsley admitted feeling like he constantly needed to earn his parents' attention, telling The Radio Times, "You should never have to audition for your love."

Still, maybe Kingsley has his parents to indirectly thank for his acting career. "One of the recurring sounds of my childhood was the word 'Sssh!'" he told The Daily Mail in another interview, adding that this reaction only spurred him to make his voice heard. In any event, he shared with The Hollywood Reporter that his father helped him join an amateur dramatic society, a community that would proceed to give Kingsley the enthusiasm that his parents couldn't.

Ben Kingsley almost went into music

As shocking as it sounds, there's a chance Ben Kingsley might have become a rock star instead of an esteemed thespian.

When Kingsley was just starting out as an actor, he performed in the play "A Smashing Day," in a role that involved singing songs he had written himself. It just so happened that he caught the attention of John Lennon and Ringo Starr. "Before I knew it, I was being ushered in to meet their music publisher, Dick James," Kingsley told The Daily Mail. James praised Kingsley's performance and reportedly told him (per The Hollywood Reporter), "We'd like to mold you." 

Kingsley heard him out, but the situation just didn't sit right with him. He likened it to the behavior of his character Mazer from "Ender's Game," who bombards the teenage Ender with pressure until he is "molded" into the military genius Mazer wants him to be. Luckily, Kingsley received another job offer the same day he was approached by James: the Chichester Festival invited him for an acting gig, and that was when Kingsley recognized his true calling.

Kingsley admitted to The Daily Mail that he wouldn't have been rock star material anyway. "I'd have fallen among thieves, partying every night in my hotel room and enjoying a rock 'n' roll life," he said candidly. "I would have had none of the discipline I [needed] as an actor." So it was very fortunate indeed that he turned down the Beatles' publisher.

Kingsley is proud of his knighthood

Sir Ben Kingsley considers being knighted an important life achievement, even telling The Guardian that he views it as even more important than the Oscar he won. As a result, he was sorely disappointed when his mother didn't attend his knighting ceremony, according to The Daily Mail.

The actor was criticized after a movie poster for "Lucky Number Slevin" credited him as "Sir Ben Kingsley," which is considered a no-no for knighted actors. Producer Lord Puttnam described Kingsley's behavior as "barmy" in an interview with BBC Radio Live Breakfast (via The Sunday Times). However, Kingsley insisted that placing "Sir" on the poster wasn't his decision, and that somebody else at the film studio chose to include it without consulting him. "I've always been proud of the title, but I've learnt to be quietly proud," he told The Irish Examiner.

Of course, Kingsley hasn't let his knighthood get to his head. He is still perfectly willing to poke fun at himself, such as when he appeared as himself on "The Sopranos." Speaking of his scenes from the show, he told The Daily Mail, "I enjoyed every self-satirizing line."

He describes himself as a 'hermit' when he's working

In an interview with Film Inquiry, Ben Kingsley admitted that he doesn't spend much time intermingling with the rest of the cast off the set. He explained, "I love to hold back that interaction until we get to the real deal of interaction, which is when we do our job in front of the camera." While not socializing with the other actors seems like it would put up a wall between him and his co-stars, Kingsley argues that this practice ensures he and his fellow cast members will only be more excited to see each other on-set — and it follows that they will catch something more authentic on camera. The self-proclaimed "hermit" concluded, "We're not there to have a good time, we're there to work."

Kingsley also doesn't usually watch his co-stars perform in the scenes that don't involve the character he's playing; he sees no need to stick around at work after his workday ends. "When I'm not in a scene in the film, I'm not on the film set," he said in a promotional interview for "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb." After all, he added, "it's called a day off."

He recorded his lines for The Boxtrolls lying on his back

If you think that voice-acting is a piece of cake compared to performing in a live-action film, Ben Kingsley will set the record straight. When you're in a recording booth, "everything has to come through the voice," he told GQ. "My physical [body] language is completely irrelevant."

Kingsley was perfectly cast for the role of Archibald Snatcher in "The Boxtrolls," because he gave his performance just as much effort as he would have in a live-action role. When he first began recording, Kingsley took one look at the pot-bellied design of Snatcher and realized (per MovieWeb), "I needed my voice to come from a belly that I do not have." So he and the team at Laika Studios experimented a bit. 

"I started it standing, that didn't work," he told Den of Geek. "I continued it sitting, that didn't work." Finally he discovered a way to channel the voice of Snatcher -– by reclining on his back in the recording booth. That way, he could capture his character's deep voice without needing to strain, allowing him to focus instead on the delivery of his lines.

As Snatcher, Kingsley made a point not to gesture or do anything else with his body. "It's a wasted exercise," he explained in his interview with MovieWeb, adding, "If I resorted to body language, that means I'm not doing it with my voice. It means I'm compensating."

His character Don Logan was based on his grandmother

Years after playing the gentle Mahatma Gandhi, Kingsley completely reinvented himself to play Don Logan in "Sexy Beast." This aggressive mobster pushing the retired Gal (Ray Winstone) to return to a life of crime was such a departure from Kingsley's performance as Gandhi that audiences were shocked (per GQ). What many viewers didn't know was that the inspiration for Don Logan was surprisingly close to home for Kingsley.

He admitted to The Radio Times that the character was based on a particular family member, though he wouldn't confirm which one. However, it later turned out that he was referring to his maternal grandmother. Kingsley's grandmother had been impregnated and abandoned by a Jewish Russian immigrant, he told The Independent, afterwards becoming a venomous and racist anti-Semite who took out her anger on her children and grandchildren. Playing Don Logan was quite cathartic for him, he told The Radio Times.

Of course, Kingsley admitted to ComingSoon.net that there might be a little bit of Don Logan inside him too. "I know Don Logan is in me because I saw him on the screen," he said. "That doesn't drop from the sky. You don't have a Don Logan injection in the morning in the [makeup] trailer ... it has to come from me."

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Kingsley tries to understand even the most unlikeable characters

Don Logan isn't the only unsavory character Kingsley has played. He has also portrayed a mobster, a Nazi, and a Marvel villain (well, sort of). Kingsley himself has said (via ComingSoon.net), "It doesn't matter whether the audience [likes] you or not. It matters whether they believe you." Yet this actor has managed to find humanity in even the most detestable characters.

When playing Don Logan, Kingsley told himself that Logan had been abused as a kid and was now unleashing his pent-up anger onto the world (per GQ). In the same interview, he also shared that he approached Meyer Lansky in "Bugsy" as merely an immigrant looking after his community, saying, "I did not play him as a gangster. I played him as a patriarch." Meanwhile, Kingsley assured Mama's Geeky that there is plenty of goodness in his Marvel character, Trevor Slattery. "He has his vulnerabilities," he said. "He has his history. He has his issues and I think that he found in himself perhaps moments of empathy and kindness."

The one exception to this was when Kingsley played Nazi lieutenant Adolf Eichmann in "Operation Finale." While he did want to show Eichmann doing disarmingly normal tasks with his family, Kingsley made a point never to find any sympathy for the man. "I never got into his mind, ever," he told Film Inquiry. Instead, he relied on accounts of Holocaust survivors who had met the man. Kingsley added, "I kept my distance from him and I think that distance helped me to portray him."

He finds The House of Sand and Fog uplifting

"The House of Sand and Fog," a 2003 film that earned Kingsley an Oscar nomination, is not an easy watch. Kingsley plays Massoud Amir Behrani, a once-great Iranian colonel who is forced to flee his homeland and now works at a convenience store. He will do anything to ensure his family has a future, even if it means blocking out the home's original owner, a homeless woman named Kathy (Jennifer Connelly). While some critics wrote off this epic tragedy as too melodramatic and moody, even those that loved it admitted it could be depressing at times.

But Kingsley is of a very different mind. Although he conceded in an interview with The Oklahoman that each viewer will react to the movie in their own way, Kingsley said that he's never really seen it as a downer. If anything, the movie was an uplifting experience for him. "I think a great performance of 'Hamlet' [is uplifting] even though there are 10 dead bodies on the stage," he told The Oklahoman. He argues that this is because a tragedy can be a testament to "how much a son wished to avenge his father," or in the case of Kingsley's film, "how much a man can love his children." He finds Behrani's devotion to his family inspiring, even if that devotion ultimately results in death.

A surprising coincidence surrounds his casting as Gandhi

Ben Kingsley was seemingly born to play Gandhi. One can't help but wonder if maybe the universe was sending him a sign when a remarkable coincidence occurred the moment he got the part.

Six days before the actor got the fateful call from "Gandhi" director Richard Attenborough, he had been feeling exhausted from working on a production of "Nicholas Nickleby." He told The New York Times, "My wife started putting books in front of me in order to relax me and ease my blasted mind." That's how he stumbled upon a book called "The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi" by Robert Payne. So when Attenborough invited him to portray Gandhi, Kingsley told the director that his timing couldn't have been more perfect; he shared what he was currently reading. According to Kingsley, Attenborough replied (via BAFTA), "Of course you are, darling."

Funnily enough, Kingsley experienced another stroke of serendipity more than a decade later. While Kingsley was on the set of "Searching for Bobby Fischer," one of the cast members handed him a copy of the book "Schindler's Ark," urging him to read it. "He handed it to me as if it was some holy relic," Kingsley told GQ. "It was beautiful." Naturally, less than a week later, Kingsley was handed the script of what would become "Schindler's List." Conveniently, he had already read the book and was more than ready to step into the role of Itzhak Stern.

Kingsley had to play dead for eight hours as Gandhi

For Ben Kingsley, the shoes of Mahatma Gandhi were pretty big ones to fill. It was daunting for him to watch footage of the real Gandhi, knowing that he would need to somehow do this man justice onscreen (per GQ). What's more, Kingsley explained in a BAFTA interview that he needed to eat nothing for two whole days in order to film the scene where Gandhi is fasting. According to BBC, he has described the experience as comparable to "having a layer of skin peeled off [his] eyeballs." But one of the most challenging scenes to film was one where Kingsley didn't need to do much at all: he just needed to lie very, very still.

We mean, of course, the scene of Gandhi's funeral, where the body of the beloved activist is displayed on a funeral wagon. "We were to use [a] dummy for the scene," Kingsley told The Economic Times, "but [director] Richard [Attenborough] didn't like it." So that meant the actor needed to pose as Gandhi's corpse for eight hours. In an interview with the University of Southern California, he shared that he used yoga to maintain his focus and control his breathing. Of course, it didn't help that some of the extras were constantly trying to break his concentration and trick him into moving. "By the end my body was stiff," he told The Economic Times. "I needed help getting up."

Nevertheless, when he rose up, Kingsley was still met with applause from a crowd of record-breaking size.