Are there two Ben Kingsleys? Is there one who gets consistently amazing roles that mine the depth of his acting abilities and another one who takes in things like BloodRayne for some extra spending cash? If the answer is yes, then which Ben Kingsley will we get in this weekend's video game spectacle movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time? I'm hoping for the good one.
Kingsley is an anomaly amongst actors, able to somehow manage a career that bounces back and forth between big budget projects from A-list directors, thoughtful indie pieces, and grade-z dreck, all the while maintaining his personal cachet. It's no surprise then that with a career as varied as Kingsley's, deciding on his best role was a real challenge.
He's an Oscar-winner, Best Actor for 1982's Gandhi, but is that his best role? I'm not able to separate Gandhi from Kingsley, and when I try and picture the peaceful politician in my mind's eye, all I see is Kingsley. Maybe part of it was that my first exposure to Gandhi, the man, was through Kingsley, but there's something about biopics - cast the right actor in the right part, and the two will become intertwined. Larry Flynt is Woody Harrelson to me; Jamie Foxx and Ray Charles are one and the same.
For the best reminder of just how good Ben Kingsley is (and a surefire way to erase memories of The Love Guru or A Sound of Thunder), take in Gandhi and chase it immediately with 2000's gangster heist Sexy Beast. You'll see one man, warm and approachable, able to inspire a nation through peace, and another, Don Logan, cold and intimidating, inspiring others to plot his murder so that they won't have to live with his constant bullying.
Kingsley acknowledged the disparity between the two characters in an interview with BFI, "There is the Mahatma Gandhi and the Don Logan in every single person in that room, in this room, and it is evasive and wrong and misleading to suggest otherwise. It is only circumstance that dictates whether we are angels or devils, whether we're damned or blessed. Circumstance... and people have been, as I said earlier, crushed and distorted and forced into all kinds of strange postures as human beings because of circumstance. I don't know what monsters and demons would be in me if I felt that violence was the only way out of a very dark corner, but I do know, I have to accept, that just as I was able to access, through knowing Dick, a way to portray Mahatma Gandhi, from a center I know that there is also balance, mathematics -- I know that Don Logan is in there too."
We like our villains flashy and scary, and Don Logan is the role that allows for more scenery-chewing from Kingsley. I don't mean to downplay his work on that role by choosing Gandhi as his best work, but Gandhi is the more deceptively simple role, and thus, harder for an actor to pull off. He's the center of the entire film, and brings Gandhi to life in such a real way that will be challenging for any actor to replicate.
I'm still not sure if I've picked the right role to declare as his "best", but it's a compliment to Kingsley that an actor can have such a rich filmography to choose from. What are your favorite Kingsley roles?