Icons / August 2019

Sir Ben Kingsley: Tender is the Knight

Sir Ben Kingsley’s combustible blend of sensitivity and strength makes it impossible to ignore his work. From where does he draw such presence and potency? The answer lies in the darker fringes of human experience.

  • fashion director Grace Gilfeather

  • by Nick Scott

  • photography Austin Hargrave

White linen jacket, Dolce & Gabbana; light blue cashmere, silk and linen sweater, Ermenegildo Zegna; denim jeans, Paige; navy silk pocket-square, Ermenegildo Zegna; black leather custom-made brogues, Borgioli.

A choice nugget of Kingslian folklore takes us to Sir Bens childhood, and a small cinema in Salford, Greater Manchester, about 100 miles south-west of his birthplace near Scarborough. The movie unfolding before the young boy then named Krishna Pandit Bhanji is 1951s Never Take No for an Answer, a tender fable about a nine-year-old war orphan, Peppino, who walks 100 miles south to Rome so that the Pope might heal his beloved, sick donkey. 

Sir Ben, speaking in Los Angeles before the photos you see here are captured, picks up the story: The last shot of the film is the little boy leading his donkey into a shaft of light coming into the chapel, by which time I was reduced to a bundle of tears. It was so beautiful to watch that redemptive gesture on film. After the movie the cinema owner saw me in the crowd and lifted me up in his arms and shouted, Its little Peppino, its little Peppino!’ Physically I looked very like him. It was just an extraordinary afternoon. Im sure that it was the life-changing moment. 

Fast-forward almost seven decades, and the latest chapter of Sir Ben Kingsleys career is unfolding in Perpetual Grace, LTD, the American television neo-noir thriller that has drawn praise from some of the most critically parsimonious observers thanks to its ever-thickening plot, finely judged dramatic tension, and stellar performances from a cast that also includes Westworlds Jimmi Simpson, Luis Guzmán (TrafficPunch-Drunk Love), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) and Terry OQuinn, of Lost fame. 

Sir Ben is bristling with enthusiasm about the 10-part series. I would say, summing up all the ingredients  the writing, the directing, the camera positioning, the experience of discovering another actor like I discovered Luis Guzmán, who was discovering me  I would say thats its up on a pinnacle of experience for me. 

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