Thursday, Jan. 08, 2009

Ben Kingsley


He acts in so many movies — six that came out last year, including stints as a swami in The Love Guru, a doped-out psychotherapist in The Wackness and a CIA biggie in War, Inc. — that you may wonder when Ben Kingsley has time to be Ben Kingsley. Yet the man who has played Gandhi, Moses, Simon Wiesenthal and Meyer Lansky has a range to match his energy.

One thing Kingsley doesn't get many shots at is a romantic lead. In Elegy, from Philip Roth's novel The Dying Animal, he lends his Mensa machismo and minute emotional calibrations to David, a college professor with a string of sexual conquests and, suddenly, a reason to love somebody: the graduate student Consuela (wan, radiant Penélope Cruz). "David is absolutely terrified of intimacy," Kingsley says. "It takes someone as forceful, tenacious, brave and loving as Consuela to bash through the layers of his defense." In Cruz and director Isabel Coixet, he found "people for whom I had an absolute trust and affection. We were all singing the same song, just in different ranges."

So often a master of disguise, Sir Ben wanted David to be a kind of self-portrait. "I asked [Coixet] if I could please be. It was like stripping down — to my voice, my mannerisms, my speech patterns — so that I felt really vulnerable. Between action and part, I didn't jump into 'disguised me.'" Just so, in Kingsley's exposure, there is acute, all-too-human revelation.

Reported by Lina Lofaro