Ben Kingsley: My parents ‘never praised me or acknowledged a gram of talent’

I don’t often get to talk about my love of Ben Kingsley. But I do love him, and it’s a very deep, complicated love. On one hand, he reminds me very much of my late father, especially when Ben is playing up his half-Indian side. On the other hand, I think very highly of Ben as an actor capable of extraordinary depth and compassion. Unfortunately, there’s a whole other side of things, where Ben basically says “yes” to every film he’s offered, no matter how crappy or ill-advised. Over the past 20 years, he’s worked on Oscar winning and Oscar nominated films like Schindler’s List, The House of Sand and Fog, Sexy Beast and Hugo. But in the same time frame, he’s done dozens of films which turned out to be total crap. Maybe he needs a better agent. Or maybe he just needs to learn that not all paychecks are equal.

Anyway, Ben stars in Iron Man 3 as “The Mandarin” which… ugh, is that racist? To get a half-Indian actor to play a character called “The Mandarin” (a character who was half-Chinese and half-Caucasian in the comics)? Are Indians and Chinese people interchangeable now? Ugh. So, Ben is going to be around more as Iron Man promotion ramps up, and for now, we’re gifted with this interview in which Ben talks about how his parents were really crappy:

Being knighted by the Queen helped healed the childhood scars suffered by Sir Ben Kingsley. The actor, who won an Oscar for Gandhi, claims his career was driven by the “vacuum” of a loveless upbringing. And he felt rid of his demons only after being knighted in 2002.

Sir Ben, 69, said there was no affection in his family and his actress mother was jealous. “I had always been the song-and-dance man of the family. I remember my father referring to me as ‘Our little Danny Kaye’ when I was about seven. That was the only remotely positive comment I remember from them. They never praised me or acknowledged a gram of talent. Their way was to mock. ‘When are you going to finish with this acting lark?’ That sort of thing. My mother, far from being proud, was very jealous of my success.”

Sir Ben was the son of heavy drinker Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, a doctor of Gujarati descent, and Anna Lyna Mary. His father and his English mother are both dead.

He said: “Any kind of embrace was totally absent from my life. So to be embraced by Her Majesty, I felt like stopping people in the street, saying ‘My mum loves me, you know’. Because that’s what it felt like, to me. The filling of a vacuum in the universe.”

Four-times married Sir Ben has four children. “In contrast to my parents their ribs are in danger of being crushed,” he said. His Brazilian wife Daniela is 30 years his junior.

[From Express]

Yikes. Personally, I don’t really have a dog in the “how to praise the specialness of your child” hunt. It annoys me when parents overemphasize the special-little-snowflake child and it annoys me when parents kill their child’s dreams too. I like the happy-medium parents – supportive but realistic. Praising a child’s strengths and speaking truth about a child’s faults. It sounds like Ben is still dealing with parents who didn’t know how to deal with him or his talent. And that gave him a deep emotional well of need and gave him the drive to succeed. And so what if he sees the Queen as his mother-surrogate? I doubt he’s alone. Aren’t there tons of studies and polling data to suggest that many British people see the Queen as some sort of motherly or grandmotherly figure in their lives?

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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40 Responses to “Ben Kingsley: My parents ‘never praised me or acknowledged a gram of talent’”

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  1. T.Fanty says:

    Or, it will make him an arrogant ass. I’ve heard that he will only respond to being called Sir Ben.

  2. kaligula says:

    I appreciate that he’s admitting these deeply rooted insecurities, it humanizes him and is endearing. Nonetheless I hope it’s not too cruel to say that I think he has a painfully unbearable screen presence and I can’t stand to watch anything he’s in.

  3. mkyarwood says:

    For those of us who didn’t get the support we were looking for from our parents (and didn’t know it was missing), it’s tough to just get over it. On the other hand, bringing them up in conversation like this, well. I think it’s time to forgive them. They were human and, if his mother was jealous, he must be able to see why now? Not easy being a woman in any era, let alone the one she was a mom in.

  4. MonicaQ says:

    I know that feel Mr. Kingsley–my mom never graduated high school and still to this day yells at me for “all the money you wasted doing that stupid school shit.” I just point out that I *do* make more money than her. Ah well.

    I guess it’s like Steven Segal “Insert Ethnicity Here” kind of thing? I don’t know. He certainly looks grumpy enough to be Mandarin (I really have no idea who he [Kingsley] is and normally I’d google but my phone is slow).

  5. MAP says:

    Having shitty parents can really mess someone up in life. I mean, he is incredibly successful, but still carries scars from loveless parents who he felt didn’t support him.

  6. DIANE says:

    Oh, please. My mother beat me up and my father was a drunk. But I didn’t live in the lap of luxury where I had the wherewithal to pursue my dreams, even without parental guidance, as he so obviously did. How many doors did his family name open for him? And he just didn’t feel worthy until all those around him were deemed to call him ‘Sir.’ God, he must be obnoxious. And didn’t he retire from acting in decent films after Gandhi? Upper class twit.

    • LAK says:

      Several things;

      1. Britain was less tolerant of mixed race couples and their children before the 90s, so it wasn’t an easy childhood even if his parents had turned out loving and embracing of his talent.

      2. He is not upper class.

      3. Plus He went to grammar school not private school as someone of his class would have done.

      4. Further, he never attended a posh university, and has literally worked his way to the top.

      5. The insistence that everyone call him Sir Kingsley all the time, thus reminding everyone of his elevation business is VERY indicative of his arriviste status and insecurity. And how far he has climbed to get to the top of his profession.

      6. And whilst you are here vilifying him, you might want to look at his CV.

      7. GHANDI is the pinnacle of his career, but as Kaiser points out, there have been many good films as well as bad.

      ….but don’t let your prejudice get in the way of the facts.

      • ya says:

        Also – and I see this on Lohan posts too – it’s hard to compare different people’s past hardships – people obviously react differently to different or similar circumstances.

        Some people are more unable to push themselves forward after a difficult childhood – no matter how difficult – than others.

    • Beatriz says:

      Ugh. Never compare your problems to anyone else’s. It will either make you feel pity for yourself for having it worse, feel like your problems are insignificant (even though they definitely aren’t), or get a crappy superior attitude like you are putting on now. Not everyone develops healthy coping strategies like you. There is no “universal” right or wrong way in this situation. If you know how traumatic a horrible childhood can be, have some compassion.

  7. sally says:

    Poor Ben. I have Indian parents and I know the feeling. I recently was admitted to an Ivy League university but instead of being proud they’re angry I’m not becoming a doctor. I can see how those types of moments can ruin a relationship.

  8. TG says:

    I can’t understand how any mother or father could be jealous of their kids or the love the other parent shows that child. I can’t even get into it because it makes me so angry.

  9. Sirsnarksalot says:

    Parental jealousy sounds a lot like a narcissistic parent. And they can be the worst kind if parent, and not surprisingly create a lifelong need in their child to despertely seek outaide approval. It probably why a lot of actors pursue their line of work. It’s a cliche but there really is no replacement for a mother’ love. My heart breaks for him.

  10. spinner says:

    He’s a grown man. Time to buck-up & stop blaming your parents at some point — be an adult & take responsibility for your own life.

  11. princesslizabeth says:

    I have always felt great affection for The Queen…she feels like my honorary Grandmother. Don’t know why that is, but she’s just so captivating. I have dreams where I get to meet her…those are wonderful.

    Just sharing…

  12. Ashling says:

    Wow. Lots of harsh words for Ben. I have a soft spot for him. I enjoy him even in crappy movies.

  13. Sisi says:

    director Shane Black of Iron Man 3 flat out said that the Mandarin character in the comics was based on rasist charicature. How his awareness changes the movie portrayal of the Mandarin no-one knows yet.

    But there certainly has been criticism about the fact that the chinese villain in a chinese-american production has been rewritten to – it seems – appease the enormous country that is an economic powerhouse, so the motive to change the mandarin seems to be money instead of just racism=wrong.

    I do hope that the casting of Ben Kingley means it will become a character of substance with a backstory instead of a twodimensional villain that is only there to be eeeeeviiiil.

    one of the biggest issues Asian characters in hollywood projects has is that they are just there without backstory or purpose/motive/thoughts, no meaty roles. I really hate to use the word, but sadly they are often one-trick-pony token characters. I really hope that this movie won’t do that, because I really like Iron Man, but I don’t know how much depth and nuance I should expect from a action hero flick…

  14. DreamyK says:

    Pushing 70, 3 divorces, 4 marriages and he’s still talking trash about his folks? Come on dude. Seriously. No one likes a whiney Grandpa.

  15. veronica says:

    He’s 70 years old. He could have gone through a good round of therapy decades ago to deal with this. Ugh, I can’t with celebrities talking about their morose emotional problems to magazine. We have our problems, too! But most of us don’t also have millions of dollars at our disposal to use for achieving some added happiness to our lives. Spare me.

  16. RobN says:

    It’s nice that he realized that his kids need love and support. It’s too bad that he apparently never figured it out with any of his 4 wives. That last picture certainly shows that he picks them based on their love of literature and their intellect and not on being 30 years younger and slutty.

  17. j.eyre says:

    First of all, thank you for mentioning The House of Sand and Fog. That is one of the few movies I feel is very close to being as good as the book and he is just amazing in it.

    I do not know much about Mr. Kingsley other than his acting. I have heard the stories of the “Sir Ben” and such but I still like him. I am surprised that he is being so upfront with this. Again, this may be a well known trait of his, it simply goes against the impression I formed of him.

    It makes sense to me, the sense of finally feeling validated. I think most of us have one area we would like someone to pat us and say “you did well.”

  18. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    I think he makes his friends call him that, too. Michael Caine doesn’t get it but he submits.

  19. xxx says:

    He may be like James Spader (another enormously talented actor) and subscribe to the belief that acting is not an “art” and is simply a job and thus take any acting job offered to him. The thing is, he doesn’t have to prove his acting ability anymore – he is widely known as one of the most talented actors out there. So he is not in danger of not being offered good parts if he takes crappy parts too.

    However, as famous and well-known as actors may be, jobs can dry up quickly. If he takes the crappy jobs and they pay but he can still get the occasional high-end piece, what’s the problem? I recently read that Cate Blanchett has only done 10 days of filming in the last 2 years. She just hasn’t been offered any decent roles. Cate is an amazing actress, considered one of the best out there and she just isn’t being offered work. They tend to offer all of the work to about 5 people it seems. At the moment its people like Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. Actors never really have long-term job security, no matter how big a deal they are.

    I don’t see this as a bad move on his part – he’s just working to work and then when the good parts come along he can take them regardless of how much they do or don’t pay.

  20. Ginger says:

    Don’t forget his brilliant turn as Feste in Twelfth Night. That was one of my favorite performances by him. AND I adore his role in Sexy Beast! On a side note, I’m reading a book right now about Toxic Parents…it sounds like Ben should pick up a copy.

  21. Shhh! says:

    A happy childhood… is the worst possible preparation for life. – Kinky Friedman