Ben Kingsley

House Of Sand And Fog

Interviewed by Anwar Brett

“I think that Behrani is possibly the portrait I'm most fond of in my whole career ”

For years Ben Kingsley was a well regarded British stage actor whose main claim to fame was a small role in Coronation Street in the mid 60s. His Oscar-winning portrayal of Gandhi changed all that, and was followed by an impressively diverse range of roles in Bugsy, Schindler's List, Death And The Maiden, and Sexy Beast. Knighted in 2001, he received his fourth Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Behrani in House Of Sand And Fog. And later this year he plays the villainous Hood in Thunderbirds.

Is it true that author Andre Dubus III was thinking of you when he wrote the novel House Of Sand And Fog?

His wife actually sent it to me and in her letter said that her husband had me in his mind's eye while putting Behrani on the page. So I guess there was a kind of rough sketch or starting point, like scaffolding for a building - the kind of thing you'd throw away once you'd achieved the actual process of putting this character on the page. It was a step that he took in creating Behrani.

How do you account for the film's strong emotional impact?

To put it simply, the camera was always in the right place. The point of view of the camera is how the audience would perceive us, because the camera is the eye of the audience - the filter, the prism, the window, all those great words. And if the prism is in the wrong place, the light will scatter in the wrong direction. But if the camera is in the right place, the audience are invited to witness it in a way that keeps every single character on the screen connected viscerally to every member of the audience.

You've played many interesting characters in your career. How does Behrani rate against some of them?

With Attenborough, Spielberg, and Jonathan Glazer I've had the most extraordinary opportunities. But I think that Behrani is possibly the portrait I'm most fond of in my whole career. Maybe because it's recent, maybe because it's fresh, or maybe it's because the response has been so strong and gratifying.

The film dwells in an ambiguous moral middle ground, with no clear-cut baddie to the drama that unfolds...

We don't have the polarity of good and bad in this film, we're exploring that very rich and extraordinary area in-between. Usually once a good element is introduced in a film, it never changes. And once a bad element is introduced that never changes, there is a stasis throughout the whole film and the audience is - in a sense - slightly sold short because nothing really happens. The good stay good and the bad stay bad, and they bash it out between them and stay exactly the same.

What reaction have you had from people who've seen the film?

In this film I've found that people very much want to connect with us on a deeper level. The press junket was exhausting. You are almost counselling people, and find yourself addressing their concerns about loss, tragedy, family, and home on a very urgent and extraordinary level. And it's completely universal.