Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Ben Kingsley - Biography

The Oscar-winning Gandhi and Schindler's List star was born in 1943

Kingsley sat smiling while being interviewed on stage
Hannah Watkin
Hannah WatkinContent Writer
Share this:

Early life

Born on New Year's Eve 1943 in Snainton, Yorkshire, Krishna Pandit Bhanji - or as he is now professionally known - Sir Ben Kingsley, was raised in Lancashrie by his physician father Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji and his fashion model mother Anna Lyna Mary. After being turned down by the prestigious London acting school RADA in 1965, the future Oscar-winner spent two years practising his trade in the English provinces before returning to London in 1967 after being invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). 

Over the next two decades, he would go on to perform at both the Royal Court and the National Theatre. Highlights of his early stage career included a 1970 Peter Brook staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the RSC in which he played Demetrius, and the one-man show, Edmund Kean. Based on the life of the great English thespian, the latter was the vehicle for Ben's Broadway debut in 1984. 


Despite his glittering stage career, however, Ben's passage into films was a slow one. While he had a small part in the 1972 thriller Fear Is The Key, it took another ten years before he landed a starring role. But what a role it was. Veteran actor-director Richard Attenborough had spent months looking for the right man for his biopic of Indian independence leader Gandhi, and when a friend approached him with Ben's name he had no idea what to expect. As soon as Richard saw the actor perform, he knew he had found his man. 

Within a year of Gandhi wrapping, Ben had nabbed a best actor Oscar and gone from relative anonymity to international prominence. Despite the promise of immediate celebrity, Ben still chose to concentrate on the theatre and European cinema. He had a starring role in a 1983 film version of the Harold Pinter play Betrayal and did a turn in James Ivory's 1987 adaptation of the EM Forster novel Maurice. Plus never one to turn his nose up at TV work, he also popped up in the title role of Silas Marner for the BBC in 1985. 

But by 1988 Hollywood could wait no longer, and he made his Tinseltown debut opposite Michael Caine in the Sherlock Holmes comedy Without A Clue. Three years later, Ben was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Bugsy and in 1993 gave a scene-stealing performance in Steven Spielberg's magnum opus Schindler's List

Later roles include that of Don Logan in Sexy Beast, which earned him another Academy Award nomination, and parts in The Sopranos, Shutter Island, and Iron Man 3. He also starred in Jon Favreau's much-loved live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book in 2016.

Personal life

Ben has been married four times: first to Angela Morant from 1966 to 1976; then to Alison Sutcliffe from 1978 to 1992, then to Alexandra Christmann from 2003 to 2005, and then to Daniela Lavender in 2007. He and Daniela remain married.

The acclaimed actor has four children, Thomas and Jasmin, who he shares with his first wife Angela, and Edmund and Ferdinand, who he shares with his second wife Alison. Ben was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 for his services to the British film industry. A New Year Honours recipient, the award was announced on his 58th birthday. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.

More Profiles

See more