Outside the Elgin Theatre premier for his new film Learning to Drive, Sir Ben Kingsley caused quite a stir. He signed autographs, posed for pictures with fans, one of which gushed effusively after he walked away. “He’s my favorite,” she told your reporter excitedly.
When I tell Sir Ben about the enthusiastic fan he smiles broadly.
“If it means that she’s heard the story and it touched her, then I’m delighted,” he says. “The important thing for me is to tell the story. I’m sure I am a storyteller. I’m sure that is the right place for my DNA to be.
“Something happened to me and it stayed with me forever. I was playing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company and I was walking in open field just outside Stratford Upon Avon. A lovely young woman was on the opposite side of the field and seemed to be walking towards me, so I decided to tack to my right to avoid her feeling that I was intruding on her space. She tacked to her left. In other words, she mirrored me. Then I went the other way and she mirrored me. She was determined to meet me in the middle of this field. Then face-to-face, she said, ‘I saw Hamlet last night. How did you know about me?’ Something [I did] must have gone right in there [he points to his heart], straight through the sternum and I said, ‘I know.’ That’s the connection.
“It never left me. If it means that through storytelling something has been shifted, healed, touched in her, great. Good.”
In the TIFF film Learning to Drive he reunites with his Elegy co-star Patricia Clarkson. She plays Wendy, a divorcee who hires Darwan (Kingsley) to teach her how to drive so she can travel to upstate New York to visit her daughter. As she learns to navigate Manhattan’s mean streets, the pair form a bond, teaching one another about life and love.
“I think in a really beautifully fashioned play or screenplay you have a feeling that the gods look down and say, ‘I’m going to bring you two together,’” says Kingsley. “I love that idea in mythology that the gods look down and send somebody to somebody. It is only through very unfortunate, heartbreaking circumstances that Wendy finds herself in a taxi. Heartbroken. I am driving a heartbroken woman. And I loved in the way, as in all great stories, the little coincidences are the gods guiding and bringing people together for some purpose. Here it is not for a great romance, it is to heal.”
Darwan is the latest in a long list of characters, like Mohandas Gandhi, Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List and Sexy Beasts’ Don Logan that have surprised Kingsley.
“I don’t know where they are,” Kingsley says about his characters, “if they’re inside me waiting to come out or whether they are outside of me. Are they hunting me or am I hunting them? I don’t know. I love to be surprised by a script and I was very pleased and delighted by the opportunity to play what Patricia Clarkson’s character coins as a ‘good man.’”