His latest character, The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, is one of the great comic book baddies. He’s Iron Man’s oldest foe, a scientific genius and an unbeatable martial artist, who draws his power from 10 finger rings he created using alien technology.
How bad is this guy? This bad: “Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher,” he says. “Lesson number one: Heroes — there is no such thing.”
The filmmakers say Mandarin is partially based on Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and another character Kingsley made famous.
In Sexy Beast, Kingsley played Don Logan, a vile English gangster who intimidates an old colleague into coming out of retirement for one last job. How bad is this guy? This bad: He starts a brawl on an airplane because he was asked to stub out a cigarette.
“I do know that Shane Black, our writer-director, loved Sexy Beast,” said Kingsley, “and was very influenced in his choice of me playing The Mandarin.”
Logan isn’t the only villain Kingsley has brought to life on the big screen, however.
In BloodRayne, the Oscar winner plays king of the vampires Kagan, a vicious character who must quell a rebellion led by his daughter. When asked why he would appear in a movie that ranked in Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the 100 worst reviewed films of the 2000s, he said, “I have always wanted to play a vampire, with the teeth and the long black cape. Let’s say that my motives were somewhat immature for doing it.”
As The Hood in Thunderbirds, Kingsley uses his mental powers — telekinesis and hypnosis — to take over the International Rescue headquarters. He took the role in the big screen treatment of the 1960s British children’s marionette show at the urging of his kids. “My son has a Thunderbirds alarm clock. That’s how big a fan he is of the TV series.”
He’s also played villains in War Inc, Prince of Persia and Oliver Twist and says, “as an actor, I have to push the word ‘villain’ right to the back of my mind and bring forward their distorted sense of righteousness and destiny. Because I think classic villains like The Mandarin have to have a profound sense of right.”