The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 41 Ben Kingsley

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The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 41 Ben Kingsley
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  • Ben Kingsley
    Ben Kingsley
    British actor

Every week through the remainder of 2014, Yahoo Movies is counting down Hollywood's 50 very best working actors and actresses. Come back to Yahoo Movies every Thursday to see who makes the cut.

Greatest Actor Alive (No. 41): Ben Kingsley

Age: 70

Stating the Case: Sir Ben Kingsley is an inspiration to aspiring actors: aside from being a class act, thorough professional, and skilled thespian with a collection of memorable and powerful performances, he's also a shining example of how Hollywood stardom can be late coming. Kingsley was 38 when he appeared in "Gandhi" (1982), his breakthrough role (more on that below) and only his second feature film credit following several years of strictly television and stage work.

Kingsley (born Krishna Pandit Bhanji, the son of a British mother and Indian father) has brought soul and sensitivity to historical dramas like "Schindler's List" (1993) and theatrical adaptations like "Death and the Maiden" (1994), while also capable of completely transforming himself, as evidenced by his startling performance as a foul-mouthed, volatile gangster in "Sexy Beast" (2000).

Kingsley is an actor, through and through. He's never tried his hand at screenwriting, never received a producer's credit, and never prounounced, "But what I really want to do is direct." He's all about the thespianism, and he does it damn well.

Breakthrough Role: Kingsley had been working fairly consistently in television since 1966 but had only one feature film credit, "Fear Is the Key" (1972), when he landed the title role in Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi" (1982). Kingsley won universal acclaim for his portrayal of the lawyer-turned-national leader who led the Indian revolts against British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest.

The Best of the Best:

5. "Iron Man 3" (2013): Kingsley turned the Marvel universe all topsy-turvy with his take on the classic Marvel villain the Mandarin, the enigmatic leader of an international terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings who's later revealed to be nothing but a figurehead portrayed by a bumbling British actor named Trevor Slattery. Kingsley reprised the role in the short film "Marvel One Shot: All Hail the King," which is included on the Blu-ray release of "Thor: The Dark World" (2013).

4. "House of Sand and Fog" (2003): Kingsley scored his fourth Oscar nomination with his performance as Massoud Amir Behrani, a former Iranian army officer and husband/father who buys a San Francisco house at a quarter of its value but ends up in a bitter property war with its former owner, a recovering drug addict (Jennifer Connelly). Kingsley is heartbreaking (as is the rest of the cast) in this adaptation of Andre Dubus III's acclaimed novel.

3. "Schindler's List" (1993): Kingsley earned his second Oscar nomination for his quietly intense portrayal of Itzhak Stern, a Jewish official hired as an accountant by industrialist and Nazi sympathizer Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) in the the Kraków Ghetto during WWII. Stern ends up being Schindler's unofficial partner and confidant as the disillusioned German proceeds to save the lives of more than 1,100 mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware factories.

2. "Sexy Beast" (2000): This is the same guy who played Mahatma Gandhi? Kingsley earned his third Oscar nomination and scared the hell out of everyone both on- and off-screen with his fierce and darkly hilarious portrayal of Don Logan, a sociopathic (and probably psychopathic) British gangster dispatched to a Spanish villa to convince a retired colleague (Ray Winstone) to come back to London for one final score.

1. "Gandhi" (1982): Kingsley's most iconic role remains Mohandas K. Gandhi, later re-named the honorific Mahatma (Sanskrit: "high-souled," "venerable"), the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in the British-ruled colony whose nonviolent civil disobedience inspired countless civil rights movements worldwide. Attenborough's epic film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won eight, including Kingsley's first Oscar win.

Role Recall: Kingsley shared memories on the making of five of his most beloved movies in a recent "Role Recall" interview with Yahoo Movies. Among the highlights: "I owe [Richard Attenborough] my career," Kingsley said about his "Gandhi" director. The actor also said he was "f--king angry" upon arriving on set to shoot "Schindler's List," as the project made him reflect on the fact that European anti-Semitism still existed. As for his "Hugo" director Martin Scorsese, "He's a surprisingly tender man given the amount of violence he puts on the screen." See what else Kingsley said in our full Role Recall Q&A.

The BIGGEST Hit: That would be "Iron Man 3," which scored over $1.2 billion at the international box office, $409 million of which came from U.S. ticket sales. The world does love Tony Stark... and, by default, his co-stars. The runner-up: Martin Scorsese's thriller, "Shutter Island" (2010), which earned more than $128 million at the domestic box office and a worldwide haul of over $294 million.

With Honors: Kingsley won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi in "Gandhi." He's also received Oscar nominations for his performances in "Bugsy" (1991), "Sexy Beast," and "House of Sand and Fog." Believe it or not, Kingsley has received a couple of Razzie noms as well: Worst Supporting Actor for not one but three 2008 releases ("The Love Guru," "War, Inc.," and "The Wackness" — the first two, yes, but the last of which we strongly object) and Worst Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Kagen, King of the Vampires in "BloodRayne" (2008).

Really Fun Fact: Three Kingsley films count among the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time: "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (No. 96), "Gandhi" (No. 29), and "Schinder's List" (No. 3).

Trademark: A mischievous sense that he's got something up his sleeve, either delightfully whimsical or completely terrifying.

Best Fan Tribute: This Etsy piece is rather nice. Hey, we couldn't make something like this.

Most Underappreciated Achievement(s):"Hugo" (2011) was nominated for 11 Oscars (and won five), but not one of those was a Best Supporting Actor nod for Kingsley's performance as Papa Georges, a self-exiled toymaker whose past comes a-callin' when he befriends a young orphan (played by his future "Ender's Game" co-star, Asa Butterfield). Kingsley brings both warmth and a sense of melancholy mystery to his enigmatic character, who ends up being filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès.

Kudos also to Kingsley's portrayal of Dr. John Watson in "Without a Clue" (1988), a cute crime comedy that suggests it was Watson who was the brains behind the operation and not his charming but dim-witted, drunken partner, Sherlock Holmes (Michael Caine). Caine and Kingsley will be reunited later this year in the Brad Anderson-helmed thriller "Eliza Graves."

And again, really, we officially contest the Golden Raspberry nom that Kingsley received for "The Wackness." He's utterly charming as Dr. Jeffery Squires, a New York City psychiatrist whose teenage patient (Josh Peck) pays for his sessions with marijuana, and the film itself is an odd delight. In fact, it won the Audience Award for Dramatic Film at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival — was the Razzie gang high when they included this with Kingsley's nomination?

Catchphrase: We're going to have to use two from "Sexy Beast" here.

Nobody's Perfect: We've more or less forgotten that Ben Kingsley starred in Uwe Boll's "BloodRayne," and so should you. Like, as soon as possible. Also, hopefully the paycheck from "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010) at least got him a new boat or something, because the movie itself contributed absolutely nothing to the general scheme of the universe. The lesson here? Stay away from the video-game movies, Sir Ben. And Mike Myers comedies that aren't "Austin Powers," while you're at it ("The Love Guru"... shudder).

Moonlighting: Kingsley has a rich theater background, having performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and starred in Peter Hall's 1977 production of Ben Jonson's "Volpone" for the Royal National Theatre, Peter Brook's acclaimed production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and a 1982 production of "Death of a Salesman" in Sydney opposite Mel Gibson.

And for His Next Acts: There's a lot! Kingsley will be seen this year with Gillian Anderson in the sci-fi action adventure, "Robot Overlords"; with Kate Beckinsale (and Michael Caine!) in the horror thriller, "Eliza Graves"; as the voice of Archibald Snatcher in "The Boxtrolls" (Sept. 26); with his "Elegy" (2007) co-star Patricia Clarkson in the romantic drama, "Learning to Drive" (Oct. 15); with Christian Bale in Ridley Scott's "Exodus" (Dec. 12); and with Ben Stiller and Robin Williams in "Night at the Museum 3" (Dec. 19).

Next year, Kingsley will be seen opposite Ryan Reynolds in Tarsem Singh's dark fantasy, "Selfless." He's currently filming "Life," director Anton Corbijn's drama about a Life magazine photographer (Robert Pattinson) assigned to snap pics of James Dean (Dane DeHaan), and is in pre-production on another biblical epic, "Mary," in which he'll play King Herod.

Hardest working man in showbiz, anyone?

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 50 Brad Pitt]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 49 Sigourney Weaver]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 48 Joaquin Phoenix]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 47 Paul Giamatti]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 46 Forest Whitaker]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 45 Matthew McConaughey]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 44: Viola Davis]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 43: Michael Douglas]

[The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 42 Jodie Foster]

What qualifies actors for a slot on Yahoo Movies' running list of the 50 Greatest Actors Alive? First, we limited the pool to actors who are still currently working. Other factors taken into consideration: Pure skill in the craft; their ability to disappear underneath the skin of the characters they portray; versatility and the range of their roles; ratio of strong performances to weak ones; quality of films acted in; quality of recent work; awards and accolades from peers.