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That's Sir to you

Kingsley defies typecasting again in The Triumph of Love

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If you're still dizzy from the realization that there is more to Ben Kingsley than Gandhi after seeing his turn as the wicked Don Logan in Sexy Beast, then hold on for another abrupt about-face in The Triumph of Love opening April 26. In director Clare Peploe's fanciful film version of a comedy by 17th-century French playwright Pierre Marivaux, the actor plays an academic philosopher (and would-be political usurper) reduced to a smitten pawn in a game of love concocted by a masquerading princess (Mira Sorvino). For Kingsley -- or Sir Ben, as he prefers to be called since being knighted earlier this year -- it's another change of pace as delightful to behold as his Don Logan was disturbing.

Creative Loafing: Are you getting used to being called Sir Ben yet?

You know, I've been trying to articulate how this all feels, and it's a question I'm really enjoying answering. If you can imagine being at college for years and years and years, and then suddenly the college decides to make you part of their team. Not only are you chosen to play for the team, but you're a star member of the team, and not only that, but you're on the team for life. And just to show the rest of the world that they've chosen you, they make a slight alteration to your name so that people will know immediately that you've been chosen by your prime minister, your queen, your country and your culture. You've been singled out and pointed to and held up. "See this man? He's on our team." It's quite extraordinary.

You seem to be on a roll now, what with the knighthood and your recent Oscar nomination.

A lot of actors say it's harder to keep challenging themselves as they get older, but I find I'm turning down quite a lot of work, actually. I'm trying to keep the standard up to the level of Schindler's List or Sexy Beast, I suppose. I think I'm enjoying a shift in my career, too, where strangely enough I'm playing men who live not only in their minds and imaginations, but also in their bodies, like fighters.

That would certainly apply to Don Logan in Sexy Beast. Do you agree part of what made that film such a startling showcase for you was that most people still associated you primarily with your uncanny performance in Gandhi?

That seemed to be a common perception among American movie audiences, perhaps, but I think the Brits have a slightly different take on acting and actors. Whatever the case, I would hope those days are dead now. I think Don Logan has done me a great service in that respect. I just intuitively understood that character, like I intuitively understand a lot of people. Acting is all about translating that into the work. I know myself. I know there's a bit of Don Logan in me. I know there's a bit of Don Logan in all of us.

You undergo a transformation in The Triumph of Love that's no less remarkable, playing a lovestruck philosopher who's as sweet as Don Logan was sour.

Isn't that what it's all about, though, keeping the audience in a sustained state of shock? Hermocrates is a man completely unafraid of making an idiot of himself in the name of love. How brave, don't you think? Just as I tried to invest Don Logan with a vulnerability to offset his violence, I tried not to play the rigid, fixed, philosophical Hermocrates, but the Hermocrates who ultimately is unafraid to fall. It was a lovely journey.

Is it important for a period piece like this to speak to contemporary audiences in some way?

That's a good point, to question that. So often there's the assumption that it must be relevant to a modern audience, when it's possible to stand alone as a slice of life from another time and place. In this case, perhaps where the story finds its resonance is in the realm of disguise, and how we fix upon a role or image of ourselves to broadcast to the world. And then it's about having the courage to admit when we're wrong and opening our hearts and minds to the possibility of getting out from under those trappings.

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