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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 08:37 GMT
Kingsley never blase about Oscars
Sir Ben Kingsley
Sir Ben was knighted in 2002
Sir Ben Kingsley's latest role as an Iranian former soldier in the powerful drama House of Sand and Fog has once again put him in the limelight.

It may be his fourth Oscar nomination, including a win for Gandhi in 1983, but Sir Ben said he never gets blase about it.

"I'm absolutely astonished," the British actor told BBC News 24's HARDtalk programme.

"I started as a young actor - so terrified that the one line in the Shakespeare play was approaching that I practically passed out on stage.

"I never dreamt I would be nominated four times for the greatest acting award possible to receive. It is thrilling."

Many of his peers have reputations for speaking out on public policy issues, including Sean Penn, Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon, but Sir Ben said he did not feel obligated to make stands.

"I enjoy the debate amongst my friends, peers and colleagues but I do not enjoy the debate publicly in front of the camera," he said.

I see 'the child' very much at the centre of this year's work, and how tragic the loss of a child is
Sir Ben Kingsley
"It can be grossly misinterpreted and can backfire and ruin the cause I set out to help in the first place."

House of Sand and Fog has been critically praised for its stirring performances and its strong messages.

Culture clash

In it Sir Ben plays former Iranian colonel Behrani who flees to the US but finds he cannot provide such a palatial life for his family, and is forced to take menial jobs to make ends meet.

The story centres on a beach house from which its owner Kathy, played by Jennifer Connelly, is mistakenly evicted, and which Behrani buys in the hope of making money.

A bitter battle between the former and present owner ensues as their personalities and cultures clash, leading to a devastating outcome.

"I do not see him (Behrani) as a tragic figure. I see him as a father, as a breadwinner," Sir Ben told the BBC.

"I see him as a warrior, as a man profoundly loyal to his culture, meeting head-on potentially tragic circumstances."

The film is a difficult one to market because of its subtle yet tragic storyline, although the book, written by Andre Dubus III, was a bestseller in the US after being lauded by Oprah Winfrey.

"I'm somewhat ignorant as to whether or not it is a hard sell at the box office because I am at the receiving end of people who are very moved, full of praise and deeply touched," said Sir Ben.

"And it seems to me that those responses are based upon how it reignites their love of life, their love of family, their love of their children. People phone their sons as soon as they leave the cinema or wake up their children in bed as soon as they get home for a hug. This is a wonderful response to our film."

House of Sand and Fog
House of Sand and Fog is a poweful drama about regret

Sir Ben said he recognised a theme running through many of the Oscar contenders.


"I see 'the child' very much at the centre of this year's work, and how tragic the loss of a child is, in our film and in others.

"Maybe we are becoming aware of the fact there are abused, terrified, abandoned and lost children in the world and we should heed their cries."

Aside from his regular Oscar recognition, Sir Ben is one of Britain's most respected actors.

He said he was blessed by his early years in English theatre which taught him to hone his "technique".

It is this discipline that he brings to the screen in the many powerful roles he has played in his films, including Gandhi and Schindler's List.

He also credits his performance in House of Sand and Fog to his young novice co-star Jonathan Ahdout, who plays his teenage son.

And he said it is to the young actor's credit that the two actors playing his parents have been nominated for Oscars. Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo has a best supporting nomination for playing his wife Nadi.

Tom Brook interviews Sir Ben Kingsley on BBC News 24's HARDtalk on Monday, 23 February at 0430 and 2330.

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