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Sir Ben Kingsley: A Dark Hero

Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley is widely considered one of the finest actors of this era.

Last year's performance in "House Of Sand And Fog" earned him his fourth Oscar nomination.

In a slight departure from his more serious dramatic roles, Kingsley plays a master criminal called The Hood in his new action adventure movie, "Thunderbirds."

"He so enjoys being himself and that, to me, is liberating and joyful. He has this huge ego. He's eaten up with revenge," Kingsley tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm about his character.

Set in the year 2010, the film is based on the '60s British television series of the same name, a cult favorite that followed the adventures of the Tracy family and their astounding fleet of International Rescue vehicles.

"The Thunderbirds are a group of young people and vehicles," Kingsley explains, "They travel around the world under the title of International Rescue. That is to say, if there is any terrible crisis anywhere, they will galvanize themselves and launch their craft and they will go to anything that needs rescuing. I think rescuing is a beautiful word and I think the film is really touching and beautiful and enormous fun. It's glorious to look at."

Kingsley plays the Thunderbirds' arch nemesis, whom Jeff Tracy once vanquished and left for dead.

He describes his character as "a classic dark hero" who seeks revenge against the Thunderbirds for taking him down. The Hood has spent the intervening years in exile, studying with masters of mental telepathy and martial arts to develop powers that allow him to use bursts of energy to manipulate men's minds.

He notes his stepdaughter was particularly intrigued by the special effects. He says, "She wanted to know how I flew. How I spun up into the air. And she wanted to know how I did my eyes."

His adult children actually grew up watching the show on TV. Kingsley notes, "'The Thunderbirds' was a favorite of ours as much as maybe 'Mr. Rogers' and 'Sesame Street' was a favorite of yours. It's very bonding to watch something with your children like that. You wouldn't ever think in your adult life you'd sit and watch 'The Thunderbirds,' puppets flying around the world rescuing people, but there is something endearing and decent about them in our film that reminded me watching with my older children who said, 'Dad, you've got to do this.' So how could I say no? I want to do anyway. I really did. How could I say no to The Hood?"

The film also stars Bill Paxton as father Jeff Tracy; Anthony Edwards as Brains Hackenbacker; and Sophia Myles as the unflappable and ravishing Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward.

Fast Facts About Sir Ben Kingsley:

  • Born Krishna Bhanji in Snaiton, North Yorkshire, England, on Dec. 31, 1943
  • In 1967, became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC); performed important parts and played Demetrius in Peter Brook's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; reprised role for a tour of US cities in 1971.
  • In 1972, had his first small film role, "Fear Is the Key."
  • In 1977, began two-season tenure with the National Theatre, working with Peter Hall on the productions of "Volpone," "The Cherry Orchard," "The Country Wife" and "Judgment."
  • In 1982, had his first starring film role, "Gandhi;" and won the Best Actor Oscar.
  • In 1983, acted in the film version of "Betrayal," Harold Pinter's play about a triangle relationship progressing backward in time.
  • In 1984, had his first TV-movie, "Camille" (CBS). He also had his Broadway debut in the one-man show "Edmund Kean."
  • In 1985, offered outstanding turn in the title role of "Silas Marner", a BBS production which aired in 1987 on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre."
  • In 1988, had his first U.S. film, "Without a Clue", playing Dr. Watson to Michael Caine's Sherlock Holmes. He also starred opposite Helen Mirren in "Pascali's Island," a tale of intrigue set against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
  • In 1991, earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in "Bugsy."
  • In 1992, played the King for a Phillips recording of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I," opposite Julie Andrews.
  • In 1994, he delivered an exceptional portrayal of the physician who once tortured Sigourney Weaver in Roman Polanski's "Death and the Maiden."
  • In 2000, he delivered an acclaimed, scene-stealing turn as a British gangster in "Sexy Beast;" released in USA in 2001; received Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
  • In 2001, he played Otto Frank in the ABC miniseries "Anne Frank" for which he received an Emmy nomination. He also narrated the Steven Spielberg directed sci-fi film "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."
  • In 2003, he co-starred with Jennifer Connelly in "House of Sand and Fog" as an Iranian immigrant; received Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead; received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a dramatic role; received a SAG nomination for Best Actor; received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
  • In 2004, he was cast as pickpocket kingpin Fagin in Roman Polanski's upcoming version of "Oliver Twist."
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