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Behind The Iron Curtain: Solzhenitsyn Remembered

On August 3, Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure at age 89. Solzhenitsyn exposed the atrocities committed by the Soviet Gulag in his work, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Fresh Air remembers the Nobel Prize winner.

04:56

Other segments from the episode on August 5, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 5, 2008: Interview with Ben Kingsley; Review of Randy Newman's new album "Harps and Angels;" Commentary on Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Transcript

DATE August 5, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Ben Kingsley talks about his new film "Elegy" and his
career
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Ben Kingsley entered the consciousness of American movie audiences in 1982 as
Gandhi with his Oscar-winning performance in the title role of Richard
Attenborough's film. Since then Kingsley has shown his versatility as an
actor and earned three more Oscar nominations for his roles in "Bugsy," "Sexy
Beast" and "The House of Sand and Fog." Among his many other films are
"Betrayal," "Schindler's List," "Dave" and "Oliver Twist."

Kingsley is currently appearing in "The Wackness," where he plays a pot
smoking psychiatrist who treats his teenage dope dealer, and in "Elegy" where
he plays David Kepesh, a college professor in his 60s who falls in love with a
former student, Consuela, played by Penelope Cruz. The film is based on the
Philip Roth novel "The Dying Animal." In this scene Kepesh is talking to a
friend about having slept with Consuela. The friend is played by Dennis
Hopper.

(Soundbite of "Elegy")

Mr. DENNIS HOPPER: (As George O'Hearn) Well, she must have been curious
about going to bed with you. Yeah, so she could tell her girlfriends what a
man of our age is like close up.

Mr. BEN KINGSLEY: (As David Kepesh) I'm a new experience for her. One of
many to come.

Mr. HOPPER: (As O'Hearn) Mm.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Kepesh) She'll remember me as the old guy who gave her
some culture on the way.

Mr. HOPPER: (As O'Hearn) Well, that sounds about right. And you should
chalk it up to the same thing, right?

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Kepesh) Yeah.

Mr. HOPPER: (As O'Hearn) You've got to stop worrying about growing old.
Worry about growing up. Thank your lucky stars for such a one, one shot
encounter.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Kepesh) It wasn't a one shot encounter.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Well, Ben Kingsley, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Thank you.

DAVIES: I wanted to talk about your new film "Elegy." Why don't you describe
the character, David Kepesh, the professor.

Mr. KINGSLEY: He's an intellectual. He's very literary. He writes articles
for magazines. He writes a--he's a critic for the theater in magazines. He
has his own radio program. He has his own TV program. In his own world he's
a bit of a star. He's also a professor of literature at a university in the
New York area. He lives in Tribeca. He has a rather bachelor apartment.
He's a serial seducer. And I think he's a serial seducer because he's rather
committed to staying alone. I know that's a paradox, but he won't commit. He
won't commit because, as I played him and I studied him and I got into his
skin, it's clear that he's a man really threatened by intimacy. He will not
let anyone, any woman, get too close. And when the gods look down and see a
man like this I think the gods want to challenge this, and I think the gods
insist that this man moves on, grows up, crosses a certain bridge that he
needs to cross in order to join the human race.

DAVIES: You know, a professor who hits on his students is, in the eyes of
many people, a pretty low form of humanity. And we should say that this
particular professor, David Kepesh, is careful to wait until the class has
ended so he's not technically going after someone he still has an academic
relationship with, but...

Mr. KINGSLEY: That is correct. And in David's defense, it takes two to
tango.

DAVIES: Of course.

Mr. KINGSLEY: So the girls also hit on their professor, and so however you
judge that you're free to judge that.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. KINGSLEY: But I never judge my characters. I just put them in front of
the audience and say, `OK, boys and girls, you make up your own mind.' But
it's so beautifully resolved. Yes, of course, it's not a low form of life. I
would say it's a rather immature form of life.

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. KINGSLEY: And he reaches a kind of greatness in himself when he does
quite wonderfully finally commit to this relationship and she, of course,
commits to him.

DAVIES: You know, one more thing I wanted to ask you about this.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: The character, David Kepesh, here is based upon on a Philip Roth
character.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: He was, you know, at the center of three Philip Roth novels.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes.

DAVIES: Did you read those and draw upon them, or do you prefer to work from
the screenplay and the director and see that as an independent work?

Mr. KINGSLEY: You're absolutely right. I prefer to work from the screenplay
with the director. I feel that our director, Isabel, was so immersed in that
Roth novel, so enamored of the script and so articulate in her exploration of
male vulnerability in a way, perhaps, that only a woman can be, a woman
celebrating male vulnerability as perhaps a male director might see that
vulnerability as David does: as a flaw, as a weakness. Isabel Coixet, our
director, celebrated the discovery of that vulnerability in him and the
exposing of it.

The novel I read whilst filming, but I didn't read it before and I didn't pick
it up afterwards, but I did watch, was a documentary made on Philip Roth in
New York made by a German friend of mine, Christa Maerker. She's a very good
documentary filmmaker. And I really enjoyed watching that documentary film.
And I felt that Philip Roth and I could stroll through Central Park and have a
really nice afternoon together chatting. And I loved his use of language.
He's very expressive, quite a vulnerable, dignified man, and charming. And I
am also happy to tell you that he has seen the film and that Philip Roth likes
the film very much indeed.

DAVIES: Huh, always a relief.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes.

DAVIES: Another recent film that's now in theaters is "The Wackness," which
had to have been a fun role for you. You play this psychiatrist, Jeffrey
Squires, who treats a young teenage drug dealer, played by Josh Peck, and the
psychiatrist takes payments in nickel and dime bags. I thought before we talk
about the character we'd just get a little taste of some of their
conversation. This is--I think this is the cut where Jeffrey Squires, your
character, the psychiatrist, is talking to Josh Peck about some of his
problems that being particularly--not getting enough friendship from the
ladies.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Great.

(Soundbite of "The Wackness")

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Jeffrey Squires) I've been thinking about your dilemma a
lot recently, Luke.

Mr. JOSH PECK: (As Luke Shapiro) What's my dilemma?

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Squires) The girl thing. Luke, back when I went to school
drug dealers had no problem getting girls. In fact, that's why I always
wanted to be one.

Mr. PECK: (As Shapiro) Were you popular in high school, Dr. Squires?

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Squires) Well, I wouldn't say popular, no. I wasn't one
of those cool kids, if that's what you're asking. I played baseball. I was a
debater.

Mr. PECK: (As Shapiro) Did you ever want to kill yourself?

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Squires) Not till much later.

Mr. PECK: (As Shapiro) Then you must have been popular. I'm not.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Squires) This has got nothing to do with being popular,
Luke. You're just not trying hard enough. You must think about it, the
different scenarios, random sex in phone booths, chance encounters in discos,
the way they smell, the things they say even when they're saying nothing at
all. I mean, I'm married so I don't contemplate that type of thing.

Mr. PECK: (As Shapiro) No, of course not.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: That's our guest Ben Kingsley portraying psychiatrist Jeffrey Squires
dispensing advice maybe not out of the manual to his young friend.

Tell us about developing this character. It's just, it's so--well, you've
played so many different ones. Tell us about this one.

Mr. KINGSLEY: There's a recklessness to him, and I wanted to bring a
recklessness to my performance. Whereas Kepesh is somewhat studied and
careful.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. KINGSLEY: I pursued a kind of recklessness. I wore a wig, which I very
seldom do in films. I often have my own shaved head. But it looked as though
my brain was growing through my skull and it was rather messy and fuzzy. I
had this halo of fuzz, permanent fuzz around me. And also, was rather
endeared and amused by the fact that whatever Dr. Squires does, it looks as
though he's doing it for the first time, even though he's almost habitual and
has done many things many times--talked to patients, smoke a bong, try and
talk to his wife, try and listen to his daughter. Everything he does has the
hesitancy of a child doing something for the first time, and the wonder. And
I wanted to immerse him in that characterization as well, in that world as
well. So...

DAVIES: Talk a little bit about the voice. I mean, it's such a...

Mr. KINGSLEY: Oh!

DAVIES: ...New York voice.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Oh, thank you.

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. KINGSLEY: I was quite daunted by the fact that we'd be filming in New
York, and also, of course, surrounded by New Yorkers. But I did manage by
osmosis to listen a lot. I'm a good listener, and I've got a reasonable
musical ear and a reasonable ear for accents. So being in New York filming
was a great gift to the film and to me personally. Then I remember a voice
from an actor I greatly admire and used his voice as a kind of starting point
and then bounced off from there.

DAVIES: Are you going to tell us who that is?

Mr. KINGSLEY: I'd love to. It's Joe Mantegna.

DAVIES: Ah, uh-huh. People have compared you a little bit to De Niro there.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Oh, good heavens.

DAVIES: Good.

Mr. KINGSLEY: I hope not too unfavorably.

DAVIES: You know, you're thought of as, you know, a classically trained
British actor, so good with words and with dialogue. And this has such a
breezy feel to the dialogue. Did you improvise in doing this film?

Mr. KINGSLEY: No, not one syllable. Not one syllable. I loved what was on
the page. It comes so much from Jonathan Levine's experience and the
vernacular. And, of course, we were surrounded and immersed by that strict
1993, '94 era of early Giuliani years and the hip-hop era and rap emerging.
And therefore I felt, as that's so specific, as is my usual wont, I stuck
very, very close to the script. I think I might have changed one word.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KINGSLEY: But that's about it. I love bringing the page to life. It's
my early training, as you say.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Ben Kingsley. He stars in the new film "The
Wackness." And his latest is "Elegy." We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Ben Kingsley. He stars
in the new film "Elegy" with Penelope Cruz.

Well, I wanted to talk a little bit about some of your career. You spent, you
know, a lot of years onstage, and I know did a lot of things.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: But then there was this incredible role of Gandhi which...

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...you know, I know it's like a lot of years back in your life now,
but it's, you know, it was Best Picture, Best Actor for you, introduced you to
the world, many that didn't know you. How did you get the part?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Hm. Well, I'm seeing Richard Attenborough in two days. As
chancellor of Sussex University, he's giving me a doctorate of literature,
DLit, which is thrilling. Not ever having been to university, I'm now
acquiring a string of honorary degrees behind my name.

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. KINGSLEY: And Dicky Attenborough was guided towards me by his son
Michael Attenborough, whom I'm also going to see in a couple of days' time.
And Michael saw my Hamlet. So there's a direct line between my portrayal of
Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company and my portrayal as Gandhi for
Richard Attenborough. It was because of my Shakespeare work, perhaps also
Lord Attenborough, Dicky, knew that I possibly would have the stamina and the
discipline to carry a massively heroic...

DAVIES: Huh.

Mr. KINGSLEY: ...and epic role comparable to King Lear in Shakespeare's
"Lear," comparable to Hamlet. In fact, it has been said that if history had
not invented Mahatma Gandhi, Shakespeare would have done.

DAVIES: Huh.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Or Tolstoy or some great epic writer, because it was an
extraordinary life. And I was immensely privileged and thrilled to be a part
of that, the telling of his story.

DAVIES: Do you see a connection between Hamlet and Gandhi? Do you see the
thread there?

Mr. KINGSLEY: I do. I do. I see a thread between Hamlet and Gandhi when
you scrutinize under the microscope Hamlet's great dilemma, which is to be or
not to be, is it really worth carrying on living, and if so we must fulfill
our destiny and not live a half life. And I think Gandhi was constantly
questioning himself as to the validity of existence, of his existence and what
he could accomplish within the span of his mortal years. I'm sure he would
have gone on to accomplish more during and after partition. But of course
like other extraordinary leaders after him, notably J.F.K. and Dr. King and
Bobby Kennedy, he was shot.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm. You know, I read some reviews back from 1982 when the film
was released, and it was very interesting. This was a role that got you the
Academy Award for Best Actor and, of course, it was Best Picture. But it was
interesting to read that the reviews describe you as an Anglo-Indian actor who
had a remarkable resemblance to Gandhi. Now, I know you were born in England.
I think your parents were born in England, although your dad, I guess, is of
Indian descent.

Mr. KINGSLEY: That's right.

DAVIES: And I wondered if kind of that characterization of you as someone who
is an ethnic fit and who looked like Gandhi in some ways felt maybe--I
wondered if you felt you weren't getting enough credit for what was really an
incredible acting performance?

Mr. KINGSLEY: I think for a little while it did. It troubled me a little
bit. I remember somebody at a party, an English woman, actually, at one of
the receptions after the screening of "Gandhi," and I'd done 15 years with the
Royal Shakespeare Company before then, and she said `Sir, what happened? Did
they just find you? Did he just find you?' Implying that he might have found
me driving a cab.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. KINGSLEY: But that brings me back to...

DAVIES: They found a Gandhi look-alike, in other words, right.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah. Thank God I did those years in the theater where I
could not have taken one step or uttered one syllable in that film were it not
for my classical training. Look, if I'm damned with making it look easy,
that's one of the crosses I have to bear. But I think that "Betrayal,"
directed by Sam Spiegel, was in no way as large a film as that. But Sam did
open that "Betrayal" film the day I was nominated for "Gandhi," and it did,
for me, provide a balance.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. KINGSLEY: And slowly but surely worked towards with a more varied
repertoire, a finer balance and a more perceived balance until, thank God, I
played Don Logan in "Sexy Beast." And then, a voila, people either thought I
was mad--bipolar actor, I was called--or I was actually quite good at my job.
But there was a divided campus to whether I was bipolar and needed help or
whether I was actually quite good at my job.

DAVIES: Right. I want to get to "Sexy Beast" and some other work, but I want
to just spend just another moment on "Gandhi" and I think we ought to just
recall a bit of that performance.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Please.

DAVIES: Let's listen to a little bit of "Gandhi." And I don't know if you
have a favorite scene, but I thought I would play the one where you're in
South Africa addressing the rally.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Wonderful.

DAVIES: This is Gandhi's earlier years, when he's actually in South Africa.
And this is a rally called--against a new law which would have required
Indians there to carry a special ID card. And he has risen as some others in
the event have advocated violence against the South African government, and
Gandhi responds. Let's listen.

(Soundbite from "Gandhi")

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Gandhi) In this cause I too am prepared to die. But, my
friends, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. Whatever they do
to us, we will attack no one, kill no one. But we will not give our
fingerprints, not one of us. They will imprison us and they will fine us.
They will seize our possessions, but they cannot take away our self respect if
we do not give it to them.

Unidentified Actor: (In character) Have you been to prison? They beat us and
torture us. I say that we should...

(Soundbite of murmuring)

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Gandhi) I am asking you to fight, to fight against their
anger, not to provoke it. We will not strike a blow, but we will receive
them. And through our pain we will make them see their injustice. And it
will hurt, as all fighting hurts. But we cannot lose. We cannot.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Ben Kingsley, portraying Gandhi in the 1982
film "Gandhi." You know, here you are in this film. You have to portray a
giant of the 20th century but also make him a human being with a temper and a
family and a sense of humor. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you
prepared to play the role?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Well, I know that I'm going to shock a lot of people, but my
preparation was minimal, because I left the Royal Shakespeare Company
performing Baal on stage in, I think it was October, and we started filming in
November. I went to India. I lost a lot of weight. I acquired a deep tan
under the Indian sun. My Indian genetics were dancing in the Indian sun. I
learnt my lines so that I was word perfect on a beautiful script. And in that
speech that you just very kindly played for your audience, I can tell you that
my voice is shaking with emotion because of the faces I was looking at in the
crowd, not because I thought what a wonderful actor I am and aren't I being
moving. No, all I had to do was deliver that speech and look at the faces of
some amazing Indians in the crowd who, as you heard, stood up, joined in,
applauded, contradicted me, pleaded their case to me about how savage their
treatment, the treatment was being meted out to them. But honestly, standing
onstage delivering that speech to a room full of Indians was completely
transforming.

DAVIES: There were so many small moments, too. I mean...

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes.

DAVIES: ...you spinning thread.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes.

DAVIES: Did you actually learn to do that?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes. Mr. and Mrs...(unintelligible)...used to come to my
hotel room in the early hours of the morning. I used to have spinning lessons
every day. I think my record was seven unbroken minutes of spinning on one
take. And I'm very proud of that. I do my own stunts. Steve McQueen and me.

DAVIES: And did doing that stunt, did spinning the thread actually add
something, do you think, to the performance?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Oh, yes, very much.

DAVIES: This is the private Gandhi, the one who...

Mr. KINGSLEY: Very much so. It added--it gave me a perception, an insight,
physical insight because it's not an intellectual--I don't find acting an
intellectual process. It's a physical, visceral process, of how patient he
must have been because I believe that he was able to spin for hours without
snapping the thread. And that requires very stayed breathing. It requires an
absence of anger or any interference of rage, because he must have been
enraged sometimes by what was going on around him.

DAVIES: Ben Kingsley. His new film is "Elegy." He'll be back in the second
half of the show. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.

We're speaking with actor Ben Kingsley, who's appearing with Penelope Cruz in
the new film "Elegy." Kingsley has earned four Oscar nominations and won the
award for Best Actor for his breakout performance in the 1982 film "Gandhi."

If we fast forward 20 years, we get to an amazing performance in the film
"Sexy Beast," where you play this criminal Don Logan who comes to visit an old
friend, played by Ray Winstone, to convince him to get involved in a bank job.
Winstone's happily retired in Spain with his wife and is there with some
friends. And, my heavens, you're scary. I thought we'd play for the audience
a moment here where you've had several conversations and your old friend Gal
Dove has told you he's not interested in doing this job and you simply won't
be turned down. This is you as Don Logan.

(Soundbite of "Sexy Beast")

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Don Logan) Do it!

Mr. RAY WINSTONE: (As Gary `Gal' Dove) I'm retired.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) Do it!

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) This is madness. I've had enough of this "Crime and
Punishment" bollocks. I'm happy.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) I won't let you be happy! Why should I? Friday at
the...(unintelligible)...you'll be there.

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) I won't.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) You will. I told them, said you're doing it.
Don't you show me up.

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) No, I won't be there.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) You will. You're Mr. Roundtree!

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) No.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) Yes, Roundtree.

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) No.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) Yes, Grovner.

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) No, Don.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) Friday!

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) I won't be there.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) You will!

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Dove) No, Don.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Logan) Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that is Ben Kingsley playing Don Logan in the film "Sexy Beast."

This is, you know, this guy is so terrifying. He spends a lot of time in this
film with four other people intimidating and menacing them in a way that made
me squirm in my seat. Tell us about this guy.

Mr. KINGSLEY: He jumped off the page for me because when I read the script I
saw that the script was written so beautifully and structured so well that it
had the structure almost of a Shakespeare play. So I was able to, just on
reading, draw an immediate parallel and thread that joined Don Logan to Iago
in "Othello" and all the great Shakespearean and Jacobean villains, Richard
III. Something inside him of being crippled, something inside him longing for
love, and something inside him refusing to take no for an answer when he asks
his friend to join him. So I was confident to a certain degree that this was
a beautifully constructed part. I could push and pull and kick Don Logan in
all directions, and his central strength as a character would hold.

And whilst playing the role I was deliberating on this terrible need he has
for love, and this violent way of expressing it. And I came to the conclusion
that he was an abused child. And I saw Don not--I didn't see him primarily as
a man of violence, I saw him primarily as a profoundly abused individual who
would mete out revenge for that abuse to the rest of the world for the rest of
his life. And I'm afraid the unhealed abused child does become an extremely
violent adult.

DAVIES: You know, you said in a moment when we were off the air that, I
think, you don't particularly like looking at this, the performance, because
Don Logan still terrifies you.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Well, there are parts of him that frightens me. I actually
quite love watching the film, but I tell you the bit that really did frighten
me was when I had to act in the mirror. He was shaving and talking to himself
in the mirror. I think that was the one time where I turned to the director
and said, `I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to take a break and come back and
have another go.' And I just had to walk around for a bit and come back to the
mirror. And every time I looked in the mirror and saw the monster that I was
creating, the portrait of this psychopath, sociopath in the mirror, I found it
very disturbing. But then I took a deep breath and we got that in one take
and the director said, `I don't wish to do that again.' So I didn't. But
being him was empowering. Seeing myself as him in the mirror was terrifying.

DAVIES: Well, you know, and that raises another thing that occurred to me.
You have four, you know, very fine actors here in all of these scenes with
you, but if I were in those scenes, and even if I knew it was you, Ben
Kingsley, and even if I knew you were acting, I think it would still scare me.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes, maybe. Ray was very generous towards me in the way that
I was describing how generous the Indians were, because Ray Winstone is pretty
well acquainted with a certain part of London life that is dangerous, that has
a particular vernacular, that has a particular style, a particular gait, a
particular walk, a particular rhythm. And when I arrived in Spain to work
with him, one of the first things Ray said to Jonathan was that he knew my
character. He said to Jonathan, `I know what he's doing. I know what Ben's
doing. I know him. He's a driver. I know him. I know his name. I know
where he lives.' He was so generous to say to me, coming from a very different
discipline from Ray's, and I admire Ray tremendously, he said, `You've got it.
You've got it. You've got him. I know the man. I know this man that you're
playing.' He didn't go into any details, just in case, but, yeah, very
generous.

DAVIES: Wow. Did you have to prepare for the role physically? Because, you
know, you look really rugged and tough in this.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah, my body changes. My physical shape changes from
character to character.

DAVIES: Well, by working out...

Mr. KINGSLEY: I have a different posture.

DAVIES: ...or by your will or what, how does that happen?

Mr. KINGSLEY: It's subliminal. I have a different posture. My character
has a walk and posture that becomes quite different from character to
character. I don't know how it happens, but it just does. And I was very
happy with the makeup department, who turned my face into something slightly
more like an axe...

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. KINGSLEY: ...like a weapon. And then the wardrobe department, they
said, `What do you think?' And I said, `I think he's got 10 shirts that are
the same, 10 trousers that are the same, 10 black shoes that are exactly the
same and some jackets.' And that was it. I presented that silhouette to the
camera and the camera accepted it. And Jonathan Glazer was wonderfully
accepting of what I'd arrived on the set with.

DAVIES: You know, this violent character came 20 years after portraying the
world's most famous pacifist in "Gandhi." Did it change your career in any
way?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Don Logan?

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yes. It did. I think I was referred to as bipolar actor at
one stage.

DAVIES: You were knighted in 2000, became Sir Ben Kingsley. What did that
mean to you? Was that important?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Yeah. A lot. But I have to put it into context. The British
are very different from the Americans in expressing their enthusiasm, very
different from the Indians that we were talking about earlier. Walking into a
restaurant or down the street in New York with my darling wife Daniella is a
treat because we're greeted very warmly. Taxi drivers roll their windows
down, people stop when it says don't walk and a little collection of people
around me saying that they'd seen this and that and could I sign this for
them.

And in England we're completely ignored. It's a bit disconcerting. You
think, oh, don't they like me? Don't they love me? Don't they know we're
here? It's as if one's invisible. Walking into a restaurant, people hide
discreetly behind their menus and whisper. And it's odd to go from one
environment to the other. But then, with this reticence, you almost think the
British hate success. You begin to really worry that they will never enthuse,
and then one day you get a letter from the prime minister inviting you to the
palace, which basically says, `We have seen you, we have heard you and we do
love you.' It is completely overwhelming. Coming from that context of almost
feeling invisible, and for your own country to embrace you in that way, your
own language, for me it's quite beautiful.

DAVIES: Huh, gosh. An Academy Award, four Oscar nominations, not quite
enough. Not in England.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Not in England it isn't, with all due respect.

DAVIES: Well, you know, I guess I should--I thought I would finish by noting
that you, Sir Ben, recently appeared in "The Love Guru," the Mike Myers film
as Guru, what, Tugginmypudha.

Mr. KINGSLEY: You said it, not me.

DAVIES: Let's listen to just a bit of this and then...

Mr. KINGSLEY: I'd love to.

DAVIES: OK.

(Soundbite of "The Love Guru")

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Guru Tugginmypudha) Deepak, why do you want to join the
Tugginmypudha Ashram?

Mr. JAAN PADDA: (As Young Deepak) To seek my true self.

Mr. MIKE MYERS: (As Maurice) All right, kiss ass.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Guru Tugginmypudha) Maurice, why do you want to join?

Mr. MYERS: (As Maurice) I want to become a guru so girls will like me, then
I will like myself.

Mr. KINGSLEY: (As Guru Tugginmypudha) Deepak, you'll enjoy love in all
forms.

Maurice, you must wear this chastity belt.

(Soundbite of elephant trumpeting)

Mr. MYERS: (As Maurice) Chastity belt? That sucks!

(Soundbite of gong)

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: What got you into this completely over-the-top role with Mike Myers?

Mr. KINGSLEY: Mike Myers is delightful. And he does have quite a tough
discipline on set, which I find totally admirable, which is that he has to run
the films the way Charlie Chaplin ran his films in the black and white days.
If you're delivering a comedy to the audience, it has to be consistent in
style. The same joke has to be explored in the same way. The rhythm has to
be consistent. And Mike on set is inspiring to be with. He's a lovely guy.
And he has great authority on the set. And I love that consistency. Also, it
gave me an opportunity to go mad, to be completely balmy, to be reckless. I
did stay word perfect on my dialogue, I did. But it gave me an opportunity to
be careless and really allowed me to stretch myself and find some areas of
fearlessness in front of the camera, and being ludicrous in front of the
camera, which I think I needed to do. I need to do this more, just start to
be a little less careful about my work.

DAVIES: Well, we'll look forward to that. Ben Kingsley, it's been so much
fun. Thanks so much.

Mr. KINGSLEY: Thank you.

DAVIES: Ben Kingsley's new film with Penelope Cruz is "Elegy."

Coming up, Ken Tucker on "Harps and Angels," the new Randy Newman album. This
is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ken Tucker reviews Randy Newman's new album "Harps and
Angels," his first album of new songs in nine years
DAVE DAVIES, host:

"Harps and Angels" is Randy Newman's first album of new songs in nine years.
In recent times Newman has concentrated on composing movie soundtrack music.
He won an Oscar in 2002 for Best Original Song from the Movie "Monsters, Inc."
Rock critic Ken Tucker says Newman's new album is a mixture of the kind of
music Newman has been writing for the movies and his earlier, more darkly
satirical material.

(Sound of "Harps and Angels")

Mr. RANDY NEWMAN: (Singing) Hasn't anybody seen me lately?
I'll tell you why
Hasn't anybody seen me lately?
I'll tell you why
I caught something made me so sick
That I thought that I would die
And almost did, too

(End of soundbite)

Mr. KEN TUCKER: Am I the only one who still gets goosebumps hearing Randy
Newman stab at his piano and sing in that sly, slurry way of his? I hope not.
That title song from Newman's new album "Harps and Angles" is a mini epic,
written in the voice of a man who has a near death experience. He receives a
visitation from either God or St. Peter, who encourages this lazy reprobate
to live better and to believe in an afterlife. But this being Randy Newman, I
have to add, sort of.

(Soundbite of "Harps and Angels")

Mr. NEWMAN: (Singing) He said, lay you on the table
Better keep your business clean
Lay you on the table
Better keep your business clean
Yes, there won't be no harps and angels coming for you
Be trombones, kettle drums, pitchforks and tambourines
Sing it like they did for me

Yes
Beautiful
Wish I spoke French
So actually the main thing about this story is, for me,
There really is an afterlife
And I hope to see all of you there
Let's go get a drink

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: One unfortunate decision on this album is the prettifying of the
song "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country." When Newman rushed that
composition out onto iTunes as a single in 2007, sitting alone at his piano
comparing America's future to the fall of great empires, it was written in a
simmering fury at US foreign policy and the current Supreme Court. Now,
rearranged for an orchestra and framed as a cowboy's lament, the song loses a
lot of its power. I get the freshly added joke--George Bush as cowboy, cowboy
as emperor--but it flattens the fury. As social commentary, a newer song
included here, "A Piece of the Pie," about our wobbly economy now seems more
jaggedly pointed.

(Soundbite of "A Piece of the Pie")

Mr. NEWMAN: (Singing) Like us all, you want the very best advice
Car, a house, a neighborhood that's nice
Flowers and trees and lots of little kids around
Where public schools are breeding grounds for vice

You say you're working harder than you ever have
You say you've got two jobs and so's your wife
Living in the richest country in the world
Wouldn't you think you'd have a better life?

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: The clashing, atonal chords of "A Piece of the Pie" enhance the
song's message while never sparing anyone, not even the composer himself, with
the line "the rich are getting richer, I should know," which brings up the
perennial Randy Newman question: Is he singing his own sentiments or those of
a character he's created? "Harps and Angels" offers examples of both, and
therefore isn't going to assure any puzzled newcomers to Newman's music.

This collection has its, by now, token bit of outrageousness, something Newman
has tacked on to most of his albums ever since "Short People" became a freak
hit single in 1977. The new version of this is "Korean Parents," about how
the title figures push their kids too hard academically and thus pushes a
racial stereotype into satire. I'm not going to play it; you hear the
premise, you get the joke. What I will play, though, is a foray into misogyny
placed very carefully into the mouth of gabby guy. It's called "Potholes," a
reference to the dips in memory that allow this fellow to selectively forget
his worse sins and mistakes.

(Soundbite of "Potholes")

Mr. NEWMAN: (Singing) I love women
Have all my life
Love my dear mother
I love my wife, God bless her
Even love my teenage daughter
There's no accounting for it
Apparently I don't care how I'm treated
My love's unconditional or something
Been hurt a time or two
I ain't going to lie

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: At age 64, Newman no longer seems concerned with appealing to a
mass audience. He's content to bat out stuff like movie tunes. He's always
taken a craftsman satisfaction with formal challenges, no matter how slight
the project. And the money from that may have helped finance the orchestra
for "Harps and Angels," with its frequent, defiantly unhip Dixieland
arrangements. If that makes it sound as though I'm consigning Newman to the
scrap heap of pop, far from it. He's as vital a cult artist as any such
person 40 years younger. And it sounds as if he's got a lot of genial bile
left in him, which is pretty thrilling. Like I said at the top, goosebumps.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Randy Newman's new album "Harps and Angels."

(Soundbite of "Easy Street")

Mr. NEWMAN: (Singing) Satisfaction guaranteed
Getting everything you need,
Hand delivered, quite discreet
Because you're on Easy Street

Any place you want to go
We'll call ahead, let them know
Get you into the back door
Let you get a front row seat
Because you're on Easy Street

All your old friends
You know you love them so
It's going to break your heart
But going to have to let them go
Your friends up here must be elite
You'll like everyone you meet
On Easy Street
Life is sweet
Accommodations can't be beat
On Easy Street

East Street

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: That's "Easy Street" from Randy Newman's new album, "Harps and
Angels."

Coming up, John Powers on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died Sunday. This is
FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: John Powers remembers Russian writer Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize winner who died from heart failure
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died on Sunday, will be buried
tomorrow in Moscow. Our critic at large John Powers has these thoughts on the
man and his legacy.

Mr. JOHN POWERS: In the seemingly endless run-up to the Beijing Olympics,
the media keeps fretting about its coverage. Would it be rude or even wrong
to criticize China's human rights abuses or its support for ghastly
dictatorships? It's too bad that nobody asked Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the
Nobel Prize-winning writer who died over the weekend. I'd love to have seen
his look of disdain.

From the beginning Solzhenitsyn's sense of righteous purpose made him more
than a little daunting. With that aggressively unflattering beard and stark
refusal to smile, he made Orwell and Camus seem about as serious as Groucho
Marx. He belonged to the grand tradition of visionary Russian artists, from
Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to Andrei Tarkovsky, men whose missionary zeal could
border on the mystical.

Solzhenitsyn's mission was to expose and conquer Soviet communism. He was
well motivated to do it. The party had stripped him of everything. Born a
year after the October revolution, he was fighting the Germans in World War II
when he got locked up for some flippant words about Stalin. He spent the next
decade in prison and internal exile, eventually writing about his experiences
in "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." This was the most
earth-shattering--meaning the most realistic--novel ever to have been
published in the Soviet Union. Its success made him a target, but he
persevered. He worked 16 hours a day for years on "The Gulag Archipelago,"
his anatomy of a system in which lies became the pillar of the state. He kept
a pitchfork by the door in case the KGB happened by.

As with many great artists, Solzhenitsyn's
specialness...(unintelligible)...his ability to articulate what those around
him more or less knew but couldn't or wouldn't say. For starters, he had
moral courage. Having faced down war, prison and cancer, he had the fortitude
to keep writing all alone against the world's biggest police state. But
bravery alone won't get you "The Gulag Archipelago." It takes vast
intelligence and imagination. Solzhenitsyn had to dig for every piece of
evidence, often at great personal risk, then put his findings in historical
perspective, and then bring his stories alive. He could sometimes be a
dreadful writer, especially later on. But he could also be brilliant. No one
who's read him will ever forget that scene when a party member proposes a
toast to Stalin and the whole audience keeps applauding and applauding because
everyone's terrified to be the first one to stop.

Like so many saintly sorts, he wasn't especially likeable. He could be
prickly, sanctimonious, a crank. Even fellow dissidents chided him for his
vaulting egomania. But really, how could it have been otherwise? To stand up
against the steamroller of a system that's flattened tens of millions of
lives, you need more than your fair share of sheer cussedness. This made him
a pain. And not only for the left, which resisted facing the hard truth of
what Solzhenitsyn had to say about communism. On the right, Henry Kissinger
convinced President Gerald Ford not to meet with the writer because his
political views were, quote, "an embarrassment." That is, they didn't serve
realpolitik.

Of course, once Solzhenitsyn was exiled to American soil in 1974, he did
behave like an ungrateful guest, constantly scolding the West that welcomed
him for its materialism and spiritual emptiness. Oddly, he seemed to think
that suffering in a Siberian camp was somehow nobler than listening to The
Beatles. In 1994 he returned to Russia as a culture hero. But it's the fate
of heroes, those who live long enough anyway, to watch the world move on.
Just ask Mikhail Gorbachev or Brett Favre.

Eventually he came to be seen as less a prophet than a monument, one
occasionally bespattered by cultural pigeons enjoying the freedoms he helped
give them. More often, he was simply ignored. If he cared what the world
thought, he didn't show it. For better and worse, he always knew that he was
right, even when he wasn't. Still, when it came to the matter on which he
will be judged, the calamity of Soviet communism, he was clearly on the side
of the angels, so much so that he soared free of the prison walls of
powerlessness to become one of the essential figures of the 20th century. In
his novel "The First Circle," a prisoner says, `You only have power over
people so long as you don't take everything away from them. But once you rob
a man of everything, he's free all over again.' It was Solzhenitsyn's great
triumph that he didn't merely write these lines, he proved them.

DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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