By sheer coincidence, I interviewed Sir Ben Kingsley on Saturday and the first thing we discussed was "Gandhi" and Lord Richard Attenborough. I explained that he was the first director I interviewed when I was still in college and how lucky I was to start off with this prince among men. Although the interview was ostensibly about "Magic," Sir Richard regaled me with plans for his lifelong pet project, "Gandhi," explaining how it starts off with this riveting scene in which the young British-trained lawyer is thrown off a train in South Africa for sitting in a first-class compartment, thus beginning his legendary path as the leader of Indian independence, and how this amazing young actor, Ben Kingsley, was going to dazzle us and become a major star.
Sadly, the beloved actor-director and two-time Oscar-winner died on Sunday, five days short of his 91st birthday. “Wonderful man,” Kingsley beamed. “And it’s interesting that he alluded to that scene because, for me, that was the engine of the whole performance. And after he’d seen the film, Peter Brook, a colleague and another great director, said to me, ‘That’s the angriest performance I’ve ever seen on screen.’ And I shook his hand and said, ‘You got it.’”
I was lucky to interview Attenborough twice (the second was on the occasion of "A Chorus Line"), and I found him gracious and inspirational. He enjoyed the fact that I was a passionate cineaste who appreciated his craft and sense of humanity — and the fact that I was more open and less prejudicial than my more seasoned journalistic colleagues. He talked about capturing the psychopathic ventriloquist played by Sir Anthony Hopkins in the underrated "Magic"; the necessity of using star cameos for dramatic emphasis in the even more underrated "A Bridge Too Far"; and his acute understanding of the acting profession that made him more than qualified to tackle the celebrated "Chorus Line" musical. Judge the work, fair enough, but don’t judge me as being unqualified to make a musical, he lamented.
Read the rest of this piece including Attenborough's own film picks of his best films here.
A selection of 12 highlights from Attenborough performances as well as films that he directed is below: