Ben Kingsley Can Remember The Moment That Made Him Fall In Love With Movies

There ought to be an obscure, multisyllabic German word for the very specific feeling of pride one can take in discovering cinema through one of the medium's more highly regarded classics. There are those among us who had something of a cinematic awakening while watching an indelible classic such as, say, "Citizen Kane," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Persona," "The Rules of the Game," or "The General." Conversely, there ought to be a similar term for the mixture of pride and embarrassment one feels when their cinematic awakening is instigated by something obscure or unknown. "2001" may be a great piece of cinema. But surely someone in the world fell in love with movies the first time they saw Tony Richardson's 1961 film "A Taste of Honey," or Russell Mulcahy's "Highlander 2: The Quickening." 

Actor Ben Kingsley, to offer a brief introduction, is undoubtedly one of the best actors of his generation and has starred in complex prestige dramas, Shakespearean comedies, intense thrillers, and no small amount of Hollywood shlock. Among his hundreds of credits are "Gandhi," "Bugsy," "Schindler's List," "Sexy Beast," "The House of Sand and Fog," as well as "Bloodrayne," "Thunderbirds," and "Iron Man 3." As much as one might already admire Kingsley as an actor, one might find themselves impressed with his first formative childhood film experience. He has, cinephiles may feel, a wonderful entry point into the art form. 

In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Kingsley recalls a moment when he was a small boy, taken to his local cinema, and the exhilaration he felt watching the sweet Italian/British movie "Never Take No for an Answer."

Never Take No for an Answer

"Never Take No for an Answer," directed by Maurice Cloche and Ralph Smart, based on the novel "The Small Miracle" by Paul Gallico, is a relatively obscure 1951 film. starring a young actor named Vittorio Manunta as a boy named Peppino. The young boy, living without parents, moves to a small town in central Italy with his best friend, a donkey named Violetta. Peppino and Violetta make a living delivering goods, but soon Violetta becomes ill. A vet says she has a week to live, and Peppino's only recourse is to take Violetta to the local priest to ask for a blessing and a miracle. When the local priests refuse, Peppino takes to the road to make an appeal directly to the Pope. Violetta will be blessed, come Heaven or High Water. He is determined. The film ends with Peppino triumphant. 

When Kingsley was only five years old, he was taken to a screening of "Never Take No for an Answer," and he saw himself in young Peppino. Indeed, others in the theater also saw the resemblance between Manunta and the young Kingsley. The actor said: 

"I first found myself, my alter ego, on screen, when I was very, very young ... An orphan, five years old. I was so like the child in the film that the cinema owner yelled at the top of his voice, as we left the picture house, 'It's little Peppito, it's little Peppito.'"

The Guardian transcribed the interview as "Peppito," so either they or Kingsley slightly misremembered the name. The Guardian interviewer, Zoe Williams, also pointed out that Kingsley began telling this story as if he had recited it many times before. For Kingsley, this appeared to be a folk tale. Kingsley expanded on his experience immediately after the screening. 

The flood of emotion

"Never Take No for an Answer" is not particularly well-remembered today. It was not a massive financial success, and it received no notable film awards. It was well-regarded enough to be remade in 1974 for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, but both versions are currently unavailable on any streaming services. 

Kingsley expertly tells the story of his first "Never Take No" screening in a mythic way, staging it like it were his superhero origin story. After being so deeply touched, Kingsley began to see life differently. It seemed from that point forward, acting was his fate. Kingsley said: 

"And I think, I know, he lifted me up above the audience, and it was the most extraordinary moment where I was crying because the film was so moving, I was crying because he looked just like me, I was crying because something opened up in me, I didn't know what it was. For the next few months, everywhere I went, I was followed by an invisible camera crew, but that isn't to say it was ego, I was followed by angels who were telling my story."

Kingsley's most recent film was the kung-fu fantasy film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," wherein he reprised his role from "Iron Man 3," a drunken actor named Trevor. At age 78, he currently has five additional films in production, including Terrence Malick's Christ story "The Way of the Wind" and Wes Anderson's "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar."