Ben Kingsley on Portraying Holocaust History: NPR Interview

Give yourself a treat—it will take less than 10 minutes out of your day—and listen to Sir Ben Kingsley being interviewed by NPR’s Scott Simon in front of an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Kingsley has played a range of Holocaust-related roles including Murderers Among Us, Schindler’s List, and The Whole Story.

He speaks truthfully and poetically about his roles and his understanding of tragedy, which he has deeply considered as a result of playing these roles. He says that an actor is a storyteller, and I think this applies to therapists, healers, leaders and parents—we are all storytellers. Tribal storytellers, “sitting around the bonfire, telling stories to reassure people about the past, comfort them about the future, and build bridges of empathy to deal with those aspects of life that are baffling.”

Kingsley speaks about the importance of being able to “embrace tragedy as part of our lives.” He paraphrases playwright David Mamet as saying, “Western civilization is a civilization determined to outlaw tragedy.” Psychologically we attempt to do this through denying ourselves, repressing ourselves, confusing ourselves, and distracting ourselves. But Kingsley suggests that if we—the storytellers—remove the interpretation of tragedy from our stories, we’ll be telling nothing. He says, “Removing tragedy doesn’t prepare us for our real lives as adults; it infantilizes us.”

I consider this interview to be an expression of wisdom from someone who has spent a great deal of time considering tragedies that were so horrific they are undeniable. At the end of the interview Kingsley speaks of a woman who saw him play Hamlet and she asked him, “How did you know about me?” He explains, “That’s my job. I know you; I’m trying to know you. And through knowing each other and holding onto that tribal bonfire we’ll be okay.”

If you are seeking a new way to think about tragedy—a constructive way—listen to this interview.

Either of the two following links should take you to the interview. The first one should take you directly to the interview, but if that doesn’t work, use the second link and scroll down the page to find the interview.

Clicking here should take you directly to the interview







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2 Responses to Ben Kingsley on Portraying Holocaust History: NPR Interview

  1. Hannah April 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Kingsley speaks of tribal bonfires that we once sat around where story tellers reassured and comforted us with stories of the past and of the future.

    Kingsley says “through knowing each other and holding on to that tribal bonfire, we will be okay”

    As Green Beings we have our own version of the ‘tribal bonfire’.

    When I am in the circle with other Green Beings, I seek to know myself and others. I discover different parts of myself and reveal how I do myself NOW about the past, present, or future. I reassure and comfort myself through easy times and help navigate myself through difficult times.

    Translating Kingsley into Green Speak, I would say: through knowing each other and continuing to return ourselves to the circle … we will okay ourselves … we will also be ourselves … I will okay myself and be myself.

  2. Grateful/Unacceptable April 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm #


    I find meaning and resonate with Kingsley’s idea that to act as if tragedy is not part of life is a disservice and infantalising ourselves. That we comfort and prepare ourselves by accepting tragedy and telling/hearing stories around the bonfire of surviving, connecting, and thriving through tragedy.

    I relate this to Brene Browns statement that we better serve our children to tell them we are imperfect, wired to struggle, and are worthy of love and belonging; vs getting them on the tennis team or in Yale by a certain age.

    Thank you for posting this.


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