Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Alec Guinness to play the lead role in a film on Mahatma Gandhi, says director Richard Attenborough in an interview marking the 25th anniversary of the award-winning 1982 biopic.
Making a film of the life of Gandhi had been Attenborough's lifelong dream. In one of his early conversations about the idea with India's first prime minister, he says: "Nehru categorically said there was not enough cinematic experience amongst Indian actors in the style of Western cinema…to cast an Indian actor."
Nehru told him: "I know exactly who you should ask — Alec Guinness."
Attenborough replied: "I will keep your thoughts in mind, but I would be uncomfortable at the idea of an Englishman 'browning up' to play such a figure."
However, when Attenborough did eventually start looking for a person to play the Mahatma, he looked at white actors like Peter Finch, Harvey Finney and Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins was so eager for the role he lost 35 pounds to impress Attenborough. Even Dustin Hoffman was considered.
It was Attenborough's son, a theatre director, who recommended he try Ben Kingsley. The director says that when he found out that Kingsley was half-Indian, his heart missed several beats.