Ralph Fiennes

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Ralph Fiennes

Post  eddie on Sat Dec 10, 2011 11:19 pm

Ralph Fiennes: 'We were told there was no money and no presents for Christmas'

With six children, his parents struggled to make ends meet. Now Ralph Fiennes is the toast of Hollywood – and making his directorial debut with Coriolanus. He tells Xan Brooks his story

Xan Brooks

guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 December 2011 22.59 GMT


Ralph Fiennes: 'My mother introduced me to Shakespeare at a very young age.' Photograph: Kalpesh Lathigra

Ralph Fiennes's trailer sits on a patch of wasteland beside the river and near the airport, in a neck of east London that's barely London. The cabbie can't find it and keeps driving in circles, his irritation rising as the planes rumble overhead. Either the satnav is scrambled or the address does not exist. "It's meant to be here but there's nothing there," he grumbles. "It's not a place, it's off the map."

Coriolanus
Production year: 2010
Country: UK
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 123 mins
Directors: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Ashraf Barhom, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler , James Nesbitt, Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave
More on this film

It's only later, safely arrived, that it strikes me that the non-place may well be the best place to meet Ralph Fiennes, an actor who does not so much inhabit his roles as hide out in them and a man who approaches press interviews with the carefree air of someone about to undergo extensive root-canal surgery. If it has to be done, it should at least be on his terms: on neutral ground, in a trailer, the door ajar at his back. He likes it open, he says, because it lets in some air, although it's also a handy escape hatch should the need arise.

The table is bare except for an ominous black hat. "It's not mine," Fiennes explains. "Well, I suppose it is. It's Magwitch's hat." He has come to the Thames to shoot the paddle-steamer sequence for a new version of Great Expectations, the latest in a long line of literary adaptations that extends back through roles in The Constant Gardener and The End Of The Affair all the way to Schindler's List and Wuthering Heights. Before that, however, we can see him in Coriolanus, his first film as director; a brilliantly brutish update of Shakespeare's tragedy. John Logan's script shifts the story to the modern-day Balkans, allowing Fiennes to fling the action against a backdrop of Soviet-era estates, where the snipers hide out behind the washing lines.

Fiennes takes the title role himself and his Coriolanus is a thing of thunder; an unbending Roman general run aground on the rocks of public opinion. His mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) is grooming him for high office. She wants him to speak to the people and pander for votes, except that Coriolanus isn't geared that way. The actor points out that he first tackled the role on stage back in 2000 and that it's nagged at him since. He loves its propulsive, take-no-prisoners narrative; its jagged, knotty use of language. "There was just something in the play and in the part that sat with me and wouldn't go away. It's an obsession, I think, although I've never really analysed where it comes from."

It's cold inside the trailer, what with that door hanging open. Fiennes zips his fleece and drums his feet. His fingers rake at his hair and his pale, tragic gaze darts all over the place: in the corners, on the hat, down at the floor. The actor turns 49 this month, yet there seems something charmingly, awkwardly adolescent about him. In person, at least today, he effects a curious juggle of arrogance and fragility; a study in restless energy. He talks about the problems with Coriolanus and his own route into acting. From time to time a plane will dip in to land at the airport next door, its undercarriage almost grazing the roof, forcing Fiennes to raise his voice to make himself heard. This proves to be weirdly disconcerting. It gives even his most innocuous pronouncements an air of mounting fury. "I'm fascinated by painting!" he bellows at one stage. "But I don't paint any more! I stopped when I started acting! I stopped!"

His friend, the theatre director Jonathan Kent, once suggested that Fiennes's choice of stage roles reveals more about him than Fiennes will ever say himself. Kent feels that "the plays are examinations of him"; down the years, the director has worked with Fiennes on acclaimed productions of Coriolanus, Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, all of which hinge on the fraught relationship between a son and his mother. While I'm wary of attaching too much Freudian baggage to this, I can't believe it's pure coincidence.

On setting out to tailor Coriolanus for the screen, for instance, Fiennes and Logan saw the need to be ruthless. They pruned the text, streamlined the dialogue and junked certain characters altogether. Yet the role of Volumnia remained virtually uncut. "Because the whole story leads up to that moment, to the mother's appeal," Fiennes enthuses. "She uses every bit of maternal ammunition that she can lay her hands on, from intimacy, to challenge, to entreaty – 'Speak to me, son, speak to me' – to rejection. So you have to go through it all: it's the nub of the play. What moved me about Coriolanus was always that: the mother-son confrontation."


On the set of Coriolanus: Fiennes directs and takes the title role – it’s a part he tackled on stage in 2000, since when it’s been 'an obsession'.

He admits, moreover, to a grudging affinity with the man he plays; the angry ascetic, forced to sell himself to the masses. "Yes, I suppose I do have empathy for him," he says. "There's something exhilarating about playing that sort of anger and frustration. And whatever you think of his values, he's trying to hold to his truth; to what he believes in."

But he's doomed, isn't he? "Yes, you're right. You don't compromise, you don't negotiate, of course you're doomed. Because that's part of our existence in a society: you have to have negotiation. You and I agree to sit here and talk. Whatever we think about that, we have to do it. And it's the same everywhere: here, on a film set, in a theatre company. In life. In a family." By this point another plane is swooping in. "Family!" he roars. "Is all about negotiation and space!"

Fiennes is the eldest of six children (a seventh, foster brother Michael Emery, followed later). His mother, Jini, was a novelist; his father, Mark, a tenant farmer turned photographer. The Fiennes brood led a nomadic, bohemian existence, moving house 14 times in as many years, bouncing from Suffolk to Ireland to Wiltshire to London. He concedes that this was good preparation for his life as an actor. "I'm in one place as long as a job requires it." He smiles. "I like moving."

Back then, however, he wasn't so sure. "The moving was unsettling because it was always related to where my father could get work. In a way it was very romantic. We moved to west Cork in 1973 and we were going to live in this amazing place and my father would do up houses. He was brilliant with his hands. He could do gardening, he could build a wall. But he had no experience in property development, so it didn't work out. He didn't have the reserves or the capital." He rakes at his hair. "My parents were very financially challenged. All of us children have the memory of being told that there was no money, we have to sell this, there's no presents for Christmas. Of being in the front line of that constant worry; the atmosphere in the home always charged with anxiety. 'What do we do? What do we do?'"

On the upside, there was a lot of love. The Fiennes's siblings shared rooms, piled into bunk-beds and scrapped for space. But there were always books to read and woods to play in. They were offered support and encouragement; gently nudged down creative paths.

"My mother introduced me to Shakespeare when I was very young," Fiennes recalls. "One day she sat me down and told me the story of Hamlet in her own words, which left a huge impression on me. Quite a disturbing impression, actually – it's a disturbing story if you're eight years old. And then she gave me Olivier's recordings of the speeches. I think I was mesmerised by his voice as much as anything. I didn't understand all of it, but I would sit there listening with a copy of the play."

It sounds as if his mother was grooming him for the stage. "No, not at all," he insists. "She was a writer and it was what moved and thrilled her, no more than that. With young people, if they're extrovert and sing and dance, people think, 'Oh, that's the actor in the family.' And I wasn't like that. I was quite shy, I was never good at sport, I was happiest in the art class. It was only in my teens that I started doing some school plays."

Fiennes spent the bulk of his 20s at the RSC. This, he suspects, was his natural habitat, hopping from production to production, immersing himself in each performance and learning his craft on the fly. The film industry felt like a different world until it crashed in and claimed him. In 1992 he was cast in a BBC biopic of Lawrence of Arabia. This led to roles in Wuthering Heights and Peter Greenaway's The Baby Of Mâcon. It also landed him his breakthrough role as Amon Goeth, the serenely evil Nazi commandant at the heart of Schindler's List. All at once, seemingly out of nowhere, Fiennes was a fully-fledged movie star, with an Oscar nomination to his name and the phone ringing off the hook.

Did it go to his head? "It certainly un-moored me," he says. "It was the same time that mother died. Schindler's List was coming out. It was a peculiar time. I was getting all this attention, particularly in America with the Oscar campaign. Of course it was thrilling, but…" He trails off.

Schindler's List opened at the start of December 1993. Jini died, after a lengthy struggle with cancer, on the 28th. It must have made for a grisly, upside-down period: the actor thrust beneath the Klieg lights while the true drama – the one that really mattered – was playing out behind closed doors.

Fiennes shifts his chair to one side and stares at the floor. "Yeah, I don't really want to talk about all that," he says, "but it was obviously extremely distressing in all the ways you can imagine. It's very hard to revisit it."

This, I'm guessing, is Fiennes's main issue with the press interview. We start on-topic and then veer into the rough. Legitimate questions about the work invariably lead to illegitimate questions about the man. "I've accepted it," he sighs. "But yes, obviously, the film is the film and should stand on its own terms. In the purest sense, you make something and there it is. If you cook a meal for someone, your work is done. You don't sit around explaining how you made the meal."

So what does he do when he makes a meal for someone? Bang the plate down on the table and storm off without a word? Fiennes gives a rueful smile. "Well, maybe the meal isn't the best metaphor."

If the actor's stage choices provide a possible clue to unlocking the man, his screen roles offer a more foggy overview. Fiennes has made great movies and duff movies. He has acted in small, spiky, independent projects and big, bland, anonymous fodder. He dispensed with his nose to play Voldemort in the Harry Potter pictures and went off like a roman candle in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. He was devastating as the schizophrenic hero of David Cronenberg's 2002 drama Spider and yet, the very same year, looked bothered and bewildered opposite Jennifer Lopez in Maid In Manhattan. He lists The Constant Gardener, Spider, The English Patient and István Szabó's sublime Sunshine as the films of which he is most proud, but insists that it's all been good, that he likes the variety.

I'm not sure I quite believe him. Surely there is a world of difference between working on a film such as Sunshine or Coriolanus and working on The Avengers, say, or Maid In Manhattan. "But I loved going to work on The Avengers," he says, slapping the table for emphasis. "You don't go to work thinking you're going to make a bad film. I went to work thinking, 'Great, let's reinvent The Avengers', which I loved as a kid. It's only now, because of the way it was received, that we look back and groan. And it was the same with Maid In Manhattan. I thought, 'I've always done serious drama and here I am doing this great thing, a romcom with a social-conscience twist.' It didn't turn out like that. It was produced and packaged in a very different way. But you have to make a choice."

I'm now trying to recall the details of Maid In Manhattan. Didn't he play a pristine young politician who falls in love with the below-stairs help? "Yeah," he winces. "And I think the part required a light, deft, Cary Grant-ish thing, which I quite quickly felt was not my strength. That and doing an American accent, to be honest. I've tried it. I've worked really hard with dialogue coaches, but I wonder if I'll ever inhabit an American accent in a completely natural, organic way."

Is it simply the accent or is it more a way of being? "Yeah, it's a way of being. But they're related. It's the whole package." It may even be a cultural thing. Fiennes is at his best playing brooding, cerebral introspection. Sunny, expansive types are not his bag.

Away from the cameras, he leads a life that appears simultaneously footloose and oddly monastic. In the past he has had long relationships with the actors Alex Kingston and Francesca Annis (whom – amateur psychologists take note – he met when she was playing Gertrude to his Hamlet). But lately he has been largely single or playing the field – sometimes discreetly, sometimes not (in 2007 he was caught leaving an aeroplane toilet with a Qantas flight attendant). He has no particular desire to settle down and have children. Again, I suspect that this is partly prompted by his upbringing and that his current existence is a reaction to his earliest role as the cherished elder son at the heart of a tumultuous, travelling family. "I had kids when I was a kid," he once remarked.

Does he think acting is an inherently selfish existence? Fiennes peers at me in astonishment; he can't think what I mean. "I don't see how it can be selfish," he says. "There's no question that it lends itself to selfishness as a way of life. But I feel, more and more, that acting is about sharing and reacting. Your performance is as good as mine because I'm working with you. If you're talking about the work, then it's all about that connection."

I'm not talking about the work so much as the life of the actor. The fact that it involves a kind of managed commitment; that it allows you to forge very intense, short-term relationships with your fellow players and then cut the ties and move on to the next job without a backward glance. The fact that he isn't in a long-term relationship. The fact that he doesn't have children.

Fiennes pounces. "The implication of that is that to not have children is selfish, yeah?" Well yes, I splutter. I suppose that is what I'm saying, insofar as having children involves a kind of responsibility. He shakes his head. "But I don't agree with that at all."

What sustains him, he says, is the life of the theatre. He hates being away for too long at a stretch because he misses the energy, the team spirit. He balks at the notion that anything so rich and rigorous could be seen as somehow fey or immature.

"What first drew me to acting was the thrill of escaping into another world," he explains. "When you're young it's like a joyride. You think, 'Wow, this is fun. Being on stage and doing a fight.' But then it becomes about the part. You're playing a human being. He's got all these layers and ambivalences and contradictions, and you want the audience to recognise that. You want the connection, not just with the performers but with the audience as well. You want them to be shaken, or challenged, or moved. You want them to have that point of identification."

There's an ominous rumble outside the trailer: another plane is coming in. Fiennes duly cranks up the volume and slaps at the table, although by this point I'm unsure whether he's fighting to be heard above the engines or if he's genuinely riled. "To be offering up the possibilities of that as an actor," he says. "It's a profession that has real value! To give of yourself as a performer has the same value as making a house!"

The plane is now directly overhead. The windows are rattling, the noise is like thunder. "It's not selfish!" he roars. "It's generous!"

eddie
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Re: Ralph Fiennes

Post  LaRue on Sat Dec 10, 2011 11:57 pm

Interesting. His family are related to Lord Saye and Sele, Nathaniel Fiennes so I had assumed he had quite a privileged upbringing. I saw Schindler's List on Wednesday for the first time. He was very good. Unfotunately ridiculously attractive as well.

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Re: Ralph Fiennes

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 22, 2012 4:37 pm

Coriolanus – review

In his directorial debut Ralph Fiennes has created a vivid, intelligent Coriolanus with powerful political relevance

Philip French

The Observer, Sunday 22 January 2012


‘Bold and bloody’: Ralph Fiennes as military leader Caius Martius in Coriolanus.

Modern-dress Shakespeare has been with us for nearly a century, long enough to cease being a novelty or in need of justification. Barry Jackson's 1920s Cymbeline at Birmingham Rep with the cast in first world war uniform is the key example we were shown pictures of as sixth-formers in the late 40s. Traditional dress, however we define it, is currently pretty rare, though film-makers, no doubt because of the continuing popularity of Roman epics, reached for their togas when Charlton Heston appeared in fustian versions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The only recent movie to deal with one of the Roman plays was Richard Linklater's 2008 Me and Orson Welles, about the controversy surrounding Welles's 1937 anti-fascist modern-dress production of Julius Caesar in New York.

Coriolanus
Production year: 2010
Country: UK
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 123 mins
Directors: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Ashraf Barhom, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler , James Nesbitt, Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave

But now we have Ralph Fiennes's bloody and bold directorial debut, Coriolanus, magnificently filmed in a present-day setting. This is the first time Shakespeare's last tragedy has been brought to the screen, though there is a memorable reference in Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" in Kiss Me, Kate ("If she says your behaviour is heinous/ Kick her right up the Coriolanus"). It's a tough, uningratiating play that has fascinated writers as different as TS Eliot and Bertolt Brecht. A deeply, divisively political work, devoid of comic relief and short on endearing characters, its complex moral conflicts are as knotty as the verse. Despite the absence of any popular demand from the audience, it demands to be produced regularly and actors wish to be tested in the role.

Fiennes played the part a dozen years ago at the cavernous Gainsborough film studio in Islington, north London just before it was demolished and, either because of the venue's size or the scope of the production, he was glacially impressive rather than what he is in the film, ferociously commanding. Shot in Serbia and reeking of the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia, the film is as up to date as today's news, and indeed it opens as if we'd just switched on the TV to watch the latest bulletin from a state torn by civil strife. Here before us is Jon Snow himself as a newscaster, speaking Shakespeare's blank verse turned into breaking news and interviewing Roman experts on the current events for Fidelis TV. The hungry plebeians in jeans and bomber jackets are staging an uprising, demanding that the greedy, overfed patricians release corn from their warehouses. The quietly reasonable senator Menenius (Brian Cox) urges restraint, but his close friend the military leader Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) gives the crowd a tongue-lashing, and the police, their wall of shields resembling a Roman testudo, drive the mob away. It takes a war against the Volscian enemy to divert internal threats into external danger, and after the successful battle at Corioles, Caius Martius is given the honorific title "Coriolanus".

For Corioles you might read the Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq or Chechnya, and the battle is shot by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd with the dusty, dangerous documentary-style realism he has brought to movies by Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass, and to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. Coriolanus becomes a national hero, but he's incapable of wooing the public because of his honesty, disdain for flattery and inability to compromise. The craven tribunes of the people (brilliantly played as shifty political opportunists by Paul Jesson and James Nesbitt) demand his banishment, and he's driven into exile. There he forms an alliance against Rome with his deadly Volscian enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler), the guerrilla fighter with whom he shares a warrior's code and a homoerotic attraction. From this decision tragedy inevitably ensues, as he fails to live up to the necessary ruthlessness his actions demand.

In adapting the play, John Logan (who worked on Gladiator and Scorsese's Howard Hughes biography, The Aviator) has sharply cut the text, removing the obscurer passages but retaining its lucidity and eloquence and providing a sharp, graphic narrative. No attempt is made to make the proud Coriolanus into a vote-getter or crowd-pleaser. Whether shaven-headed and covered in blood from battle, smartly uniformed as a potential national leader or long-haired and bearded in exile, he remains his own man, a self-elected outsider. The only time he invites pity is when he yields to entreaties from his fiercely ambitious mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), the very woman who has turned him into an uncompromising warrior.

At once visceral and intelligent, this beautifully acted, vividly staged film brings a powerful, challenging honesty to bear on class, political life and the demands we make on our leaders. It reaches out in many different directions, and in ways that Shakespeare could never have foreseen. Just to mention a couple. First, the great South African actor John Kani, major exponent of Athol Fugard's plays and for decades a victim of apartheid, is cast as General Cominius. This strong, wise leader, ready to fight but always an advocate of peaceful solutions, inevitably reminds us of Nelson Mandela. Second, a title eloquently announces the setting as "A Place Calling Itself Rome". This is the title of John Osborne's 1972 reworking of Coriolanus, a play that remains unproduced. Osborne, who felt himself rejected by the British theatre, not only identified himself with the banished Roman general but brought his own angry, intransigent protagonists – Jimmy Porter, Archie Rice, Martin Luther, Bill Maitland – into the same band of misfits.

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Re: Ralph Fiennes

Post  Constance on Mon Feb 06, 2012 11:50 pm

Is he gay? He played very sexy straight guys in The End of the Affair with Julianne Moore and in The English Patient with Kristin Scott Thomas.

Now I'm not sure...

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Re: Ralph Fiennes

Post  Constance on Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:56 pm



He's brilliant in a film that doesn't get that much attention: Oscar and Lucinda.

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