What you definitely know him from
The Harry Potter Series, Skyfall, Schindler’s List
What you might know him from
The Hurt Locker, The Constant Gardener, In Bruges
What you probably don’t know him from
Cemetery Junction, Red Dragon, Coriolanus
A Nazi, a serial killer, a role in a Shakespeare play and the Dark Lord himself, Volde–I mean ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’. These are just a few strings to Ralph Fiennes’ bow, and what a bow it is.
Fiennes has been around for quite a while now and at the age of 50, has starred in some groundbreaking films that are sure to remain classics for all time. Hailing from Ipswich, it’s also rather rewarding to know that Fiennes is British, so somewhat of a homegrown talent amidst the Hollywood guys and dolls. However, whilst Fiennes has been part of the mainstream (Skyfall, Harry Potter, Clash of the Titans), his forte is acting in down-to-earth, compelling dramas. Yet this juxtaposition is what makes the man such an accomplished actor…
The Harry Potter Series
It would seem unfair to ignore his role in the Harry Potter series, yet for a few reasons it’s far from his most notable work. Firstly, he doesn’t make his first appearance until the fourth film, and his inclusion is probably why they seem to get better as they went along. Secondly, although he is the primary antagonist in Harry Potter, he has little screen time as he is more of an invisible threat for an extended time. Ok, it’s more-or-less the same in the books and I’m not criticizing them, it’s just not Fiennes’ best role in terms of quantity.
When you get these nitty gritty points out of the way, it is a role that’s hard to ignore – the major villain in one of the most popular book series whilst also being the highest-grossing film series of all time. That alone is something he could pop down on his CV. Nevertheless, Fiennes plays the role of Voldemort well. His delivery of the dialogue captures what Voldemort is all about – snakey, cold and malevolent. The only thing I’d probably say was wrong about his casting was the look, and that’s not really his fault he wasn’t ugly enough.
In Bruges is a film I constantly recommend to people (including a little old lady at Blockbuster once who said she was going to visit Bruges in the following days. She said she wanted to watch something set in Bruges and that had shots of the architecture. I sold her In Bruges, told her it was “slightly violent” and avoided telling her that the word “fuck” is used 126 times), and I love it. Colin Farrell is great as an Irish bastard who doesn’t give a shit about anyone else (really breaking the boundaries there!), and Brendan Gleeson plays the same character he seems to play in every film (still convincing though!), but it’s Ralph Fiennes who I personally believe steals the show as ‘Arry (Harry, but in East-End speak, innit’).
Once again, we have to wait a while for Fiennes’ first appearance in the film as he is just an ominous character in the beginning act. The first interaction with Fiennes is off camera via a phone-call, yet even this is enough to strike fear into Gleeson. What struck me most about Fiennes’ performance as Harry was that he was incredibly convincing as a foul-mouthed mob boss, despite seemingly being a very quiet, charming man that I had seen in interviews and other roles before In Bruges. In addition, to portray yourself as a worse human being than Colin Farrell – even when everyone knows you’re acting – is a feat that is hard to beat. Well in ‘Arry, you c**t.
An odd film to choose when illustrating Ralph Fiennes acting prowess, I’ll admit. Cemetery Junction is a comedy/drama written and directed by the award-winning duo of Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant – two idols of mine. Whilst Fiennes’ role in the film is somewhat limited in terms of his character’s personality, Fiennes’ pulls it off with subtle brilliance.
It is well known that Gervais & Merchant like to ‘ad lib’ within their work, letting the actors let the dialogue go in a direction unbeknown. It is here that an actor may or may not be found out. In one particular scene in Cemetery Junction, Mr Kendrick (Fiennes) is stood in his hallway with his apprentice, Freddie (Christian Cooke). They are stood in silence, just staring at a piece of art. In the script, Fiennes is supposed to just say the line “Art…” and nod at the painting, yet in the final cut of the film, he allows the moment to stall, causing awkwardness and therefore building humour before delivering a line of literally no importance. Once again, Fiennes’ character is unlikeable – that of a misogynistic, controlling husband and parent – and he portrays these characteristics perfectly, never resorting to the excessive or ridiculous. He plays with his skill of the subtle, and thereby illustrates Mr Kendrick in a believable, understandable manner.
I feel bad for not focusing a section on many of Fiennes’ performances, as there are so many massive roles that perhaps illustrate his acting finesse better (Schindler’s List for Christ’s sake! The Hurt Locker! Wrath of the Titans— maybe not). Once again, this shows us his acting versatility. From the three films aforementioned above, he has covered mainstream cinema, black comedy, and drama. As well as being a fantastic actor, Fiennes has also more recently become a director, his first film being Coriolanus – a play written by Shakespeare, yet Fiennes modernized whilst keeping to large segments of the original dialogue. To attempt to adapt Coriolanus into a film is brave enough in itself (the play is quite a struggle to read), but to do so and set the play in a modern environment shows just how creative and intelligent Fiennes is. Whilst other actors are great at what they do, Fiennes does that and more. And that is why I like the guy.
Even if he is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people in the films he’s starred in…