Ralph Fiennes: General Fiennes

General Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes: "I think it's a potent mix when you put Shakespeare in modern dress"
Photo: courtesy of D Films

Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in Shakespearean tragedy Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes is known for playing intimidating, imposing characters, be that in his breakout film, Schindler’s List (1993), his Oscar-nominated turn in the epic The English Patient (1996) or his recurring role in the Harry Potter series as the Dark Lord himself, Harry’s archnemesis, Voldemort. Like so many great actors before him, Fiennes has finally decided to step behind the camera with his directorial debut, Coriolanus. Keeping the experience true to intense form, Fiennes also stars.

"There were times when I came near to it, never totally though," Fiennes confides during the Toronto International Film Festival press stop when asked if he ever regretted his decision to direct and star in this career benchmark. "Obviously I knew it would be hard and I tried to be as prepared as I could. It was a bit schizophrenic still."

Based on one of William Shakespeare’s lesser-known tragedies and set in modern-day Rome, Coriolanus finds Fiennes’ hero briskly built up and violently torn down by a near mad society, desperate for change and better living. "I love it dramatically because I think audiences are challenged as to where to put their allegiance," says Fiennes of his attraction to the text. "They can start off resisting Coriolanus, then finding a way to admire him despite their thoughts about his views."

Having played the part over ten years ago, Fiennes knew even then that he wanted to keep the Shakespearean text intact for the present-day setting. "I think it’s a potent mix when you put Shakespeare in modern dress," Fiennes explains of his approach. "The trick is the language, you have to strip it of all theatricality and yet not deny its power."

Considering how stately he is on screen, Fiennes is considerably relaxed and humble in person. He is also quick to point out the important lessons he has taken away from the demanding experience. The first is that he wants to do it again. (He is already in pre-production on an Abi Morgan-penned script called The Invisible Woman.) The second is that this time, maybe he’ll just sit back and watch from the director’s chair.

"You don’t want to be thinking about how you’re looking when you’re acting; you want to be just in it, reacting to the other person, but as a director, I have to try to detach."


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