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 when pressed if he ever regretted his decision to direct and star in this career benchmark, when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival press stop. “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 CORIOLANUS. 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. (Editor’s note: This interview was originally conducted in 2011. Fiennes did end up starring in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, opposite recent Oscar nominee, Felicity Jones, from THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.)
“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.”
CORIOLANUS is the first film featured in this year’s Books on Film series at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, screening March 2. Esteemed Shakespeare historian, James Shapiro, will be on hand to partake in a discussion on the adaptation after the screening. The series is once again hosted by CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel and the series continues on March 16, with Kazoo Ishiguro’s THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. Other titles in the series include AN EDUCATION, DON’T LOOK NOW, TRAINSPOTTING and THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. For more information, please visit tiff.net.