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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Fiennes Furious (OK, Not Him. His Director)

Read Sara Vilkomerson‘s congenial conversation with Ralph Fiennes, who’s in the middle of yet another brief but brilliant run on Broadway. I don’t know how long this link will stay active before the interview gets sent to the not-free archive.
The actor, who’s at the Booth Theatre until Aug. 13 for his a Tony-nominated turn in Brian Friel’s The Faith Healer, is not an easy person to interview, but Vilkomerson does an unusually good job drawing him out on his favorite subject: stage acting. He doesn’t do lots of press for his movies, and when he does, he prefers to talk about things he’s comfortable with (theatre, literature) nd not what magazine editors and gossip mongers would love to hear about (his personal life, his siblings).


Vilkomerson, who’s the queen of the money quote (see the kicker to her piece on Jack Black, Vince Vaughn and women who love a guy with a gut), lets Fiennes tell some backstage anecdotes (like trying to concentrate before his entrance, every night , while he can hear the audience in the theatre next door hollering for Julia Roberts). And she also mentions the breakup of Fiennes longtime relationship with British actress Francesca Annis— the UK tabloids went mental over it a few months back. (The actor doesn’t comment on it.)
All fine and good, you’d think.
Nope. In this week’s New York Observer, Robert Edwards, director of The Land of the Blind, writes a huffy letter protesting the page one piece, calling it a “cheap shot,” “character assassination,” and accuses the paper of exploiting Fiennes’ celebrity by putting the actor’s face on the front page. “Ours is a tiny little movie with almost no advertising or marketing budget; we only had two press opportunities with Ralph, and chose to give one of those slots to The Observer.”
Here’s some more publicity, Mr. Edwards: THE LAND OF THE BLIND (hey, where’s the official website?) opened June 17 in New York, and it’s been playing at Human Rights film festivals.

Touchy directors don’t usually write letters–even when they’re pissed off, they usually welcome publicity for a small film that needs a break.
Edgy, nervous actors are another. For this reason, Fiennes is one of the perplexing actors I’ve ever interviewed. I spoke to him several years about the movie Eugene Onegin, directed by his sister Martha Fiennes. Never have I met a brother and sister more alike in looks and more unalike in temperament. She was relaxed and amiable, telling funny stories about shooting a moody Russian classic. “Are you talking to Ralph now?” she asked, all but rolling her eyes. “Good luck! He’s so….oh, you’ll see. He’s so serious!”
And indeed he was. Mr. Fiennes ushered me into a room that was arranged though I–or maybe he–was there to give a legal deposition. Someone–him, I assumed, had pushed two heavy armchairs so that they were facing each other, than a foot of space in between them. “Please, sit,” he said, his smile as cool as a maitre d’hotel.
I sat. He sat.
The bizarre chair arrangement–in an otherwise uncluttered hotel suite– meant that there was no space at all between our knees.
This was not comfortable. Either he’s hard of hearing, nearsighted, I thought or this is some weird pscyhology experiment to see who blinks.
I find it a bit rude to stare directly at people from so close in. You all know what he looks like. With him, it’s like looking into the blue headlights of an oncoming truck. I think I spent much of the interview with my eyes narrowed, gazing at Fiennes’ right ear, or his teeth. His canines were kind of sharpish.
Anyway, Sara: nice job.. I hope there was a table between you. And bravo for not getting bitten.



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One Response to “Fiennes Furious (OK, Not Him. His Director)”

  1. hatchling says:

    Frankly, I think Vilkomerson has done one of the best interviews I’ve read with Fiennes. He sounds at ease, something rare for him. I’m familiar with a couple interviews of his that were truly cringeworthy.
    Indeed… the litany of lost awards added some extra dimension to his persona. Just as Ralph has lost out on statuettes while his co-stars received them, so he follows in a great and sad tradition for brilliant, perfectly cast actors. Some actors just make it all seem too easy, and are forgotten when the accolades are handed out.
    Here’s another example to consider. Russell Crowe’s female co-stars in LA Confidential and A Beautiful Mind garnered Oscars for work that was only made possible because their impossibly talented co-star set the stage for them to rise above their usual mediocrity.
    Consider also the male dancer who effortlessly lifts the ballerina to soaring heights and applause while he is left in their shadows.
    Ralph is in good company. And we perhaps should be glad he knows how to create the amazing shadows in which he stands. Too bad this new film, Land of the Blind, is so unworthy of his genius.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon