Evening Mail Article

April 25, 2003

FIREBRAND FIENNES  

Ralph Fiennes is a man with a mission. The The Englsh Patient and Schindler's List star is currently treading the boards in Stratford upon Avon as the single minded preacher Brand.

And despite the fact Brand - a man who turns his back on his dying mother and sacrifices his only child - is a highly unlikable character, Fiennes admits he does see a streak of himself in the character. "He has a powerful uncompromising vision which is inspiring, but destructive" he says. "It is that paradox in the role which attracts me. I certainly feel that the drive and some of the mission in Brand is something I can identify with."

Directed by Adrian Noble, this Royal Shakespeare Company production of Ibsenīs Brand has taken its time to reach fruition. Noble first handed Fiennes the play more than two years ago and suggested he give it a read.

Fiennes admits he knew nothing of the caracter he is now playing. "I was pretty unfamiliar with Ibsen" he says, "but the power of the role particularly struck me. The difficulty is to make sure you donīt play him as extremely mad - I tried to find the doubts and questions in him. You respond to a part. When I read Brand I just had a gut response that this was a part I wanted to play."

After 8 weeks of rehearsals, Brand was first performed last week at the Swan Theatre. It is due to play in Stratford until the end of May when it will transfer to Londonīs West End.

At a press conference yesterday in Stratford to promote the play, 40 year old Fiennes was characteristically quitly spoken but animated when talking about his passion - acting.

Dressed immaculately in black and brown with a leather jacket, his responses were earnest and he was keen not to steel the limelight from Noble. Questions about his private life were give polite but short answers and he was clearly much happier talking about his character than himself.

Brand is not Ibsenīs most accessible play. Bleak in landscape and in caracterisation, it features the story of the preacher Brand who believes so uncompromisingly in an "all or nothing" approach to life that he cannot bend to the humanity to those around him. But how relevant is a story based in such stringend religion to the lives of people today?

"I think looking at faith and addressing spiritual needs is very present in the country today" says Fiennes. "Even Brand", says he, "is an individual trying to figure out his identity in terms of God and man. and the audience see Brand with his mother and with his wife, which is something they can understand. Ibsen said Brand could just have easily have been an architect or politician. It is simply about a man of vision - a passionate burning vision which takes no prisoners. I think with September 11th the world was smashed in the face by a very extreme fundamentalism - people that believe like Brand that death is the only victory. I think what shocked us was where free will could take people."

These days better known for his film roles and having recently starred alongside Jennifer Lopez In Maid In Manhattan, Fiennes has a long history of appearing on the English stage - not least at Stratford where he has appeared in "The Plantagenets" "Loveīs Labourīs Lost", "Troilus and Cressida" and "King Lear". So how does it feel to be back?

"It is quite strange actually" he says "I had two very memorable seasons here but have been away for 13 years now. I keep thinking I see actors I worked with hanging around the corridors." And his partner Francesca Annis whom he met when playing Hamlet to her Gertrude on the stage in London nearly 10 years ago, has alreay been in the audience. "She saw it last week and enjoyed it" says Fiennes "although she did give me a few notes."

And Noble has no doubt Fiennes is the man for the job. "Part of the reason this play is so rarely performed is that there are not many actors who could play the part of Brand." he says. "The demands of this role make it as difficult a part to play as Shakespearsīs King Lear but you need a much younger actor. There are not many actors who could succeed playing this role. You need someone who has real talent and that is Ralph."


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