Sky Magazine Article
February 1996

Heavy Fiennes

by Ruth Picardie


Funny old thing, showbiz. One minute you're a minor, floppy-haired luvvy, skipping round Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Next thing you're an A-list sex god reluctantly giving interviews at Mayfair's Dorchester Hotel while your black-clad babe assistant organises boring things like flights to Venice.

In fact, thanks to your performance as a fat Nazi in Spielberg's black and white holocaust epic 'Schindler's List', your close personal fans now include Demi Moore, who last year (February 1995) went all the way to the limo-free zone of Hackney for the London premiere of Hamlet. So smitten was she by your flowing tresses and smoky blue eyes that she brought Brucie along to see the show in New York, where it became the celebrity evening of choice. The audience included, at various times, fellow Hamlet Keanu, Cher (probably not the world's greatest Shakespeare fan), Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Lauren Bacall, Bette Midler, Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman, and yes, Barbra Streisand. "Ralph Fiennes has a magical charm which appeals to both men and women," she declared soon afterwards. "His sensitivity and beauty, and rich acting talent, would enable audiences of any sexual orientation to comprehend the emotions, which bond the characters in 'The Normal Heart' (her next project)."

So, naturally your next move is to star in a film by six-foot action babe Kathryn Bigelow, who introduced the world to Willem Dafoe (in 'The Loveless') - all leather trousers and cheekbones to die for - and, in 'Point Break', turned Keanu Reeves into a rubber-clad action hero. This time, Bigelow has her man sporting - yes, it's a pattern - leather trousers (Fiennes wore just three pairs in four months of shooting), loud kipper ties and shiny 70's shirts. With a slightly less dodgy American accent than he had in 'Quiz Show', Ralph plays his character of choice, a lovable, low-life sleazeball caught up in the thrills and spills of fin de ciecle LA. "Lenny is an emotionally confused guy who's been kicked off the LAPD," explains Ralph during our precious half-hour (only major players can insist on micro-interviews). "He makes a living out of trading in illegal recordings of other people's experience, what they've seen with their own eyes and recorded onto a disc, which other people can play back and relive...Actually, he's a very good-hearted person who's suffering huge unrequited love but is caught up in this world of pretense, where real life, the present, doesn't really exist."

Funny thing is, wipe away the grime and Ralph, now 33, is still a bit of a flop-haired luvvy. "The last time I tried to have a cigarette," he explains, sincerely, "was the night that I'd won the Tony Award for Hamlet. I felt so stressed. I wasn't at all comfortable that evening. I wanted a cigarette, but it was horrible. I hated it." Yeah, it's so hard winning major acting awards. Just as well he didn't win the Oscar for 'Schindler's List' - could have provoked a dreadful evening with a cigar.

But what the hell, when it comes to major sex gods we can forgive almost anything (hello Keanu), even that recent bare-chested Vanity Fair cover where Ralph sported a bad hair day bouffant straight out of a Vegas lounge act. Because in his first film, the critically-slated 'Wuthering Heights' - like it really made sense casting Juliette Binoche as a Yorkshire lass - Ralph was a smouldering, smoky-eyed Heathcliff, stomping around the moors in a leather coat. After 'Schindler's List', in which he stomped around Poland in a leather coat, he was widely hailed as the sexiest man alive. On the set of his upcoming film 'The English Patient', costar Juliette Binoche had to spend every night on the phone to her boyfriend, reassuring him that she and Ralph, who recently split up with his wife of two years - weren't having an affair.

And for those of you who haven't seen him since 'Schindler's List', Ralph is no longer Robert deNiro-sized, circa 'Raging Bull'. "I ate a lot but I find it very hard to put on weight," he explains. "In the end I had to take these rapid gain powders. They were disgusting, but take three a day for two weeks and it starts to put on...I wasn't actually that big," adds the anxious sex god. "I look big because I'm shot in isolation, especially when I have my shirt off in the scene shooting people from the balcony and my trousers are quite tight."

Even over tea and biscuits in the polite beige environment of the Dorchester, sporting polite beige chinos and a short back and sides, Fiennes - notoriously hostile to journalists - occasionally makes his eyes go glittery and turns on the bad boy charm. "People often find bad guys sexy," he purrs, when I ask if he found it weird becoming an international sex symbol as a psychopath. "People find Alan Rickman sexy in 'Die Hard'. People find Dracula sexy. The vampire is the epitome of that, really, sex and blood and evil and women succumbing to it...Perhaps it's to do with power being an aphrodisiac for women. Amon Goeth certainly has power in 'Schindler's List'."

Off set too, Fiennes appears to have a thing for all things darkly romantic. "I liked the restraint in 'Near Dark', he says when I ask why he wanted to work with Kathryn Bigelow, "so that you suddenly explode into this violence. There's an underlying threat in 'Point Break', which I like. Her sense of threat, of darkness and danger, some weird unspeakable presence that hovers under the surface of everything. I find that very interesting." And before beginning the 'Strange Days' shoot (like his heroes Ralph is a method man), Fiennes went out with the LAPD. "I didn't find it scary," he says. "The scariness I find kind of alluring." Even his mane - pronounced Rayf Fines, and don't say you wouldn't change you're name if you were called Ralph - sounds like he could be a member of a sword-wielding Celtic clan.

In fact, according to Ralph, Fiennes is one of the oldest recorded English names and the family is on the noble side. "There are second cousins who have a title and big castle," he explains (eccentric, lard-eating, polar explorer Ranulph Fiennes is another distant cousin). Ralph's immediate family, however, was itinerant, bohemian and not at all noble: his father photographer then farmer, his mother (who died in 1993) dabbled as a novelist, painter and travel writer. "As a family we were always short of money," says Ralph. "Always happy, always well-fed, but my father finding work as a photographer... for a long time it was tough." As a result the family - Ralph was the eldest of six, most of them now arty film-maker/actor/musician types - moved house around the country a dozen times.

True to form, Ralph is currently between homes. The marital home was in unstudily East, he rented a loft in New York for Hamlet's east coast run and a place just above Sunset while making 'Strange Days', from where he worked out, drank whisky and hung out with co-star Tom Sizemore - who apparently does a brilliant impression of Brando and De Niro in conversation. "I find LA fascinating," says Ralph, going all lyrical. "Going up into the hills and looking at the city at night is amazing with the lights going on. This is the big city on the west coast, based on the marketing of fantasy and escapism, it's a mecca for so many people, it's got so much violence, so much poverty yet it continues to have, through all its pollution and smog and violence, a weird romanticism about it."

Careful though: Ralph gets incensed when people imagine he's gone to be a film star in LA. "The number of people who assume, assume that I'm living in America. It's so absurd." But surely anything's better than East Dulwich? "Lots of things about England depress me, like politicians and party politics," he replies, "but actually there are things that I really miss. Whether they're simple things like good tea or Cox's apples or - I was outside London the other day and the colours and the grey light of England..."

Or lordy it's another luvvy alert. Ralphie darling, let's just go back to talking about those leather trousers.


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