"Britain's current It boy is not just
your average Joe"
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
Friday, January 15, 1999
Fiennes by any other name
He's the kid brother of Ralph, but Joseph Fiennes is blazing
his own acting trail with two acclaimed roles.
By: Mark Kennedy
"What's in a name? Joseph Fiennes, the United Kingdom's
latest It boy, has a very modern answer for that old William
Shakespeare verse: not much actually.
The latest addition to the burgeoning Britpack of stars that
includes Ewan McGregor and Jude Law, the broodingly handsome
Fiennes is well aware of the pitfalls of a famous moniker.
That's right, he's Ralph's kid brother.
"The name gets the door open but you still have to pass
through it," Fiennes says. "Does it hinder? Enhance?
I don't know. I still have to do the work."
And so he has. The 28-year-old thespian has won praise from
critics and audiences for his performances in Elizabeth, opposite
Cate Blanchett, and Shakespeare in Love, with Gwyneth Paltrow.
He seems to be stepping quickly outside the shadow of his brother,
star of The English Patient and other films.
"I can understand the interest and the parallels drawn,
but I can't rely on them," the younger Fiennes says. "People
care or they don't It's really up to others to make up their
Happily, they already have. Both his recentmovies received
Golden Globe nominations. "I'm more than a little at all
this attention," says Fiennes. "Holly wood is such
a machine. It's a beast which I'm very wary of because I've got
nothing to say, nothing to want, nothing which is sensible or
that's going to change anyone's life."
Joseph, along with his twin brother Jake, is the youngest
of seven Fiennes, a gypsylike clan that moved more than a dozen
times around England and Ireland during their early childhhod.
That nomadic upbringing, Fiennes, says, prepared him perfectly
for a career in acting. "When you're thrown into a new school
every few years, you hone all your communication skills, you
learn tricks at adapting. I was forever reinventing myself."
The experience also seems to have rubbed off on his siblings.
All except one of the Fiennes brood is employed in the arts.
"We're a little mafia," he says happily.
Word that Ralph wasn't the only talented Fiennes became widespread
during Joseph's six-month stint on London's West End in A View
from the Bridge and his prized role opposite Helen Mirren in
A Month in the Country.
Fiennes also won raves during his two-year tour at the acclaimed
Royal Shakespeare Company, where he tackled the pricly Troilus
of Troilus and Cressida, just five years after Ralph had taken
the same part. So when director John Madden began casting about
for a young man to portray Will Shakespeare, Fiennes emerged
as a perfect candidate.
"I began to wonder whether I was ever going to be able
to find anybody of whom one would believe that he had written
the play," says Madden. "You look at him and he somehow
Madden also says of Fiennes, "Shakespeare's been in his
blood for a long time. He understands and celebrates the language.
The role so unquestionably belongs to him. Joe is the man."
Fiennes is part Heathcliff, part Romeo in black leather. "
I havesuch a passion for Shakespeare that I didn't want to sell
him out as a cheap cartoon character with floppy hair and that
goatee," Fiennes says. "I wanted him modern and sexy
and dynamic and slightly enigmatic. Not a Disney idea of what
In other words, a makeover of Elizabethan proportions. "Look,
he was a genius. Yes, of course. But he was also a gypsy and
a wheeler-dealer and he stole and he plagiarized. He was a survivor,"
Fiennes says. "He was a normal young guy who was exactly
my age when he wrote these plays. He drank, he fought, he fell
madly in love, he cursed. We have to humanize him."