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"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 minds."

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 seems perfect."

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 he is."

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."

 

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