Minx - UK (2/99)

No Ordinary Joe
Joseph Fiennes has got a twinkle in his
eye - and a bulge in his knickerbockers
by Beverly D'Silva

If forced to define Joseph Fiennes' best asset, you'd have to say it's his eyes. They're not piercing like his brother's famous ice-blue stare, but soft and brown and doe-like, with the longest eyelashes in Christendom. I stared into them once, close up, over a plate of scallops and linguini. It was two years ago and he'd just finished filming a tiny role in Stealing Beauty with Liv Tyler. He wasn't at all impressed with the movie world. "I don't see a future for me in this film lark, " he said. He was sweet, charming, cheerful and ver worried about not coming up to scratch in movies "in case I should embarrass my brother, Ralph."

These days you could say Joseph Fiennes is making a success of his film career. You could also say that 27 year old Joe's career has gone ballistic, that he's riding a supersonic cable car into the firmament of movie stardom, in a blaze of glory, without a smidgen of turbulence. And you still wouldn't be exaggerating.

Joe Fiennes is the Great British Find of the decade - cinema's newest, white-hottest bit of stuff. How has he done it? Well, a fabulous cinematic hat trick helps...

First we had Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence, a sweet comedy about three men in love with the same woman (Joe, of course, got the girl). Then came Elizabeth, in which Joe smooched Cate Blanchett. Our biggest treat so far, though, is the adorable Shakespeare in Love, co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It's brilliant, funny, and showcases Joe's talents so well it should keep him glying for a very long time. Joe plays the young Shakespeare who is struggling against writer's block to create his new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter. Even with inky fingers and breeches which look like they've got a nappy wedged down them, Joe manages to be the ultimate fantasy: he's sensitive, dynamic, artistic and has a body that's so toned, it looks like he's got six-packs on his arms. No wonder Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't seem to be faking her near-orgasmic joy as Joe lays a few heavy sonnets on her.

So what is it about those Fiennes boys? They're very different: where Ralph can be intense and penetrating, Joe, who's the youngest of the Fiennes clan (along with twin brother Jacob, a gamekeeper) can be refreshingly light with a wicked sense of humour ("Joe plays terrible tricks on you. He is a very, very naughty man," says Cate Blanchett). Yet you still can't help comparing the brothers. Although seven years separate them, they shared the same unconventional upbringing, in the West Country, Ireland and London. It was a childhood which Joe describes as "mad, bad and wonderful. We moved 14 times. There were lots of dogs, books, paintings, outdoors and adventures."

Like his brother Ralph, Joe is a very private person. He's not keen on interviews, even when he's just being questioned about his work, but bring up his love life and he clams up entirely. The lucky woman who's been privy to the unedited Joe is actress Catherine McCormack (Braveheart and Land Girls). They've been an impossibly beautiful item since he split last spring from Sara Griffiths, his girlfriend of six years, who's also an actress. But that's about as much information as you're going to get - Joe remains tight-lipped about both relationships.

Joe might be unaware of a prediction that his dad, Mark Fiennes, made about him and Ralph. It was 1996 and English Patient fever was raging. You couldn't step outside your door without seeing images of Ralph standing in the Gobi desert looking moody in a white shirt. Back then, their dad said "There may come a day when the table will turn and Ralph will be known as Joseph's brother."

The table, I reckon, is balanced on its edge - equally. Seeing which way it turns will be one of the best games of 1999. Have fun.


© 1998-2000 Joy of Joseph Fiennes