(Aren't they CUTE??? L.)

USA Today (2/3/99)

Joseph Fiennes Mocks Celebrity

by Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY

LONDON Ralph Fiennes' charisma is certainly not lost on women, who swooned in epidemic proportions for his English Patient.

Younger brother Joseph "My mates call me Joe" aims a bit lower than the heart, delivering performances in the films Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love that have set libidos afire from Britain to Baton Rouge.

That chiseled face. Those bewitching eyes. That commanding voice.

It's enough to make Joe retch.

"There's nothing special here," says the 28-year-old actor, burying a messy mop of black hair in his hands. "Report the truth! It's all lighting and camera work."

Report the truth? It's only likely to generate more crazed fans.

Fiennes, one of six children born to the nomadic duo of photographer Mark Fiennes and the late artist Jennifer Lash, remains a compelling vision off-camera.

Dressed street-hip in a black leather jacket over a down vest, khakis and sneakers, his gaze locks onto its target with unnerving intimacy. His voice is never more than a whisper. He is exceedingly polite, verging on shy.

Perhaps his most shocking trait is an Everyman quality: You're convinced you've met him somewhere before.

"Joe has that magical quality of a movie star, which is vulnerability and accessibility," says John Madden, director of Shakespeare in Love, which recently garnered a Golden Globe award for best movie comedy though nothing for Fiennes and looks to be an Oscar contender.

Madden claims to have witnessed Fiennes' "wacky side," which would include helping co-star Geoffrey Rush come up with alternate film titles for a Bard-resistant U.S. market (among them: The Full Montague).

"Many of the people I tried out (for the role of young Will Shakespeare) were intimidated by this icon of icons," Madden says. "But not Joe. He was able to jump from comic deftness to passionate intensity, to making pure intelligence watchable on screen."

Fiennes is indeed cerebral.

His passions include reading (recently Ian McEwan's Amsterdam), music (early American jazz, particularly the Ink Spots), travel (Costa Rica has caught his fancy) and home repair ("I'm busy sanding floors at my new home" in north London).

And, of course, there is his true love, the theater. A veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Fiennes affirms that no amount of celluloid stardom will cause him to stop treading the boards. "I love inhabiting someone else's mind, character, view of life, through language," he says.

"The theater brings total strangers together to share a space. They can choose to look anywhere they want. In a film, you (viewers) are directed, you are led. You're not as free," he says. "What I love about the theater is realizing the potency of an empty stage."

But Fiennes' move to film has sent his earning power soaring. Does that matter to a true actor? "Absolutely," he says. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't. Film pays the rent better than theater ever did."

Not that you can tell. Fiennes recently made local tabloid news at the London premiere of Shakespeare. Co-star Gwyneth Paltrow wore an expensive white Ralph Lauren number; he wore a favored blue shirt picked up at a charity secondhand clothing shop.

Fiennes mocks celebrity.

"A celebrity might court the press, but an actor is about the roles," he says. "But having said that, the less you say, the more people seem to want to know about you. So it's a Catch-22."

Being a heartthrob makes him "chuckle, in a cringy sort of way. You've got to be pretty shallow to allow that (adulation) to get to your head."

And pretty even-tempered not to let the flashbulbs of fame enrage you. British media have reported that Fiennes recently finished a six-year relationship with actress Sarah Griffiths, but Fiennes is mum about the current status of his private life.

Asked if there was any uneasiness on the Shakespeare set because he was doing nude love scenes with Paltrow, who at the time was dating Shakespeare's Ben Affleck, he gives a very Fiennes answer.

"I wasn't aware of any. But if there was any, I wouldn't tell you about it."

For now, Fiennes is focused on the work. After playing the Bard and the lover of a British queen in Elizabeth, he'll head to Miami to begin shooting Paul Schrader's Forever Mine, a thriller in which he plays a man who is disfigured and returns to avenge a lost love.

Fiennes has just been fitted for facial prosthetics, including contact lenses that will render those laser-like pupils dull and powerless. For an actor known for his good looks, playing a man who has been shot in the face is not the obvious choice.

But this is a Brit who has not spent much time in Hollywood, and doesn't plan to, an actor who admires the career track of Johnny Depp, similarly soft-spoken and drawn to offbeat projects.

This is a man for whom an important show-biz night means joining his brother Ralph at a Dublin bookstore as they did two years ago to read passages from their mother's final book, Blood Ties.

"I'm completely grounded within myself. I find the infringement of so-called stardom grotesque," he says. "It's something I never bargained for."

With that, the star pulls his jacket around his slight frame and steps into the welcoming anonymity of a rainy London night.