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What’s So Hard About Being Ralph Fiennes?

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His movie work seems to have helped Fiennes move beyond the declamatory style attributed to the Oliviers and Gielguds of the past. “There’s an attention to detail maybe that there wasn’t before,” says Kent.

But there remains something old-fashioned about Fiennes, and it isn’t his Queen’s English. It’s an aloofness, a repression—and the sudden, unexpected release of passion—that probably comes naturally to him even when he isn’t on the clock. The very qualities that make him a great actor have turned him into an awkward, defensive celebrity.

As you’d expect, that’s just the kind of analysis that Fiennes finds anathema. “Actors use who they are to be someone else, but I would hate to ever think I’m playing myself,” he says. “It’s imagining being someone else that is the key motivating thing for me. So when people want to know about me, it makes me a bit unnerved.”

The characters in Faith Healer are all hiding something, but the way they tell their stories is what nearly gives them away. The same could be said for Fiennes. Even the least prying of questions—does he prefer theater to film?—unsettles him. He says he finds moviemaking almost more frustrating than it’s worth. Why, then, make so many of them?

“When it works, it’s fantastic. But what I’m saying,” he adds, his speech accelerating, his voice rising, “is that it’s not that I don’t like films. It’s the process, and you have to get into your head a positive attitude towards microphones and camera equipment and endless waiting and constant breaking of the rhythm . . . But you asked me a question and I’m answering it! The process of theater is very pure, that’s all.” He stops, and lets out an exasperated sigh. He’s tried to explain himself. Now can he please go explain someone else?


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