Brooding and enigmatic on screen and off, RALPH FIENNES shot to stardom in Schindler’s List and The English Patient. One of cinema's most elusive actors breaks his silence to talk about his latest film, Oscar And Lucinda. Words: Jason Best

A Fiennes mance

‘(‘().\'l-'l.l("l‘lil) (‘llARA("l'liRS ARli much more l‘un to play.‘ conl'esses Ralph l'iennes. He should know. In a comparatively short screen career he has played enough troubled.

emotionally divided ligures to keep a team oi psychoanalysts in lucrative employment for

years. l‘rom his first major screen part. playing the title role in a l‘)‘)2 'l‘V lilm A Dangerous

14 THE UST 2 lept 1998

Matt: Lawrenee .l/ter Arabia. to his performance in 'l‘lte ling/{sh l’utiettt last year (as another tormented desert explorer). l‘iennes has excelled at playing morally ambivalent men.

The description l’its his role as a l‘)th century Anglican priest with a wild passion for gambling in (iillian Armstrong's new lilm ()seur :lml Lueimlu. Based on Peter (‘arey‘s 1988 Booker Prize—winning novel. the film is to use the director’s own words a ‘darkly ironic. almost surreal tale ol~ love and destiny".

Hopkins. is a mislit in the strait— laced world ol’ Victorian lingland even his best friend calls him ()dd Bod. Raised in a severe Plymouth Brethren home. he is forever torn between deep-seated guilt and an exuberant joy for life. His repressed passions find an outlet in gambling. He sees a divine sanction for his craving in Pascal's Wager. the believer’s spiritual bet that (iod exists.

But this does not assuage his guilt and. to escape temptation. he decides to go to Australia and become a missionary in the outback. ()n the boat. he meets a kindred spirit in Lucinda l.eplastrier. a strong-willed Australian heiress and owner ot’ a Sydney

glassworks who shares his obsession with gambling.

‘I love ()scar. he's a wonderful creation.’ says l’iennes. ‘lle‘s fraught with contradictions. longing to experience earthly lite and at the same time very caught up in feelings of guilt.~ l’iennes admits he can identify with ()scar. '(iuilt is something ['11] no stranger to. I feel guilty at the slightest thing sometimes.‘

Indeed. guilt is a theme that seems to run through liiennes’s screen work. In Qui: Show. his character liast (‘oast academic (‘harles Van l)oren r appeared to have a permanent blush. though it

l‘iennes’ character. ()scar

was hard to tell whether his embarrassment came from intellectually and socially slumming in the world ol‘ TV game shows or his involvement in rigging the contests. In Strange Days. Kathryn Bigelow‘s l’uturistic lilm noir. l‘iennes plays Lenny Nero. an ex- cop and slea/y hustler who deals in illegal ‘playback clips'. digital recordings that give users total involvement in other people‘s experiences.

In The Ifttg/is/t l’utiettt. he was the dashng and enigmatic (‘ount l.as/lo de Almasy. a member of a pre-war map-making expedition in the Sahara who is drawn into an intense. catastrophic al’l‘air with a colleague's wile. Despite the heat of his adulterous passion. there was a coldness and aloot‘ness in Almasy that never entirely melted. Awkward and gauche. liar lrom handsome. ()scar Hopkins is a much more sympathetic and warmer character than Almasy.

"l'here is something about ()scar that is so open and pure and good—natured] says liiennes. 'lt was something l‘resh alter the hidden qualities ol‘ Almasy. ()scar doesn‘t have any skin. He’s also full ol‘ Haws. uncertainty and insecurities. but I loved that.‘

Interestingly. l’iennes was originally cast. as ()scar six years ago. ‘He hadn‘t done any movies. but he did a test that was great.‘ (iillian Armstrong has said. ‘But I thought. how will we ever raise the money with this

'Guilt is something I'm no stranger to. I feel guilty at the slightest thing sometimes.’ Ralph Fiennes

unknown linglishman'."

l’iennes's status soon changed. however. after Steven Spielberg saw his dark and brooding lleathclill in the poorly received l‘)‘)2 version of Wut/terittg Heights. ‘I don't believe I did a great piece of work there.‘ says liiennes of his big screen debut. ‘but lSpielbergl saw that and asked to meet me. and subsequently asked me to test for the part. I guess he liked it.‘

The part. of course. was that of the murderous SS (‘ommandant Amon (ioeth in .S'elzt'm/ler's List. As (ioeth. liiennes created a memorable portrayal of evil. one that was made all the more chilling by the occasional sparks ol~ humanity in the killer he allowed us to glimpse.

l“iennes’s next role couldn’t be more