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Ralph Fiennes Career Watch: from 'Schindler's List' and Mile-High Antics to 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Photo of Susan Wloszczyna By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood March 10, 2014 at 2:52PM

Ralph Fiennes carries Wes Anderson's indie period comedy 'Grand Budapest Hotel' on his able shoulders. We examine Fiennes' career from his breakout role in "Schindler's List" through "The English Patient" and his recent turn to directing. Where should he go from here?
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Ralph Fiennes in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"
Ralph Fiennes in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"
Redgrave and Fiennes in Coriolanus
Redgrave and Fiennes in Coriolanus

Biggest misfire: Many would point to "Maid in Manhattan," a fluffy 2002 romantic comedy starring Fiennes as a politician who falls for Jennifer Lopez’s hotel housekeeper, as his career  low.  “It’s Cinderella gone stale” is how The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described it.  Even the actor has said, “I felt completely lost as that Cary Grant type.”  But the love story was popular with J-Lo fans, grossing nearly $100 million at the box office. But it was 1998’s "The Avengers," a misbegotten remake of the campy British spy series from the ‘60s with Fiennes as John Steed and Uma Thurman as Emma Peel, that brought the actor his lone Razzie nomination, one of nine collected by the film declared to be “a big fat gob of maximum crapulosity” by The New York Post.

'Skyfall'
'Skyfall'

Biggest problem: As "The Avengers" proved early on -- along with his more recent appearances as Hades in 2010’s "Clash of the Titans" and its 2012 sequel --  Fiennes’ strengths do not translate well in broad mainstream outings lacking in nuance. Too often he comes off as a stilted joyless mope. But pair this talented actor with a well-written script, a savvy director and a part that requires emotive depth and he can nail it – even in a comedy, as proven by his foul-mouthed gangster in 2008’s "In Bruges" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel."  

Gossip:  Fiennes is an unabashed ladies’ man.  And an unapologetic one. As the actor has frankly stated in the past, “I'm not very good at being domesticated. I've tried. The domestic life I find claustrophobic -- the rituals and habits and patterns.” British tabloids especially had a field day when he and "ER" regular Alex Kingston -- who dated for 10 years after meeting as students at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and married in 1993 --  divorced in 1997 after he took up with Francesca Annis, his co-star in "Hamlet" who played his mother Gertrude and was 18 years his senior. He would then leave Annis in 2006 after it was revealed that he had a two-year affair with Cornelia Crisan, a young Romanian singer. The news caused the Sunday Mirror to run this screaming headline: “HARRY POTTER STAR IS A LOVE RAT.” Another ruckus was caused in 2007 by a Qantas flight attendant who spilled the beans to the eager press that she and Fiennes engaged in mile-high club behavior on a flight from Darwin, Australia, to Mumbai.

Next step: Fiennes hitches his wagon to another massively successful franchise when he officially replaces Judi Dench as M, the head of M16 and James Bond’s boss, in the yet-untitled 24th film in the official 007 series that’s due in 2015. He also will appear in "Turks & Caicos" and "Salting the Battlefield," two sequels to the 2011 British TV spy drama "Page Eight" (which aired on PBS’s Masterpiece series) that are due later this year.

Career advice: The rave reviews (and likely Oscar nomination) for Fiennes’ previously under-utilized humorous panache in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" should encourage the actor to loosen up more onscreen. Besides, at 51, it would behoove him to test out his facility for character acting by seeking out-of-the-ordinary roles that get him to step out of his routine of anguished broken men and maniacal meanies. Maybe something like Marlon Brando in "The Freshman." 

In a recent interview with The Arizona Republic, Fiennes sounds like he's ready to go:  ”I can tell you I loved playing Gustave. It was lovely to be in this world that Wes was creating, away from the heavier stuff I’ve done. It was a delight. I wouldn’t mind being asked to have another go at doing something that is more comedic considered, I could take a shot at it. That seemed to be the case with this.” 

And few would complain if he continued to work behind the cameras as a director.

This article is related to: Ralph Fiennes, Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Career Watch, The Invisible Woman, Coriolanus


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.