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Ralph Fiennes Biography


Home > Actors > F > Fiennes, Ralph > Biography


Birth Name: Ralph Fiennes
Born: 12/22/1962
Birth Place: Suffolk, England, GB


Born on Dec. 22, 1962 in Suffolk, England, Fiennes was raised by his father, Mark, a farmer and photographer, and his mother, Jennifer Lash, author of The Burial (1961), The Dust Collector (1979) and Blood Ties (1998). Fiennes' first exposure to acting was seeing Laurence Olivier in "Henry V" (1944), but the thought of becoming an actor himself came later in life. Meanwhile, he attended Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury, then studied painting at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. It was at Chelsea that Fiennes discovered his true calling after playing Romeo in an amateur production of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet." A year later, he left Chelsea to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he learned his craft from 1982-85 and met his future wife, Alex Kingston. In 1987, Fiennes joined Michael Rudman's company at the National Theatre, then two years later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he earned acclaim in productions of "Henry VI," "Troilus and Cressida," "King Lear" and "Love's Labour's Lost."

It was inevitable that an actor of Fiennes' talent and caliber would find his way onto the big screen. After leaving the RSC in 1990, he made his official onscreen debut in the made-for-television movie, "Prime Suspect," which aired in England in 1991, then appeared in his first feature soon after, playing the vengeance-minded Heathcliff opposite Juliette Binoche's Cathy in "Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights'" (1991). The film was widely panned by British critics and received only very limited release in the UK, eventually surfacing in America on TNT in 1994. Also little seen were Peter Greenaway's controversial "The Baby of Macon" (1993) and the morality play "The Cormorant" (1993), though the actor delivered fine performances in both. Fiennes made his big breakthrough in Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" (1993), playing Commandant Amon Goeth, the slovenly Nazi overseer of the Plaszow Concentration Camp, who makes a sport of shooting Jewish prisoners from his balcony. Goeth's unrelenting cruelty eventually helps spur German businessman Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson) to use his ammunition factory to keep Jews from being sent to the concentration camps. Alongside the film itself, Fiennes earned numerous awards and nominations, including a nod for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Academy Awards.

Fiennes scored another critical success with his portrayal of Charles Van Doren, the charming college professor who became a willing participant in the rigging of the television game show, "Twenty One" (NBC, 1956-58), in Robert Redford's superb drama, "Quiz Show" (1994). Another in a series of dark characters, the intensely private actor was miscast as Lenny, a sleazy dealer of high-tech contraband, in the dud of a futuristic thriller "Strange Days" (1995). Also that year, Fiennes won a Tony Award for his portray of the melancholy Dane in "Hamlet" - the only actor to have won the award for that role on Broadway. In a more successful matching of actor and character, Fiennes landed the title role in Anthony Minghella's brilliant adaptation of "The English Patient" (1996), the Oscar-winning epic drama set in the waning days of World War II. For half the film, Fiennes was virtually unrecognizable as a pilot horribly burned in a plane crash, though he effectively used his eyes and voice as he conveys his story to a Canadian Nurse (Juliette Binoche) caring for him in an Italian monastery. In the flashback sequences, however, Fiennes radiated sexual chemistry with co-star Kristin Scott Thomas. For his richly nuanced work in the epic, Fiennes earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

He was again clad in period garb to play an eccentric English clergyman with a penchant for gambling in Gillian Armstrong's "Oscar and Lucinda" (1997). With his hair dyed bright red, Fiennes offered a wonderful turn as a "holy fool" who demonstrates his repressed love for an heiress (Cate Blanchett) by building a glass church in Australia. Donning a bowler and wielding an umbrella, Fiennes stepped into Patrick Macnee's shoes as John Steed in the disastrous big screen version of "The Avengers" (1998). He was back to more dour territory starring in "Onegin" (1999), directed by his sister Martha and adapted from the Pushkin novel of the same name. Once again Fiennes, played a world-weary man pursuing a married lover, this time the younger sister (Liv Tyler) of his friend and neighbor (Toby Stephens), whom he kills in a duel after insulting him. Continuing his penchant for period fare, Fiennes essayed the role of a heartbroken writer longing for his best friend's wife (Julianne Moore) after she breaks off their brief romance in "The End of the Affair" (1999), adapted from Graham Greene's novel about obsession and intrigue during World War II.

As the new millennium came around, Fiennes seemed to have lost some of the luster he had accumulated in the previous decade, particularly in regards to the quality of films he chose. He entered the decade with a seamless execution of three principle roles in "Sunshine" (2000), an ambitious epic that traced the fascinating saga of one Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest against the backdrop of three calamitous political regimes stretching from the late 19th Century through 1960. During the course of the three-hour historical epic, Fiennes deftly played the distinct characters of the grandfather, father and grandson of the family. In a departure from his patented bitter romantic roles, Fiennes voiced Jesus in the Claymation movie "The Miracle Maker" (ABC, 2000), which depicted the latter part of Christ's life as told through the perspective of a child. This marked the second time Fiennes lent his voice to a biblical cartoon character, having voiced Rameses to Val Kilmer's Moses in the animated musical "The Prince of Egypt" (1998), in which he even warbled the song "The Plagues" on the film's soundtrack.

Despite his busy film schedule, Fiennes managed to maintain his stage roots with periodic returns to the theater. He forged an alliance with Jonathan Kent's Alameida Theatre in England, where he premiered his "Hamlet" in 1995 before moving it to Broadway later that year. While reviewers faulted the overall production, the leading actor won raves for his dynamic portrait of the Melancholy Dane and was crowned with a Best Actor Tony Award at season's end. Fiennes seemed perfectly cast in the angst-ridden part of "Ivanov," starring in David Hare's new version of the Chekhov classic in 1997, and he received excellent notices for his performances of the title characters in the Shakespeare double act of "Richard II" and "Coriolanus" at the old Gainsborough Studios and Brooklyn's Academy of Music in 2000.

After several stage triumphs, including starring in "The Talking Cure" (2002) at London's National Theatre, followed by a run with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the title role of Ibsen's Brand, Fiennes was back onscreen again with more high-profile roles. He starred in "Red Dragon" (2002), playing the vicious tattooed serial killer Francis Dolarhyde pursued by an ex-FBI agent (Edward Norton) with the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). After starring opposite Jennifer Lopez in the romantic comedy "Maid in Manhattan" (2002), he was tapped by director David Cronenberg for his psychological thriller, "Spider" (2002), in which he played an institutionalized schizophrenic who attempts to return to mainstream London. Following a brief absence from the screen, he returned with "The Constant Gardener" (2005), director Fernando Meirelles' gripping adaptation of the John le Carre novel, in which Fiennes played a genial British diplomat in Africa who is shaken out of his complacency when his politically outspoken wife (Rachel Weisz) is murdered amid suspicious circumstances, prompting him to try to tear open the secret conspiracy she was investigating that involved the pharmaceutical industry. Thanks to Fiennes' perfectly measured portrayal of a man forced to completely transform his character through the course of the film, le Carre's meticulously plotted potboiler was elevated to an engrossing, moving and poetic view of unfolding human drama set against a chaotic African backdrop.

Less intense, but equally entertaining was his vocal turn as Victor Quartermaine, the rival to the cheese-loving inventor and his faithful dog in "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (2005). In "The Chumscrubber" (2005), Fiennes played the benevolent mayor of a small town filled with angst-ridden teenagers engaged in deviant activities - drug dealing, suicide, kidnapping - while their wine-soaked Stepford-like parents fail to notice anything amiss. Fiennes then joined the cast for the fourth installment in the box office juggernaut, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005), playing the evil Lord Voldemort, chief nemesis of young Potter (David Radcliffe) and murderer of his parents. Fiennes next starred in "White Countess" (2005), a period drama set in Shanghai in the late-1930s about the relationship between a disillusioned former U.S. diplomat and a Russian countess. He next played a man urged by a political prisoner (Donald Sutherland) to overthrow the government of an unnamed country in the political satire "Land of the Blind" (2006), then reprised Voldemort for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007). After playing the Duke of Devonshire opposite Keira Knightley in "The Duchess" (2008), which garnered him a 2008 Golden Globe nomination for supporting actor, Fiennes earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his performance as the gay, ingratiating butler of a wealthy tobacco heiress (Susan Sarandon) who wins her favor to become executor of her will in "Bernard and Doris" (HBO, 2008).

Fiennes garnered more acclaim later that same year for his role as an oddly moralistic employer of two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) in the comic thriller "In Bruges" (2008). Another role cast him as a German attorney struggling to deal with his relationship with a woman accused of Nazi war crimes (Kate Winslet) who harbors a secret of her own in "The Reader" (2008). One of the most talked about dramas of the year, it generated controversy over its handling of the Holocaust, as well as praise for Winslet, who won an Academy Award for her performance. Managing to consistently be involved with Oscar-caliber projects, Fiennes played a cold-blooded mercenary cashing in on Middle Eastern chaos in Kathryn Bigelow's Best Picture winner "The Hurt Locker" (2009). He moved on to villainous characters of mythical proportions as Hades, the god of the Underworld, in the action-adventure "Clash of the Titans" (2010), followed by reprising Voldemort for the final time in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Parts 1 and 2" (2010 and 2011, respectively). Fiennes garnered acclaim for another villainous turn, this time as a fictional U.K. prime minister involved in a government conspiracy in writer-director David Hare's espionage thriller "Page Eight" (PBS, 2011). The actor then made his impressive directorial debut with a modern day interpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy "Coriolanus" (2012). In the film, which he also produced, Fiennes starred as the titular Roman general, who, after being banished, returns to reap his vengeance upon the city with the aide of a former sworn enemy (Gerard Butler).




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