Ralph Fiennes' starring role in the Wes Anderson film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" adds another twist to the British actor's accomplished career.
He plays an ultra-charming hotel concierge who will do anything for the rich mature women who stay at the hotel. This good life gets disrupted when he's accused of a crime and sent to jail. It wouldn't be an Anderson film without a lot of weird antics, events and locations surrounding Fiennes' character.
This was the first time Fiennes had worked with Anderson, who is known for his distinct style of moviemaking. The director's specific rhythm of dialogue is matched by the offbeat visuals he puts on the screen. Fiennes describes Anderson as "his own man" and not like anyone he's ever worked with before.
"He's incredibly charming and very sensitive to the energy of actors in the room. He knows what he's looking for — things that he has seen in his head or heard in his ear. He's persistent and tenacious to get it right. Everyone goes along because they know their work will be part of that thing in his head," Fiennes says.
To help the actors understand the vision he has for the film, Anderson provides storyboards.
Fiennes was happy to find that Anderson's always eager to hear what the actors have to say. That often resulted in a scene being shot multiple times, first to capture the director's vision and then to play off the inventiveness that the performers bring to the parts. The one thing that doesn't change is the way Anderson choreographs the dialogue.
Fiennes describes one funny moment where it appears his character is looking out the window of a train car. It was actually just a wall with a window being rolled along in freezing weather. His line is to ask: "Why are we stopping in a barley field?" Because the ground is covered in heavy snow, Fiennes asked Anderson why he would mention barley. He persuaded Anderson to let him try saying other lines. But in the end, it was the barley line that made the final cut.
Even with the boundaries, Fiennes knew this was a wonderfully rich role to play because a concierge is a natural actor. It's his job to sell the hotel in the best possible way. Add to that the quirkiness that Anderson wrote into the role and Fiennes saw it as an acting challenge.
The task for him was to make the concierge a bigger-than-life character without making him too big.
"I didn't want to overcook it. But, I still could be theatrical. Wes liked it when I was coming from the point of view of my own voice. I had to play the role with a sense of elegance but still keep him rooted in a real person," Fiennes says.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" joins a long list of film credits for Fiennes, including "Schindler's List," "The Reader," "The Hurt Locker," "The Good Thief" and "Quiz Show." One would think that after playing the evil Lord Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" movies, that would be the role for which Fiennes is most recognized. He says he's gets a lot of "Potter" fans, but he's equally identified with the 2002 romantic comedy, "Maid in Manhattan," that he made with Jennifer Lopez.
Many fans of that romance learned a real lesson about the diversity of Fiennes' career when they showed up to see him in a London stage production of Henrik Ibsen's "Brand," a thought-provoking tragedy about a priest who believes in the will of man.
"I showed up for opening night and there were all these young girls lined up to see the clean-cut senator I had played in 'Maid in Manhattan.' They got a real surprise," Fiennes says.