Fiennes in toothy elbow scrap
Still best remembered for playing the frilly-shirted Bard in Shakespeare In Love, Joseph Fiennes plays Lenny, a taciturn hard nut who joins Brian Cox's gang to bust out of prison in low-budget British thriller The Escapist, which is released this week. The 37-year-old can also be seen in the flesh in Anthony Weigh's 2,000 Feet Away at London's Bush Theatre.
What attracted you to the tough-man role in The Escapist?
I just thought the whole episode with him getting involved in a gruesome, gruelling fight to attain one tiny bit of equipment to help their escape – which was a diamond set in the tooth of a Celtic warrior named Two Ton – was fantastic.
How was it shooting that fight scene?
It took four hours to shoot. On a big-budget movie that would have been four days, so we were up against it. The adrenaline gets hold of you, you’ve got 100 or so inmates screaming in an echoing room and you’ve got to be aware you’re not going to knock each other out. I got a warning when I clocked my elbow into the other guy’s mouth and nearly took his tooth out. I kept seeing him checking it every day to see if it was still in place.
Was shooting in a prison a surreal experience?
It’s the same prison they used in The Italian Job. It’s other-worldly. It’s also got a very sad heritage. It’s where a lot of Irish revolutionaries were incarcerated. It’s full of desperate, unhappy ghosts. I wandered off once but came back pretty quick. I felt more comfortable with Two Ton taking punches at me than I did wandering the corridors.
Have you been offered any more tough-guy parts following The Escapist?
I haven’t seen any angry, skinhead cons coming my way yet but there’s time. I want to collect a mixed bag of characters that will hopefully challenge the perceptions of directors and producers who have only ever seen Shakespeare In Love.
Has it been hard breaking away from that frilly-shirted image?
I come from a theatre background where there are no restrictions. With films, if you’re successful in one area, it’s like: ‘Let’s not change anything.’ It’s been a challenge. I feel like I’m now getting a mixed bag, which is all I want.
Has it taken longer than you expected?
I was 26 when I did Shakespeare and now I’m coming up to 38 so, invariably, the parts are going to change. I played the Romeos in my 20s and now there’s been this crossover, where I’m playing more twisted characters. I love all the darker roles I’m playing now.
How important is theatre to you?
Theatre is the actor’s medium and it’s f*****g hard. They say the camera never lies – I think it lies like nothing else. It’s theatre that doesn’t lie. You get on stage and there’s no way out. It’s so much about the audience and how they react, whereas sometimes the only feedback you get on a film is when the grip says to you: ‘Oh, that was nice.’
Do you go to the theatre much?
Not as much as I should do because I’ve been travelling. The last thing I saw was Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum in Speed-The-Plow.
Is there any sibling rivalry between you and Ralph?
No, there isn’t. That’s probably because there are seven of us and I’m the youngest and he’s the eldest. There’s competitiveness among one’s peers but not when there’s that big an age difference.
Where have you been recently?
I just went to Thailand for the first time, which was interesting. I spent a few weeks travelling around the country. I love to explore territories that I haven’t been to before. It’s all about discovery and Thailand’s a great place to explore, both within and outside of yourself. I don’t want to hang around until it’s too late and I can’t get on a plane. There’s a lot to see and a lot to do.
Are you as sporty as you used to be?
I haven’t rock-climbed for a bit but I have been skiing a lot. Whether it’s physical or mental, I like anything that’s a little bit stressful.