With "The Invisible Woman," Ralph Fiennes proves that his acclaimed directorial debut "Coriolanus" was no fluke. Shot just over a year later, "The Invisible Woman" sees the Oscar-nominee go from playing one of Shakespeare's most divisive protagonists to embodying beloved author Charles Dickens. Showcasing his breadth as a filmmaker, the handsome, refined production marks a notable change in style from the gritty, experimental one he employed to bring "Coriolanus" to the screen.
The period drama tells the little known story behind Dickens' secret 13-year affair with his mistress, Nelly Ternan (played by "Like Crazy" breakout Felicity Jones). It opens in select theaters Dec. 25.
Indiewire sat down with Fiennes in New York to discuss his latest.
This marks your sophomore feature as a director. What came easier this time around?
Having done it once, that gives you a certain degree of confidence. When I was starting "Coriolanus," I didn't know if I could do it. But it's still very adrenalizing. You have one to shoot a given scene and you've got to be on full alert to chase whatever that thing is. I'm someone who gets bogged down in a shot.
I read you're a director who likes to do a lot of takes.
I do sometimes. When you want to get the performance right, sometimes you need to. Especially if you feel there's more to be found. Not as many takes as Wes Anderson!
Is that a method inspired by any of the filmmakers you've worked with as an actor?
No, I haven't worked with many filmmakers who break you down. Well, Kathryn Bigelow, she does a generous amount of takes. I don't think there should be any kind of judgment implied. It's great when a director asks a lot of you. Sometimes you feel like, what else can I do here, I need some help. It's frustrating when you're asked to repeat and repeat but you're not getting clear signals about what it is. That's frustrating. But I love it when directors can go after a third of fourth take, "We have it." David Cronenberg is someone who likes to know that he has two takes he can use. And once he's got those two, he moves on.
How many usable takes do you have to complete in order to move on?
There isn't a figure. It changes. I seem to average maybe around seven or eight takes. Sometimes it can go 12. Once I hit 10 it feels like a lot.
Would you have made "The Invisible Woman" as your debut?
No, I was driven to make "Coriolanus." I wasn't really interested in making anything else. I had this kind of obsession about it.
What led you to make a second film then?
It came in a completely different way. I didn't expect to make a film about Dickens. I just read the screenplay and was very moved by it. It surprised me and I felt myself being drawn to Nelly's world. There's so many things about intimacy and relationships, and the memory of relationships. With Charles Dickens you have this whole element of a public figure, the power of the public figure to engineer things for themselves -- but also the vulnerability of a public persona. You seem to hit on so many themes. Dickens is this force-field of energy and brilliance. He was also a man who unwittingly damaged people, or knowingly did it.
You yourself are a celebrity. Did that factor into your interest in the project?
Yeah, absolutely. As an actor, you have a public who knows you for your work. It's a very peculiar thing being an actor. You need an audience. It's peculiar to what it does to you in terms of yourself to the world. It matters to people with a public profile, how you are perceived. It matters to them when their sense of inner privacy is being invaded by violent curiosity that people have about the lives of famous people. At the same time, certainly with actors, that's your lifeblood. For Dickens, his readership was very important to him. He responded to letters, he needed to keep his audience in the palm of his hand. When he did these public readings, the actor in him was fulfilled by having people hang onto his every word.