Actor Ralph Fiennes has portrayed some of the baddest villains in movie history with his roles as Lord Voldemort ("Harry Potter" films) and Amon Goeth ("Schindler's List"), but he also has a burgeoning career as a director, having been nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut for a British Writer, Director or Producer for his work on 2011's "Coriolanus."
So his role in Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel" is a fun change of pace for Fiennes. He plays "Monsieur Gustave H.," the devoted concierge of the Grand Budapest.
The Frame's host John Horn recently conducted a Q&A with Fiennes before an audience, where he talked about what it was like working with a director as particular as Anderson.
Why were you so excited to work with Wes?
I'd admired Wes' films and I never thought that this great script [would come] to me. He said, "Which part would you like to play?"
Is that true?
And I assume you got the one you chose?
I just said, "Have you offered Gustave to anyone?" [laughs]
How did you imagine the film would unfold once you had read the script?
It was a great script. It was clearly a great role with an opportunity. I said to Wes, "Well, what's the tone of Gustave?" I didn't know to what degree it could be played extremely campy and really out there. The first time I read it, I thought, What if I [expletive] this up and he'll say he'll changed his mind? But I didn't quite know where it would be vocally. I mean the thing mostly is writing. Good screenwriting is something that has tension, it's unusual. A lot of screenplays are rooted in generic stuff — recognizable plot patterns, ways of writing — so it's great when you get a screenplay that's just something unusual and different.
"Unusual and different describe" Wes' way of directing. What was it like to be directed by someone as particular as Wes?
One of my earliest days on the shoot, there's a scene where I go into Madame D.'s room ... to collect the tip with young Tony. And there was this little pedestal with an envelope with a tip in it and Wes said, "Just try it." So I went straight up and I took it and I did what wasn't "natural" because I had my back towards the camera and he said, "You're gonna have to maybe move around and... cause we can't see you where you're standing." And I said, "Okay, but you asked me to do it naturally. I'm going to what I would naturally do."
Not your natural. His natural, right?
Yeah, yeah, his natural. Which is you have to go and do a theater move: go around, face the camera, take the envelope. I guess I was slightly testing, like, "How naturalistic is this?" Then I could see [the shot] and it was great. The shot had been designed and worked out and, basically, you work to make the shot work.
There's a math to it.
What I loved about Wes was I loved the precision of it, but he was very generous with the amount of takes. You weren't really allowed to change a word; he was very precise and quite right, too, because it was beautifully written. But he does a lot of takes, which I love, and within the confines of what he's planned, he wants you to explore stuff. And so I worked out a pattern of working with him which was that I said, "Wes, don't say anything. Let me do the first couple of takes. Let me just dive in with the thing that I thought of, the thing that I prepared. Then please you tell me what you want and direct me. And then when you get to the point where you're ready to say, 'That's it, we've got it,' and you're happy, then let me have one or two more ... just let me free up.