First published online by Kate Kellaway.
Ralph Fiennes could have been a diplomat in a previous life – the low, patrician voice, and the clothes. He is dressed on the morning we meet with an elegance that would not disgrace a Frenchman: neat cardigan, fresh shirt, polished boots. We are in Soho, in post-production offices – an editing suite like a gone-wrong sitting room, with a bank of computers at right angles to a sofa.
He is, by a month, on the youthful side of 50. And he has a smile of such disarming sweetness that the first impression is that something has gone bizarrely wrong. It is only retrospectively that the oddity makes sense: what he does best as an actor is torment. His eyes can convey a troubled history in a glance. They mark him out in every part, from MI6 agent in the new Bond film, Skyfall, to Voldemort in Harry Potter, an SS officer in Schindler’s List, TE Lawrence in A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia, and Coriolanus, in the film he also directed. They are extraordinary. But if the lightness in his face this morning is unfamiliar, it should not be taken as encouragement. By repute, Ralph is anything but biddable. It is as if he really were an ambassador, overseeing a country of unrest.