It’s safe to say that Ralph Fiennes has had a very prestigious career. Not only does he have theater cred for days, he has also starred in so many Oscar-nominated high art films. And that’s not to mention that he’s also been in blockbuster movies—who could forget his appearances in the Harry Potter series? But there’s much more to the man than his huge talent—read on for 43 facts about Ralph Fiennes, the Hollywood shapeshifter.
1. In Case You’re Wondering
We’re sure that most of you have spent time questioning just how you’re supposed to pronounce Fiennes’ first and last names. While his last name is pronounced “Fines,” his first name is pronounced in a surprising way—it’s “Rafe.”
2. A Star is Born
Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes was born on December 22, 1962, in Ipswich, England. His mother, Jennifer Lash, was a writer, while his father, Mark Fiennes, was a photographer and farmer, which might be one of the more unique yet oddly fitting pair of occupations that we’ve heard of.
3. Big Brother
Ralph Fiennes is the eldest of six children born to his parents, as well as another foster sibling who grew up with them from childhood. His biological siblings are Martha, Magnus, Sophie, Jacob Mark, and Joseph. Fiennes’ foster brother is named Michael Emery.
4. Little Brother
Speaking of the Fiennes siblings, we’d be remiss to avoid pointing out that his little brother Joseph has quite an impressive acting career of his own. Joseph Fiennes has appeared in such acclaimed films as Enemy at the Gates, Elizabeth, and Shakespeare in Love; and such TV series as American Horror Story and The Handmaid’s Tale.
5. Mixed Results
Fiennes’ feature film debut occurred with the 1992 film Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, based on the famous novel by Emily Bronte. Although the film received very negative reviews, Fiennes’ performance helped him catch the eye of Steven Spielberg, who cast him in Schindler’s List the following year.
6. From Brush to Stage
Because Fiennes’ family moved between England and Ireland, he completed his education at schools in both those countries. Initially, his focus of study was painting, before he switched to acting.
7. A Brief Stint
As anyone who watched the Harry Potter films or read the books will know, Lord Voldemort returns to physical form in the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As big as this reveal was, however, it might surprise you to know that Fiennes only needed two days to complete his part in the film!
8. Was This Planned?
Over the course of three years, Ralph Fiennes acted alongside Tilda Swinton in three different films, one per year. In chronological order, they are The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Bigger Splash, and Hail, Caesar!
9. Can You Feel the Love Tonight?
While studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Fiennes met a young English actress by the name of Alex Kingston. The two of them dated for 10 years before finally tying the knot in 1993.
10. Anyone Have an Audiobook I can Listen to?
In order to properly portray a man who had severe burns all over his body in The English Patient, Ralph Fiennes spent five hours in the makeup chair each day.
Ralph Fiennes has contributed to the soundtracks of four of his films. They were The Prince of Egypt, Bernard and Doris, A Bigger Splash, and The English Patient—though he went uncredited for his singing in that last film.
12. No One Suffers Like the Artist
In 2002, Fiennes terrified audiences with his chilling, tortured portrayal of Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon. To prepare for his role, Fiennes bulked up considerably prior to production, gaining 15 pounds of muscle. Since his character is elaborately tattooed as well, Fiennes spent eight hours in the makeup chair to get that tattoo on his body!
13. Zero Out of Two
As of 2019, Fiennes has been nominated for two Academy Awards: one was for Lead Actor (The English Patient) and the other was for Supporting Actor (Schindler’s List). Maybe next time, Ralph!
14. Still No Wins???
Additionally, Ralph Fiennes has also been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards as of 2019. These nominations were for his performances in the productions Schindler’s List, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Duchess, The English Patient, and Bernard and Doris.
15. Mini Reunion
In 2008, Fiennes portrayed the foulmouthed and temperamental antagonist of the much-lauded dark comedy In Bruges. The film has since gone on to feature five actors in its cast who also appeared in the Harry Potter franchise. First, there’s Fiennes, who played Lord Voldemort, but there is also Brendan Gleeson (“Mad Eye” Moody), Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore), Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour) and Colin Farrell (who went on to play Percival Graves in the first Fantastic Beasts film). Is it ironic that Fiennes’ character in In Bruges is called Harry?
16. A New Era
In 2012, Fiennes co-starred in the James Bond film Skyfall, where his character becomes Bond’s superior, known by the codename M. This was the first time that a male actor portrayed M since the 1989 film License to Kill. Additionally, Skyfall was the first film in the James Bond franchise to have the “M” position being played by two different actors—with Judi Dench’s character being succeeded by Fiennes’.
17. Surprise BFF’s
In Schindler’s List, Fiennes portrays Amon Goeth, who is an antagonist to Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson. Neeson and Fiennes later appeared in Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans, where they played deities who are brothers. On top of all that, the two actors are reportedly very good friends in real life, despite any animosity that they’ve portrayed onscreen.
18. A Noble Cause
In the early 2000s, Ralph Fiennes traveled to Kenya in order to film the 2005 film adaptation of the bestselling book The Constant Gardner. Production was completed in part through the actions of people living in the slums of Kibera and Loiyangalani. Seeing firsthand the living conditions of the residents, Fiennes and other members of the cast and crew organized a charity that provided basic education to the children living in those areas.
19. Globetrotter for Good
As well as the aforementioned charity, Fiennes is also an active UK ambassador for the organization known as UNICEF. Affiliation with this charity has taken Fiennes around the world to such places as India, Uganda, and Romania.
20. Going Method
Such was Fiennes’ dedication to his appearance as Voldemort in the Harry Potter films that he not only shaved his head but also his armpits. Just to be clear, Voldemort spends his time in the series wearing robes that hide his armpits.
21. Action, Bro!
In 1999, Fiennes starred in the romance drama Onegin, which was based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel Eugene Onegin. The film served as a family reunion for Fiennes. His sister Sophie also acted in the film, the soundtrack was done by his brother Magnus, and the film’s director was his sister, Martha, making her debut as a filmmaker. This makes us wonder why Joseph wasn’t available as well.
22. Missed Opportunities
Among the roles for which Ralph Fiennes was considered was Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever, and the titular character in the James Bond series.
23. Let Me Think About it…
Surprisingly, Fiennes took a long time to say yes to the offer of playing Lord Voldemort. Unimpressed with the first Harry Potter films, Fiennes was pushed even further into his quandary when his friends and family were split between encouraging and discouraging Fiennes from accepting the role. Fiennes was ultimately persuaded to take on the role when he saw the concept art for what Voldemort would look like in the films.
24. Interesting Overlap
In the film Schindler’s List, Amon Goeth (Fiennes) derisively asks Oskar Schindler “Who are you, Moses?” In an interesting coincidence, Fiennes later went on to voice the antagonistic Rameses in The Prince of Egypt, which was also produced by Schindler’s List director Steven Spielberg.
25. Three Time’s the Charm
While most actors would consider it a major accomplishment to appear in a film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Fiennes has appeared in three so far. These films are Schindler’s List, The Hurt Locker, and The English Patient. Interestingly, all three films are dramas that take place during a war.
26. Wearing a New Cap
In 2011, Ralph Fiennes made his directorial debut with the film Coriolanus. Based on William Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus sets the story in a modern setting, partly filmed in Serbia, Montenegro. Fiennes stars as the titular character, supported by such actors as Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, and Brian Cox. While the film failed to recoup its budget, Coriolanus has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
No less a figure than Sir Ian McKellen hailed Fiennes as delivering one of the best Shakespearean performances that he’d ever seen on film.
27. The Six Steps of Coriolanus
Speaking of Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes shares an interesting connection with Canadian thespian Donald Sutherland. Most remember that Sutherland portrayed a ruthless dictator in The Hunger Games series who happened to have been named Coriolanus Snow. Prior to the Hunger Games films and Fiennes’ film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Sutherland and Fiennes had starred in the highly underrated dystopian film Land of the Blind, in which Sutherland was also a ruthless dictator.
28. Lord Voldemort with a Capital “L”
Believe it or not, Fiennes is a distant relative of the British Royal Family. Charles, the current Prince of Wales, is an eighth cousin to Fiennes. We can’t imagine that that’s close enough to earn Fiennes a royal title, however.
29. What a Coincidence
Fiennes has two things in common with John Huston, a legendary director, writer, and actor of classic Hollywood. Both men portrayed Professor Moriarty onscreen in different films (Huston in Sherlock Holmes in New York and Fiennes in Holmes & Watson), as well as M in the James Bond series. It’s worth pointing out that Huston portrayed M in the 1967 James Bond parody Casino Royale. That installment later shared a name with the film that launched Daniel Craig as Agent 007.
30. Adopted Country
In 2017, Fiennes became a dual citizen when he was granted Serbian citizenship while he was shooting his second directorial feature in the country. He had previously shot Coriolanus there as well.
31. Ready for the Close-Up
Long before he began directing his own films, Fiennes got a taste of being behind the camera while starring in The Constant Gardener. In the scenes where the camera is filming Justin Quayle’s point of view, it was Fiennes who held the camera. This earned him his first (and to date, only) camera credit on IMDb.
32. Familiar Faces
The Grand Budapest Hotel was a critical and commercial triumph, and it had an absurdly large cast full of famous faces. To put it into perspective, Fiennes had worked with many of them on other films that he’d done: Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel (Red Dragon), Willem Dafoe (The English Patient), Jeff Goldblum (The Prince of Egypt), and Tom Wilkinson (Prime Suspect, Oscar and Lucinda).
33. Three’s a Crowd
In 1997, less than four years after Fiennes married actress Alex Kingston, the couple filed for divorce—and the reason behind it was a shock to many. Fiennes was having an extramarital affair with another actress named Francesca Annis.
34. When Can We Call it a Pattern?
In an example of things turning into a pattern, Fiennes began an official relationship with Francesca Annis after his first marriage ended in divorce. However, after 11 years together, the relationship between Fiennes and Annis also fell apart. Rumors abounded that Fiennes was seeing yet another woman on the side.
35. Maybe They Should Have Done Another Take…
Remember that really awkward and weird moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 where Lord Voldemort cheerfully hugs a sulking Draco Malfoy when he thinks he’s victorious? That action was entirely Fiennes’ idea, and he improvised it on the spot during filming. Tom Felton (Malfoy) reacts with genuine confusion because he has no idea what Fiennes is doing—to be fair, neither did any of us when we watched that film.
36. Art Imitating Life
At one point during the production of Schindler’s List, producers introduced Fiennes to Mila Pfefferberg, one of the original people rescued by Oskar Schindler and who was thus familiar with Amon Goeth. Because they were on the set, Fiennes was in costume as his character, and his alleged resemblance to Goeth caused Pfefferberg to begin trembling in his presence!
37. No Need to Thank Me!
While Fiennes’ Coriolanus wasn’t seen by many people, one person who did see it was director Kathryn Bigelow (who had previously worked with Fiennes in The Hurt Locker). After Fiennes showed Bigelow a rough cut of his film, she was inspired to cast Coriolanus co-star Jessica Chastain in a career-making role in Zero Dark Thirty, her film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
38. Staying in Character
Fiennes scored a major hit when he starred in the Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Portraying the foppish, meticulous manager named M. Gustave, Fiennes embraced Anderson’s attention to detail in all aspects of the film’s production. In one example, Fiennes’ character was supposed to write in a notebook, but he noted that the pages weren’t lined. Fiennes thought that a man such as Gustave wouldn’t have a notebook without lined pages.
Keep in mind, we never see what Gustave writes in the notebook, so this was purely an example of dedication on Fiennes’ part to the role.
39. What a Stinker…
It’s rare to hear an actor openly bash a film that they were involved in, especially if that film was a box office success. Therefore, it speaks volumes that Fiennes has publicly regretted ever acting in the romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan. The movie starred Jennifer Lopez as a hotel maid who is mistaken for a high-class socialite when she’s caught trying on clothes that don’t belong to her. In Fiennes’ defense, the film holds a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes. Time Magazine also called it one of their “Top Ten Worst Chick Flicks.”
Yeah, we’ll definitely side with Fiennes on this one…
40. Good Sport
Maid in Manhattan wasn’t the only time that Fiennes has been rueful about his choice of movie. In the late 1990s, Fiennes starred in The Avengers, a film adaptation of the classic British spy series. Unfortunately, in between a scene with Sean Connery dressed as a giant teddy bear, and Uma Thurman dealing with a clone of herself, The Avengers has gone down as “one of the worst films ever made.”
Fiennes, however, was almost jovial about this kind of reputation. He claimed that it was “a badge of honor to have a real flop on your resume.”
41. I’ll Take it!
In case some of you don’t recall just how successful The English Patient was back in the day, consider an event that took place in 2001, just five years after the film’s release. A shirt worn by Fiennes during the film was auctioned off for the hefty price of more than $1,900. To be fair, we’re not sure whether it was a fan of The English Patient or a fan of Fiennes who purchased the shirt.
42. It’s Just a Costume, Lady!
During the production of Schindler’s List in Poland, the cast and crew encountered several instances of antisemitism. On one occasion, a woman approached Fiennes while he was in costume as officer Amon Goeth. The woman proceeded to express her opinion that “the Germans were charming people. They didn’t kill anyone who didn’t deserve it.” We can only hope that Fiennes took the time to give her a verbal smackdown before going back to the set.
In 1995, Fiennes portrayed Hamlet on Broadway to highly positive reception. However, this stint wasn’t without a dangerous and incredible anecdote. The play’s final act includes Hamlet’s duel with Laertes, played by Damian Lewis during that production. As Lewis later recalled, the two men made a mistake during their choreographed fight scene on the stage one evening. Fiennes accidentally hit Lewis hard in the face with his sword pommel.
Fiennes continued to perform his lines as blood poured down Lewis’ face. While delivering his lines, Fiennes leaned in and whispered, “Are you okay?” to Lewis, who allegedly whispered back, “I don’t know! You tell me! Is my eye still in?” The play was completed and Lewis left the stage to receive medical attention. Lewis and Fiennes heard audience members expressing their amazement at the play’s bloody climax. They were convinced that Lewis’ injury had been intentional!