Ralph Fiennes has Oedipal issues

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Finally, Ralph Fiennes has started doing some interviews to promote his supporting role in The Reader. I say “finally” because Kate Winslet was doing the bulk of the promotional duties, which is no surprise for two reasons. First, this seems to be a film season where only actresses are doing promotion (like Reese Witherspoon in Four Christmases). Secondly, after finally reading an interview with Ralph Fiennes – who’s one of my favorite actors – I completely understand why The Reader’s producers might not want this profoundly talented and profoundly weird man opening his mouth any more.

Ralph Fiennes starts out the Times interview by reenacting a scene of Ben Gazarra in Tales of Ordinary Madness. The scene, in Ralph’s words, is “literally about trying to get inside her womb… this unhappy man [Gazzara] is with a woman, and he literally wants to climb back inside her”. This sets the tone for the rest of the interview.

On any other day this might have seemed like an odd skit to come from the 46-year-old star of The English Patient, Schindler’s List and two Harry Potter movies (where he played the boy wizard’s evil nemesis Voldemort). But today Fiennes is on fire. He’s more than halfway through a mesmerising run of Sophocles’ brutally unforgiving Oedipus at the National Theatre and is thus somehow fantastically engorged with life’s Big Ideas.

“For me the lines in the play that resonate continually are, ‘I want to know the secret of my birth’ and ‘I do not know who I am!’” he says, dropping his voice to a whisper and running a hand slowly over his shaven pate. The haircut was his idea, he explains, to make him feel more naked on stage, but it has a powerfully imposing effect that, together with today’s outfit of blazer and denims with turn-ups, creates the impression of a patrician bouncer. “And isn’t that the journey that most of us are on?” he continues, undaunted, transfixed by the tragic clarity of his words. “Who are we? What are we doing? And where did we come from?”

The play is agony, he says. The play might destroy him yet, he adds. And the play, as we all know, is about mothers. It’s all their fault. They are the site of the eternal return – that metaphorical place to which we, according to Sophocles, Freud and Fiennes, spend our life returning. We are trying, says Fiennes, to re-enter the womb (hence the skit). And that, he says, can sometimes get in the way of a decent romantic relationship.

“There is a tension in relationships between wanting to return to the womb, but also wanting to be free,” he says, with impressive candour for a man who was, until they split in 2006, often described as being in a vaguely “maternal” relationship with the actress Francesca Annis (17 years his senior). “Because sometimes the woman’s attentions can be overly maternal, and you want to go, ‘Ahhhh!’”

[From TimesOnline]

The whole “mothers, it’s all their fault” comment is such a horrible way to sum up both Oedipus and the larger point Ralph was making. To be fair to the source material, for years Oedipus’s mother never knew she was sleeping with her son, and when she did find out, she killed herself. When Oedipus found out, all he did was claw out his eyes. Whoops, was that a spoiler? My point: mothers always get the blame.

Ralph seems to be working through some issues with women in general, not just his mother. The conversation that started with such gems as “he literally wants to climb back inside her” and “I want to know the secret of my birth” is taking the logical course to Ralph’s current film, The Reader. Fiennes plays a German lawyer reflecting on a love affair he had with a woman in her thirties (played by Kate Winslet), when his character was fifteen. Sometimes the actor finds the material, and sometimes the material finds them, eh?

We move on to The Reader, which has its own share of provocations and mother issues. These are in the erotic and Oedipalised relationship between Fiennes’s younger screen self (played by David Kross) and an older, mysterious and illiterate former Nazi, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). The provocations, says Fiennes, are in the plot, “and the idea that Hanna’s illiteracy could be an excuse for her joining the SS in the first place. I don’t accept that she couldn’t make a moral judgment about joining the SS just because she’s illiterate. And I think that’s a troubling area.”

Fiennes himself, you suspect, has little estimation of his own talents. His acting, it seems, is itself beyond acting, part of his own delicate process of individuation (remember, “I want to know the secret of my birth”?). All this, a Freudian might add, emerges in the dense undergrowth of childhood, and here it seems particularly poignant and indeed fitting that Fiennes can trace everything back to, yes, his mother, the writer Jennifer Lash.

The Fiennes family history is well-worn lore, and usually involves his farmer-turned-photographer father Mark and mother Jennifer dragging their seven-strong brood (including brother Joseph, sisters Martha and Sophie and foster brother Michael Emery) on a peripatetic childhood whirl through Dorset, Suffolk, West Cork and Salisbury.

In conversation the family tends to describe the period with quasi affection as a time of love without much material comfort. But today, focusing exclusively on Lash, Fiennes is a little more unsparing. He says that she had her own demons, and that, “in her own way, she could make you feel like you hadn’t hit the mark, or you simply weren’t good enough”.

[From TimesOnline]

When Ralph Fiennes appeared on an episode of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”, he wept when the conversation turned to his mother and her death. While I’m glad to see that Ralph has stepped outside of his grief and is talking openly about his mother and his issues, my guess is that The Reader’s publicity team might want this extraordinarily talented actor to tone it down a bit for this promotional tour.

Note by Celebitchy: I saw a special on Bravo many years ago called “The Family Fiennes” about Ralph’s family. He comes from a large family and has four brothers and two sisters, including an adopted foster brother. His mother was portrayed as a wonderful nurturing woman who tried to instill a love of art and literature in her children. If there were any issues between Ralph or any of the other children and their mom you couldn’t tell from the Bravo special and they all spoke very highly of her. Ralph’s mom published a few books under her maiden name, Jennifer Lash, including a travelogue and a work of fiction about an abandoned boy called Blood Ties. It was reminiscent of DH Lawrence and well written.

Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet are shown at the New York premiere of ‘The Reader’ on December 3rd. Images thanks to WENN.

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21 Responses to “Ralph Fiennes has Oedipal issues”

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  1. Anna says:

    I like his slight weirdness. I’d rather take someone so passionate and involved in their work over someone “normal” any day. And as for Francesca Annis: I would have dated her too. Heck, I’d still date her! She’s one of the world’s most beautiful women, even if no one seems to know her anymore.

  2. Dorothy says:

    I really love his acting but his behavior in his personall life over the past few years have made me really disike him. I feel sad for his grief over his mother that is something you never get over but he should go to therapy and try to get over some of his issues.

  3. geronimo says:

    *shrug* Just an actor being actorly, nothing to worry about here. It’s a great interview, really don’t see anything particularly wierd about him at all. In fact, I like interviews like this when they come from people who have the talent, CV and dedication to their craft to carry them off. As long as he keeps putting out good performances, he can ‘share’ all he likes. Daniel Day Lewis is another one who can be equally intense in interviews but hey, they’re artists!

  4. Dorothy says:

    Yeah but daniel day Lewis dosen’t have loud sex in airplanes with gabby stewardesses!

  5. geronimo says:

    That IS true! Have to say I liked him better when he was still with Francesca Annis.

  6. Kaiser says:

    Part of my frustration with him is that I love him, and sincerely want him to like significantly younger women (like me!)… it bothers me to think that his heart belongs to “motherly” women.

  7. KDRockstar says:

    He’s doing what he does best – living his own drama. Unfortunately, not many other people care.

  8. geronimo says:

    Oh I don’t like him in *that* way. What you need to do then, kaiser, is get yourself a stewardess’s uniform and a trolley and park yourself next to his seat on a plane.

  9. vdantev says:

    Oedipal being some new term for bald as a peanut.

  10. Codzilla says:

    I remember feeling incredibly guilty for secretly lusting after him in Schindler’s List. His character was a horrible bastard, but he was just so gorgeous I couldn’t help myself.

  11. Kaiser says:

    G- “Can I warm your nuts, Mr. Fiennes?”

  12. ak says:

    He used to be almost too pretty to be interesting–like in The English Patient and Quiz Show. It wasn’t until after I saw him in some strange little roles (Spider, Onegin) that I really started to like him. He is a great actor.

  13. Manic says:

    I saw him in London a few weeks ago. He seemed a bit drunk actually. I wonder if the reason hes acting like a head case is because hes been hitting the sauce a bit too hard? Hes a good actor and hes hot (I too wish he liked younger women!) but sometimes I just wish hed keep his bloody mouth shut.

  14. zsuzsanna says:

    His private life concerns only to him, I think. He has other merits: his wonderful talent his extraordinary transformability ( how many people live in his soul?) his inside (and outside) beauty (even with shaven head ) his sexual attractiveness his high intelligence etc. Why has an actor less right to privacy than anyone else?

  15. Lily-Rose Riddle says:

    His personal life only concerns to him, and no one else has the right to point at it.

    Again, if something shocks someone, then be a fan of someone else.. I dont really get it why some of you expect him to talk/think as if he was your everyday person.

    Mr. Fiennes is a gifted, talented actor, and I would be honored if someday I have the chance to get a look into his mind, because I’d like to know where the brightness of his performance comes from.

  16. Manic says:

    I agree that his privare life is his own business, but I cant help but point out that we are all entitled to our own opinions. Im sure many people would agree that Ralph is an immensely talented actor and I dont think many peoples intention when they posted their comments here was to seriously deride or degrade him. Everybody likes a good gossip dont they?

  17. budgit says:

    “I dont really get it why some of you expect him to talk/think as if he was your everyday person” – oh no because that would too much to expect of ANYONE wouldn’t it?

  18. Lily-Rose Riddle says:

    See budgit, I won’t even bother myself explaining… and if you enjoy writing your ideas in that sarcastic way, know that I won’t be in your little game. May the likes of you have luck in life because you clearly need it.

    To the others: I do respect you all, because you show education.

    So long.

  19. Anyone with any kind of introspection and self-awareness goes through personal journeys within. It’s not unusual to be in an excited state when discussing them, because such journeys into the essence of the soul are exciting and often painful but also can set you free. Being a celebrity unfortunately puts you into the constant spotlight of speculation and misinterpretation. Must be a hard life.

  20. JenniferFrom Cali says:

    I don’t agree with the author’s vague suggestion that he may have an Oedipus complex just because he has thoroughly researched his character and seems to understand the psychology that is his character. He’s a fine actor who simply has a thirst for knowledge. He’s most likely highly intelligent, and sometimes a person’s intelligence is complimented with an eccentric nature. In fact, some of the most gifted actors and actresses are intellectuals. And I too agree/wish/hope/dream he liked younger women. ;-)

  21. Paula Cook says:

    Havent you read that his mother encouraged his artistic side most of his life. Maybe the word is inspired. There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to beautiful older women. I hope to be one oneday! Anyways Ralph takes his art seriously, I dont think he cares for the popparotzzi. He’d probably like his privacy back too, who in hollywood wouldnt! Personally I’d like to have been one of those lovely ladies in the pool with him in Bruges, even just for fun! He’s a wonderful actor and brings art to his craft and we are all richer for it. Cut the man some slack darnit!!!!!