LOS ANGELES - From Shakespeare to "Harry Potter" to the new head of MI6 in the "James Bond" film franchise, Ralph Fiennes has mined the complexity of his characters.
The 51-year-old British actor most recently turned his talents to unearthing the details of British author Charles Dickens' extramarital affair.
Fiennes stars and takes his second turn as director on "The Invisible Woman," out in limited release in US theatres on Christmas Day, chronicling the hushed liaison between 19th century author Dickens and actress Nelly Ternan.
Lounging in the courtyard at Hollywood's famed Chateau Marmont hotel, Fiennes spoke to Reuters about deconstructing Dickens, playing heroes and villains and the next "Bond" film.
Q: What inspired you to want to bring this story of Dickens'life and affair with Nelly Ternan to the screen?
A: Audiences have a vague sense of a jolly man writing slightly sentimental, big sagas which are good entertainment and good stories, but they see the darkness of Dickens in this film. The domestic, arguably we'd say, cruelty of Dickens. Dickens is a man of massive contrast and contradictions, and I like that it might stir it up a bit, people might talk about it.
Q: How do you think Dickens' relationship with Nelly impacted his portrayal of women in his novels?
A: Estella in "Great Expectations" is not a portrait of Nelly, but is Nelly filtered through Dickens' anxiety about wanting and trying to reach her. I think Nelly probably resisted Dickens for a bit, and that resistance plays out in, quote unquote, "Estella's cold heart." ... Nelly was quite tough, she was quite a strong-willed young girl, and I think (his literary heroines) all have bits of her in them.
Q. You've depicted literary characters before, but in playing a renowned author such as Charles Dickens, were you nervous?
A: You're always nervous, you just want any part to be truthful and alive and you just want to honour what you think its truth is ... All the scenes paint a portrait of the Dickens that I felt I got to know reading - a vital family man, centre of the party, centre of attention, quite a controlling father, authoritative, capable of great kindness and charitable events. He can be a very genial host, charming, very funny, attentive, and he can be ruthless and tough and bossy and really cruel, he has a potential for cruelty there.