They say that where there’s a Will there’s a way. But this hasn’t quite proved the case for Joseph Fiennes, even though his smoldering version of the titular bard in John Madden’s Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love seemed to earmark him for superstardom. Perhaps sensing that he was in danger of becoming the poster boy for puffy shirts and pantaloons after his breakout role as a duplicitous nobleman in the similarly statuette friendly Elizabeth, Fiennes has instead steered his career down a different road, working largely in theatre and generally favoring smaller projects over more high profile works.
Following his brother Ralph into the family trade, he made his film debut with a small role in 1996’s Stealing Beauty, alongside Liv Tyler. But it was 1998 that would be the year of Joseph Fiennes. After leaving Cate Blanchett’s virgin queen rather less than virginal – and, honestly, who could blame her? – in Elizabeth, he stepped from supporting player to leading man in Shakespeare in Love, striding onto the screen with charisma, rakish wit, and sex appeal to spare. The bard with bedroom eyes? Would the world buy into that? As it turns out, yes it would, as the film went on to scoop seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Although, frankly, that pales alongside other prestigious titles such as Best Kiss at the MTV Movie awards and Sexiest Love Scene at the Teen Choice awards. How’s that, Ralph? Your two Oscar noms don’t look as much fun now do they?
Following the success of this one two punch, Fiennes was marked as a major star of the future. But in defiance of expectation he turned his back on his burgeoning movie career, rejecting a five picture deal from a major movie studio and returning instead to his “home” on the London stage. In his film roles he shows a continued refusal to be pigeon holed, working in variety of genres including historical biopic (Luther), wartime thriller (Enemy at the Gates), gritty drama (The Escapist) and black comedy (The Darwin Awards). Most recently he has made the move into television, shortly to appear on American screens as FBI agent Mark Benford in the sci-fi series “Flash Forward, which centers on an unexplained global event that gives the entire population a glimpse of their life six months in the future. Intriguing!
Daring in his choices – often seemingly to his own detriment – Fiennes remains unapologetic about his less than traditional career path, and continues to be an actor to watch. Even though I’m sure there are many who would not object to a return to puffy shirt territory. Just once, Joe? For old time’s sake?
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