Born Ralph Nathaniel Fiennes (pronounced Rafe Fines) to photographer father, Mark Fiennes and novelist mother Jennifer Lash.
The eldest of eight children, all raised as Roman Catholics, Ralph is brother to actor Joseph Fiennes and his sister, Martha, is a film director. In 1973, when Fiennes was 11, the family moved to Ireland, living first in West Cork and then in County Kilkenny. The children were schooled at home but when the family moved to Salisbury, England, Fiennes completed his schooling at Bishop Wordsworth Boys’ School.
He later attended the Chelsea College of Art and furthered his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1987, he joined Michael Rudman’s company at the Royal National Theatre and in 1988, joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he spent two seasons.
In 1993, Fiennes married ‘ER’ actress, Alex Kingston. Within two years the cracks were starting to show and in 1995, Fiennes began dating Francesca Annis, his co-star in ‘Hamlet’, a woman 18 years his senior. In February 2006, Fiennes and Kingston separated, after his affair with Annis had been splashed all over the tabloids. In 1997, the couple were officially divorced.
Fiennes made his film debut starring as Heathcliff, opposite Juliet Binoche’s Cathy Linton/Catherine Earnshaw, in ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1992). It was, however, his captivating portrayal of amoral Nazi commandant, Amon Goth, in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993), that made the international market sit up and take note of this talented new-to-films actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but did not win the Oscar. Instead, he won the 1994 BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor, as well as Best Supporting Actor awards from numerous critics groups, such as the NYFCC (1993), the BSFC (1993), the DFWFCA (1994), the NSFC (1994), the CFCA (1994) and the 1995 ALFS Award for British Actor of Year. ‘Schindler’s List’ had certainly put Fiennes on the movie map.
His next film was the forgettable ‘Quiz Show’ (1994), directed by Robert Redford but he followed this with the starring role of Lenny Nero in the successful futuristic thriller, ‘Strange Days’ (1995), set in Los Angeles in 1999. Also that year, Fiennes won the 1995 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Johnathan Kent’s sold-out production of ‘Hamlet’ (1995). He went on to play Count Laslo de Almasy in Anthony Minghella’s film, ‘The English Patient’ (1996), an epic World War II drama with Juliette Binoche and William Dafoe, for which he received his second Best Actor Academy Award nomination. Once again, he also received Best Actor nominations from other critics groups.
Based on a novel, ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ (1997) was set in mid-1800s England and Fiennes played an outcast priest opposite Cate Blanchett. ‘The Avengers’ (1998) was the film version of the popular television series, in which Fiennes played John Steed opposite Uma Thurman’s Emma Peel, with Sean Connery as Sir August de Wynter. Unfortunately the movie did not have the expected box office impact. Undaunted, Fiennes then provided the voice of Rameses in the animated family musical, ‘The Prince of Egypt’ (1998), which had an all-star cast including Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Helen Mirren and Steve Martin.
He starred in ‘Sunshine’ (1999), a drama surrounding the fate of a Hungarian Jewish family through the twentieth century, and won the 1999 European Film Award for Best Actor. The romantic drama, ‘Onegin’ (1999), was directed by his sister, Martha Fiennes, starred Fiennes as Evgeny Onegin and had him working for the first time as Executive Producer. He then played the role of Maurice Bendrix in ‘The End of the Affair’ (1999), an intense romantic war drama, directed by Neil Jordan, with Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea, for which he received BAFTA and London Critics Circle Award nominations.
Returning to London theatre, Fiennes played the title roles in Anton Chekhov’s ‘Ivanov’ (1997), and William Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’ (2000) and ‘Richard II’ (2000). Having previously played roles in television films in the early 1990s – ‘Prime Suspect’ (1991) and ‘The Cormorant’ (1993) - Fiennes returned to the small screen once more, to star in ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’ (2000). It was a documentary drama, directed by Peter Bevan, about the great 20th-century French writer, Proust. Following that, he provided the voice of Jesus in the animated Biblical story ‘The Miracle Maker’ (2000) and performed a cameo in ‘The Play What I Wrote’ (2001), directed by Kenneth Branagh.
His uncredited role in ‘The Good Thief’ (2002) was followed by critical acclaim, along with Miranda Richardson, for their performances in David Cronenberg’s award-winning thriller, ‘Spider’ (2002). Also that year were his roles as Francis Dolarhyde in ‘Red Dragon’ (2002), the prequel to Ridley Scott’s ‘Hannibal’ (2001) starring Anthony Hopkins, and as Chris Marshall in romantic comedy ‘Maid in Manhattan’ (2002), with Jennifer Lopez.
2003 found Fiennes back in the theatre, in ‘The Talking Cure’ (2003) by Christopher Hampton and in ‘Brand’ (2003) by Henrik Ibsen. In 2004, he was cast as Lord Voldemort in the fourth of the enormously successful Harry Potter series, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ (2005). It was a role which he initially refused, but then accepted when he realised what fun it could be playing the ultimate villain in this children’s story, that is possibly even more popular with adults. He reprised the roles in the Harry Potter sequels.
‘The Chumscrubber’ (2005), showing the dark underbelly of upper-class suburbia, had Fiennes playing Mayor Micheal Ebbs and he was Stephen Tulloch in ‘Chromophobia’ (2005), written and directed by Martha Fiennes. He played Mark Anthony in the theatre production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ (2005) in the Barbican Centre, London.
Starring as Justin Quayle, opposite Rachel Weisz, in ‘The Constant Gardener’ (2005), a story of murder and conspiracy, based on the best-selling John le Carre novel, won Fiennes the 2005 British Independent Film Award for Best Actor and the 2006 ALFS Award for British Actor of the Year. The film was set in the slums of Kibera and it affected the crew so intensely that they formed The Constant Gardener Trust to provide basic education in the area. Fiennes is patron of the charity.
Next up was providing the voice of Victor Quartermaine, Lady Tottington’s snobby suitor, in Steve Box and Nick Park’s cracking animation adventure ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ (2005). In ‘Land of the Blind’ (2006), a brilliant dark comic thriller, Fiennes played the lead, Joe - an idealistic soldier who befriends Donald Sutherland’s character, a political prisoner named Thorne.
Fiennes went on to receive a Tony Award nomination for his role in the play ‘Faith Healer’ (2006), which premiered in Dublin before going on to Broadway, New York City. Stepping back into the wizarding world, he reprised his role as the Dark Lord in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ (2007) and went on to star in ‘Bernard and Doris’ in the same year. He received a number of nominations for his role in the latter, including a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
A British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actor came his way after he starred in 2008 black comedy crime movie ‘In Bruges’, which paved the way for him to appear as William Cavendish, fifth Duke of Devonshire, in British drama ‘The Duchess’ (2008). His portrayal of the character led to a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and several other nods.
The following year saw Fiennes appear in the Academy Award-winning movie ‘The Hurt Locker’, while 2010 brought ‘Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang’, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ and ‘The Wildest Dream’, in which his voice was featured. 2011 saw him appear in the second half of Harry Potter's concluding chapter. his latest film roles have included 'Skyfall' (2012), Wrath Of The Titans' (2012) and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (2014).
In a career now in its third decade, Fiennes has proved himself an accomplished and respected actor, both in theatre and in film. He has received many awards and nominations for work as diverse as Shakespeare, animation, thrillers, comedies and even some camp nostalgia. Aside from his acting, he is passionate about helping others and became involved with UNICEF in 1999 and was appointed a UK Ambassador in 2001. He has visited UNICEF projects in Romania and Uganda, and in October 2003, went to Kyrgystan to learn more about the work with vulnerable children. His filmmaker sister, Sophie Fiennes, accompanied him and filmed his visit, for the purposes of education and fund-raising. With time on his side and experience under his belt, we are certain to see much more of this fine actor’s work in the years to come.