Wes Anderson's latest cinematic confection, The Grand Budapest Hotel, features distinguished English actor Ralph Fiennes in the film's leading role. It marks the first time Fiennes has appeared in one of Anderson's films. Speaking over the phone from his London home, Fiennes revealed a great admiration for Anderson's work.
"I love his films. More and more in cinema it's rare, especially in the West, that there are filmmakers who can be true authors of their films that are not being amended by studios. I mean, Wes is a true auteur in the best sense."
Unfolding like a cinematic matryoshka doll, with wittily varied aspect ratios, The Grand Budapest Hotel's narrative travels from the gravesite of a respected author to the memory of that author (Tom Wilkinson) and a story he was once told as a young writer (Jude Law) of a 1930s-era concierge. Gustave H (Fiennes) has an amazing work ethic at a distinguished hotel in the made-up country of Zubrowka. As war driven by a fascist regime breaks out, Gustave tries to maintain a life of civility and decorum that includes mentoring a new lobby boy and servicing older women with anything they might desire.
Comedic films in Fiennes' lengthy filmography are few and far between. He admits to an appreciation of a certain brand of humor.
"I enjoy a good satire," he said. "Really crazy, wacky, cynical, sort of screwball comedy I'm not always entertained by."
This is, after all, an actor who burst on the scene in 1993 with an Oscar-nominated performance in Schindler's List, playing a particularly cruel Nazi officer at a concentration camp. He's gone on to offer amazing dramatic turns in The English Patient (another Oscar nom), The Constant Gardener, and of course the Harry Potter series.
When reflecting on Anderson's work, he noticed the humor but also the humanity of his characters.
"I think there's real heart to Wes," Fiennes noted. "Of course, he has a great sense of humor and a very wonderful sort of individual brand of comedy, but I wouldn't call it satire. But I know what it is: It's Wes Anderson. I love it. It's fueled by such fine, odd, quirky intelligence, and I respond to it."
Fiennes has great affection for his character, whom some might unfairly reduce to an opportunist. He sees beyond Gustave's uniform and obsession with perfume to find a man of great quality.
"Here's a man that when the chips are down and his young protégé is going to be hauled off a train for having the wrong papers, he stands up and he's prepared to get sort of roughed up by the police," he said. "How can you not admire someone who, despite their vanities and their insecurities and little neuroses, ends up a hero?"
The actor said "it was fun" putting on Gustave's uniform and getting into his skin.
"It's a part that you could easily overgive, and you could sort of be too affected in it. I relied a lot on Wes' guidance, and he seemed to like it when I was simpler with it. He seemed to like the more understated takes, and I thought that was great. The thing I felt I had to hold on to was the sense that this was a real human being."
It's that humanity that makes this latest Wes Anderson film yet another brilliant work for the increasingly respected filmmaker. It's also something Fiennes would love to be part of again.
"I hope so," he said of the possibility of future collaborations. "I'd certainly love to be involved, even in a small way. I loved being part of that team."