With The Grand Budapest Hotel checking into Sky Store, Ralph Fiennes reveals his funny side with a delicious performance as a camp concierge. We caught up with him at the Berlin Film Festival to talk about his own experiences working in a hotel, his first movie with Wes Anderson and what it's like to direct.
Sky Movies: How did Wes Anderson approach you to make the film?
Ralph Fiennes: Wes said he apparently wrote this role with me in mind. He sent me a script and was a bit vague about what part he wanted me to consider. He said, “Tell what part you’d like to play.” 'Oh well, I suppose the big one.' I’m joking, it was a funny approach because it was slightly circular and then he said, “No, I’d like you to play Gustave.” Of course I said, “I’d love to.”
It was on the page, it was a great part, seemed very funny. It was a near fit - it was a part that lent itself to overt theatricality, it had a certain camp quality, But when you read it you thought 'Where can this go...'
SM: Did you draw on any real-life experiences?
RF: I did work in a hotel years ago, a sort of backstage where the hotel staff work and eat and change their clothes before going out into the hotel lounge or lobby and being on show. I worked in Brown's Hotel in London just before I started my course at drama school.
I started off as a house porter and was under the authority of the head housekeeper. I had to change shower curtains, bedspreads, lightbulbs, clean brass and hoover endless corridors. If they were short of staff in the hall porter department, the uniformed bit, I was occasionally promoted. I'd get tipped by jack the lads.
SM: You rarely show your funny side on film - was that part of the attraction?
RF: Yes it was. I hoped that it would be funny and I needed Wes's guidance about the lie of the land. They say comedy is the hardest thing and I think it is, especially without an audience. You feel something my be funny but you just don't know. Wes has finely honed his sense of humour. He really knows. Like all good comedy I suppose it's rooted in some sort of reality.
SM: Can you see why actors keep coming back to work with Wes Anderson?
RF: I think it's a bit like a theatre company where the director forms a working relationship.
SM: Do you feel confident when you're working with a good director?
RF: You go on a gut instinct that someone is observing you, giving you good notes. You have an instinct - it’s a good note or when it’s a sort of bullsh*tting note. I think all actors are quite quick to sort of feel, 'This person’s really seeing what I’m doing and they see my weaknesses or they’re letting me breathe.'
Like anything to do with trust, in any relationship it emerges and just the chemistry, vibe between two people. You just know whether this is someone I like to be with whose interaction with me I believe in.
SM: Wes Anderson is know for being very precise - were there any times when you pushed back, having been a director yourself?
RF: There was only one time when I felt that pre-arranged camera moves - which I tried to make work because it required me and Tony (Revolori, co-star) to go to these different places in the course of a scene. They’d been pre-decided and I couldn’t make them organic, I tried to. In the end I did say, “I’m really finding this hard. I’m trying to make it work.” And there’s a thing when something, you just feel it works.
Sometimes it cuts right across your instinct and that’s when I might resist. I believe you should say, even if the director might be insistent, I think it’s very important to say, “Look, I’m not feeling this. I’ll try to make it work but I got to let you know.”
SM: Has the experience of directing changed you as an actor?
RF: The actor shouldn’t edit themselves or be anxious. On the day, be free. And the actors that I admire are always the ones who are inventive and their imaginative life in free-willing. It’s a director’s job to go, “Not here, don’t do that, go there.”
SM: The whole cast spent the time together living on location in Gorlitz. What was that like?
RF: I just remember a great atmosphere of us all being together, at night, in the evening, that’s what I’m carrying in my head. On the sets it was very cold and we’re all in a green room together and being fed coffee and sandwiches, waiting and waiting and waiting.
That was a wonderful sense of camaraderie because the conditions were quite basic. There’s no studio-style special treatment for anyone and that creates a great atmosphere - everyone’s the same.
SM: Did Wes insist you all ate together...or did it just happen?
RF: They were totally voluntary. We all went out to these restaurants. Often, I would want to change the pattern but it was a constant and that’s always good to know it’s there.