Joseph Fiennes: Cable Networks Offer Edgier Roles

"Cable has its own model and it is not reliant on the murky areas of advertising and viewing figures," the star of "Camelot" tells THR.
Courtesy of Starz Network
Joseph Fiennes

Cable networks are the new home of creative risk, says actor Joseph Fiennes.

Speaking on the eve of the MIPTV market in Cannes, Fiennes, who stars as Merlin in the Starz network’s Camelot, believes that the edgier parameters of channels like Showtime, Starz and AMC have spawned a new generation of projects that can attract movie talent through their range and flexibility.

“I guess it had that cable edge that the networks can’t do because they have to be slave to a certain demographic and audience. They [the networks] are paid by the Tide commercial or the Coca Cola commercial. The episodes, to be harsh, are the fluff in between,” Fiennes said.

“Cable has its own model and it is not reliant on the murky areas of advertising and viewing figures. There's great deal more freedom."

But the quick turnover of a TV show brings other challenges, said the actor, who will be showcasing Camelot to international buyers this week.

“The risk from a work ethic point of view is that there really is zero preparation. You do literally get handed the script just before you shoot scenes -- there’s a great luxury in film when you have at least a month before to film and review and research.”

When it comes to shooting 10 episodes in less than half as many months, however, things are a lot more impromptu.

“That is the risk element. It's rather like being a jazz player -- you have to be on your game. It can make you a better actor.”

Camelot, which was filmed on a four-month shoot in Ireland, only wrapped a couple of weeks ago following a reshoot after co-star Jamie Campbell Bowers recovered from a broken ankle.

“Making these ten part series is like making ten mini-films.  But for an actor it does also give a great sense of pattern to the year. Independent films fluctuate wildly through the year in its funding let alone in getting things made and its much harder to have any routine or discipline in this year,” he says.

The star of Shakespeare In Love has had a love-hate relationship with Hollywood: he turned down a five-picture deal with Miramax in the late nineties and split appearances in movies like Running With Scissors with building a prolific stage career. Last year he became a casualty of ABC’s decision to axe sci-fi drama Flashforward after the first season.

"When I started acting there was much more snobbery about acting on television and the small screen -- but projects have really changed. Each of these episodes is like a mini-film. There’s good quality production, great writing and I think it’s not tied into the formulaic generic arc that film is."

Fiennes has made his Merlin shed the long locks, beard and prophetic qualities that many associate with the character.

"I wanted to do something that a bit more mean and thuggish. I describe him as a bit of Obi-Wan and a bit of Donald Rumsfeld."

But despite Merlin’s very un-Dumbledoreish shaved head and youthful countenance, Fiennes says that the character he portrays is a starting point for any number of mythical teachers.

"I wanted to have a bit of joy with Merlin, because he’s very Machiavellian, he’s absolutely the foundation for characters like Obi-Wan or Gandalf, he really is the seed of all those characters."