New York Film Fest: Ralph Fiennes Tribute Generates Attention for 'Invisible Woman'

The 50-year-old, who received acting Oscar noms for "Schindler's List" and "The English Patient," most recently directed the period drama in which he portrays Charles Dickens.
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NEW YORK -- Ralph Fiennes, the chameleonic actor who has been an integral part of many of the most memorable movies of the last 20 years -- among them Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), Robert Redford's Quiz Show (1994), Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (1996), Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (2008) and Stephen Daldry's The Reader (2008), all of which were nominated for the best picture Oscar and three of which won it -- was honored with a Gala Tribute at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday night, as part of the 51st New York Film Festival.

The event kicked off with a reel of extended clips from the 50-year-old Brit's distinguished career, including scenes of him in intense conversation with Liam Neeson in Schindler's List; in a long back-and-forth with the late Paul Scofield in Quiz Show; seducing Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient and Julianne Moore in Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair (1999); engaging in a comedic standoff with Colin Farrell in In Bruges (2008); pitching mind games to Tom Sizemore in Bigelow's Strange Days (1995); tormenting Daniel Radcliffe as villainous Voldemort in David Yates' Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011); and reciting Shakespeare in a 21st century setting, under his own direction, in Coriolanus (2011).

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How many other actors have enjoyed that sort of variety over the course of a career?

Then Fiennes was introduced and received a warm ovation. The rest of the evening consisted of a Q&A with the actor moderated by fest director Kent Jones -- you couldn't find two more mild-mannered guys -- followed by a screening of Sony Pictures Classics' The Invisible Woman, about Charles Dickens and his secret mistress. Fiennes directed and stars in the period-piece costume drama, which is slated to open Christmas Day.

Jones quizzed Fiennes on a variety of topics, including what it's like for him to watch clips of himself ("I hadn't seen Schindler's List in a long time"); when he first contemplated directing films ("Maybe around the time of The English Patient...there was something about Anthony's generosity as a director"); and what it was like to voice a character in the Oscar-winning animated film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit ("I remember thinking, 'I wasn't taught this at RADA!' ").

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Afterward, Fiennes walked over to a different microphone and thanked the fest for the tribute -- "It's an honor to be honored here, thank you very much indeed" -- and for accepting The Invisible Woman, only the second film he's ever directed, into its elite in-competition slate of just 36 films. He said that he never really wanted to direct himself again and was never a huge fan of Dickens, but when he read Claire Tomalin's book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens and decided to direct it, "the hungry actor in me couldn't resist the part" of the great novelist.

Ternan, Dickens' secret mistress, is played by Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), who couldn't attend the premiere because she is currently in production on another film in London. But Fiennes did introduce and effusively thank two of his other close collaborators on the film, producer Gabrielle Tana (whom he worked with on Coriolanus) and actress Joanna Scanlan (who plays Dickens' wife).

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg