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MOVIES : Lawrence of Arabia, the One-Horse Sequel

October 27, 1991|DAVID GRITTEN | David Gritten is a free-lance writer based in London. and

Still, Fiennes reckons the hectic schedule has been worthwhile. "There are endless ramifications and contradictions," he said of playing Lawrence. "There was a huge amount of pain inside him caused by a sense of self-loathing alongside his ambition. He wanted to put himself into another world, to lift himself out of the fleshly limitations of being human. He had so many different motivations--to serve Britain, to give the Arabs independence and also to exorcise some need in himself."

Fiennes knows that he does not resemble Lawrence. "He was much smaller than me," he said, adding: "But I think I'm smaller than Peter O'Toole, anyway."

Feisal is played by a complete newcomer, a Sudanese-born actor named Sid El Fadil. He is 25, left drama school in London only last year, and got the role out of the blue.

"I sent in my photo and a CV (curriculum vitae) hoping I might get a small part as one of Feisal's aides or henchmen," he said. "The first picture, of me without a beard, got no response. So I sent in one of me with a beard and got called in for a screen test."

Fadil's arresting good looks got him that far; his test with Fiennes landed him the part against five far more experienced actors. "I wasn't even planning to act full time," he said with an amazed smile. "I was directing fringe theater in London, and I plan to go back to it. I don't trust acting--not for an exotic actor like me. I could be flavor of the month for a while, then burn out like a little shooting star."

His family virtually ran the Sudanese government until they were deposed in the 1970s.

"My father was brother of the ex-prime minister," he said. "If my mother had not been so keen to get me out of Sudan to London, who knows? I might have ended up a cabinet minister or something of the sort. Now I get a taste of what that might have been like through playing Feisal. My family find it rather amusing. They think acting is the work of the devil, basically."

"Everyone on the set has been so kind," he said. "They treat me like I've been doing this for 50 years. But it's the first time I've earned over 200 ($345) a week in my life."

Back to work, and Fiennes and Fadil on "horseback" again circle each other, watched by a group of extras brandishing notebooks and flash cameras. These are the press corps who now shadow Lawrence's every move and shout intimate questions to him at every opportunity.

From a balcony above, Vaines watches the action contentedly. "We specifically wanted unknowns to play Lawrence and Feisal," he said. "It felt like we should have some of that excitement of discovering someone new, like. . . ."

Like Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif?

"Well, yes," Vaines said. "But I do think our film will be different from Lean's film. We offer a more rounded portrait of Lawrence, I think. He's certainly more sympathetic. Our T. E. Lawrence is going to be perceived in a very different light."

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