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'Invisible Woman': Ralph Fiennes on being 'ignorant' of Dickens

Envelope Screening Series

December 10, 2013|By Oliver Gettell

Actor-director Ralph Fiennes goes deep into the role of Charles Dickens in the new biopic "The Invisible Woman," which dramatizes the iconic author's love affair with young actress Nelly Ternan while at the height of his fame. You could reasonably imagine Fiennes being a lifelong devotee of Dickens -- but you would be dead wrong.

Speaking at the Envelope Screening Series along with co-star Felicity Jones and Times reporter Glenn Whipp, Fiennes admitted that he was a Dickens novice before getting involved in the film.

"This script kind of ambushed me," he said. After directing his first film, an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" which he also starred in, Fiennes was offered the script for "Invisible Woman."

VIDEO: Watch Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones discuss 'The Invisible Woman'

"You may be surprised, but I never studied Dickens at school," Fiennes said. "Lots of Shakespeare and other novelists, but not Dickens. So I was pretty ignorant. But I read the script and then the book on which it's based [by Claire Tomalin] and was completely smitten by the story of Nelly Ternan first, and then interested and intrigued by the character of Dickens. And I just became obsessed with what was the sequence of events which led her to accept being his mistress, and what was that about. I just became very fascinated by that."

To play Ternan, Fiennes wanted someone who could believably portray the character from her early 20s into her late 30s, and he picked Jones, with whom he had worked on the 2010 comedy "Cemetery Junction."

"I felt strongly that whoever would play Nelly had to … suggest the age difference by their acting," Fiennes said, adding, "I wanted someone who could, in the way they inhabited their interior life, suggest that transition, that maturity. Felicity has this amazing quality, I think, with which she can suggest all kinds of thoughts and complicated feelings within herself without sort of demonstrating them."

For more from Fiennes and Jones on "The Invisible Woman," watch the full video above and check back for more highlights.

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