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Ralph Fiennes theatre roles we love

Before Fiennes became an Oscar-nominated movie star, he built his career as a Shakespearean stage actor.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Older audiences may know Ralph Fiennes from his Oscar-nominated turns in Schindler's List and The English Patient. Younger audiences know him best as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise. Devoted film buffs of any age would also recognize him from Quiz Show, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bernard and Doris, and more. Regardless of where you know him from, you know Ralph Fiennes.

But did you know that Fiennes is, first and foremost, a Shakespearean stage actor? He has nearly 40 stage credits, mostly in U.K. productions of the Bard's plays, and that's how he got his start long before the Oscar, Golden Globe, and Tony nominations came along. He appears much less often on the New York stage, but now, Fiennes is making his Off-Broadway debut in Straight Line Crazy, David Hare's new drama about the life and legacy of New York City planner Robert Moses.

On stage and screen, Fiennes is no stranger to playing famous figures, from Jesus Christ to various English kings to Charles Dickens to himself. Before you see him take on the notorious Moses, learn more about some highlights from his storied stage career, in New York and beyond, especially if you're only familiar with his screen career. Then, get your tickets to see Fiennes in person at The Shed this fall.

Get Straight Line Crazy tickets now.

Twelfth Night

Fiennes's professional stage debut was in 1985, when he played the small role of Curio in the Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London. Fiennes only had four lines, but his performance was the start of a long and successful career as a Shakespeare actor. The next year, he returned to Regent's Park for two more Shakespeare comedies, this time in leading roles: A Midsummer Night's Dream as Lysander and Romeo and Juliet as Romeo.

Much Ado About Nothing

In 1988, three short years after his debut, Fiennes performed Shakespeare in the Bard's own hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, for the first time. He played Claudio in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing production, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre there. He returned to that theatre another six times between then and 2003, most recently in a show by another classic playwright: Henrik Ibsen's Brand in the title role.

Hamlet

By 1995, Fiennes was an established London stage actor, and he had just gotten an Oscar nomination for Schindler's List, earning him newfound attention as a screen actor, too. So it was only a matter of time before Fiennes made his New York stage debut. Naturally, he did so with a Shakespeare play, starring in the title role of Hamlet. He first played the role at London's Hackney Empire and transferred with the production to Broadway's Belasco Theatre, winning a 1995 Tony Award for his performance.

Coriolanus

Fiennes has a history with Coriolanus that marries his stage and screen talents and cemented him as a true multihyphenate. He first played the war-hungry title character in Shakespeare's play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2000. Later, in 2011, he produced, directed, and starred again as Coriolanus in a film adaptation of the play. The film got positive reviews, and Fiennes assembled a who's-who of film stars as his supporting cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, and more.

The Play What I Wrote

Fiennes made a one-night-only appearance in this comedy play celebrating legendary English comedy duo Morecambe and Wise. A-play-within-the-play features a mystery celebrity guest as themselves each night, and Fiennes got the coveted opening night slot. Other celebrities who appeared in the show's London and Broadway runs include Ewan McGregor, Jeff Goldblum, and Fiennes's Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe. Kenneth Branagh, who also appeared in Harry Potter as Gilderoy Lockhart, directed The Play What I Wrote.

The Harry Potter films

Speaking of the Harry Potter films, Fiennes's turn as the evil, death-obsessed Lord Voldemort in that series is one of his most well-known roles — it can be easy to forget Fiennes does, in fact, have a nose. Voldemort wasn't a theatre role, per se, but now that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is on Broadway and Lord Voldemort is a character, it's impossible not to think of Fiennes's iconic performance as He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named on screen.

Faith Healer

Following Hamlet, Fiennes's only other Broadway credit to date was in Faith Healer in 2006. He played Francis Hardy, or Frank, who wonders whether his gift to heal people via divine intervention is real or not. Fiennes first played the role in Dublin, and the Broadway transfer of Faith Healer got four total Tony nominations, including Best Revival of a Play and a performance nod for Fiennes. A New York Times review of his performance reads, "Ralph Fiennes paints a portrait of the artist as dreamer and destroyer that feels both as old as folklore and so fresh that it might be painted in wet blood."

God of Carnage

Before Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage won the Best Play Tony Award, the show had its world premiere in London's West End and won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. Fiennes was in that production, starring alongside Janet McTeer, Tamsin Greig, and Ken Stott in the dark comedy about two sets of parents who meet to discuss how one of their children harmed the other, and the night devolves into chaos. On opening night of the show, there was a power failure, so Fiennes and his co-stars had to perform in emergency lighting!

Beat the Devil

Before Straight Line Crazy, there was Beat the Devil. This play was Fiennes's first collaboration with playwright David Hare and director Nicholas Hynter; Fiennes played Hare himself in this one-man show about his harrowing experience contracting Covid-19 and dealing with the political response to it. Beat the Devil played the Bridge Theatre in London in August 2020 and was the first live, indoor show to play in the city since theatres shut down earlier that year.

Straight Line Crazy

In 2022, Fiennes, Hare, and Hynter teamed up once again with Straight Line Crazy. Like in Beat the Devil, Fiennes plays a real person, albeit a historical one: Robert Moses, the New York City planner who shaped how the city looks today. Not all his plans got approved — such as his proposed road straight through Washington Square Park — but if you've driven on an interborough bridge or attended a performance in Lincoln Center, you likely have Moses to thank. Fiennes plays Moses as he struggles to accept that even his most idealistic plans for a "perfect" city have downsides, which now give Moses a contentious legacy.

The production premiered in London earlier in 2022, and the New York premiere marks Fiennes's Off-Broadway debut. But this Straight Line Crazy is also a homecoming. What better place to see a show about the creation of New York than right here in New York?

Get Straight Line Crazy tickets now.

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