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After making his directorial debut with it, he took on The Invisible Woman, which impressed most critics (“Classic filmmaking done with passion, sensitivity, and intelligence,” wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times), before slipping through awards season without making much noise. The story fleshes out Dickens’ real-life, long-term affair with a much younger woman, Nelly Ternan.
“People say Dickens was a monster at home, and maybe he was,” Fiennes says. “I was as moved by Nelly…what she did with Dickens…to me, she’s haunted by what she agreed to do. I was trying to get under the skin. How did intelligent, strong-minded women, in a society where the rules were made by men, maintain a sense of themselves in marriages? How did they handle a defeat or a compromise of themselves?”
Now that the impossible Coriolanus, the remote Dickens, and the hissing Lord Voldemort are behind him as he romps across movie screens as the friendly Gustave H., let’s end our brief investigation with my e-mail interview with Wes Anderson:
M: How long after coming up with the idea for The Grand Budapest Hotel did you think of Ralph Fiennes for the part of Gustave H.?
Anderson: Well, in fact, we wrote this part with Ralph in mind. I can’t think of anyone else on the planet who could have played it—although maybe Olivier might have been almost as good.
M: What is it about Ralph that makes him right for the part?
Anderson: This character has to command a large staff, seduce old women, recite poetry, and escape from prison, all while dressed in a tailcoat. We needed Ralph.
M: How is Gustave’s style related to his character?
Anderson: He is a hotel concierge, and his life is his work. He runs the place like a theater company. He wants to create a special experience for the guests. He is a bit of an impresario.
M: I’ve read Journey Into the Past, but nothing else by Zweig. Is there a particular work of his that centered on a chef d’hotel (such as Gustave), or does this story come from your imagination?
Anderson: No, the story comes from the imaginations of myself and my friend Hugo [Guinness], but the greatest inspiration from Zweig is his novel Beware of Pity.
M:Ralph has appeared in a number of movies that take place in the past. What is it about him that makes him believable in films set long ago?
Anderson: It’s a side effect of the fact that he is believable in anything and everything.