Whether you love or loathe the bespectacled wizard and his magical entourage, Harry Potter has become ubiquitous in our culture. Hogwarts badges, spin-off games and fake plastic Elder wands (sorry, Radiohead) can be found in every corner of the globe.
Not long ago, I returned to York’s central tourist attraction, The Shambles, after a decade or so and was shocked to see that the historic road now hosts not two, not three, but four Harry Potter merchandise shops.
Frankly, you would have to be a devout hermit not to have fallen under the Harry Potter spell over the past 25 years. However, one might have been excused two decades ago if one wasn’t in the storytelling business. I’m afraid Ralph Fiennes, who portrayed the evil Lord Voldemort from the fourth movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, onwards, had no excuse.
Last year, the actor and director revealed on The Jonathan Ross Show that he almost turned down the role when it was first pitched to him because he knew very little about this Harry Potter fellow. “The truth is I was actually ignorant about the films and the books,” he said. “I was approached by the production. Mike Newell was directing the film that they wanted me to be in… the first time Voldemort was going to appear physically.”
In another interview with GQ, Fiennes added that he initially “had no sense” of who Lord Voldemort was or his importance to Harry Potter’s destiny. “I wasn’t that aware when it was first proposed to me.”
“Out of ignorance, I just sort of thought, this isn’t for me… Quite stupidly, I resisted, I was hesitant,” Fiennes continued on the Jonathan Ross Show. “I think the clincher was that my sister Martha – who has three children who were then probably about 12, 10, and 8 – she said, ‘What do you mean? You’ve got to do it!’ So then I rewound my thinking.”
“Don’t you realise what they’re asking you to do is extraordinary?” Fiennes quoted his sister in his conversation with GQ.
Fiennes later told Jonathan Ross how his friend and famed Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro rebuked him for his ignorance. “I talked with Guillermo, as I always do, and he says, ‘What’s happening? Any projects going on?’ And I said, ‘I’m going for Harry Potter, can you believe it?’ And I even made fun of it. I hadn’t read the books or seen the films. And then he looks upset with me.”
“He called me ‘Flaco’—that means skinny [in English],” he explained. “He says, ‘Fucking skinny, you’re such a fucking arrogant bastard. You are going right now to the fucking bookshop and get the books, and you’re going to read them, and you call me right away.’ When he talks to you like that, well, you have to go to the bookshop. At that time, the fourth book had just come out. And I read the first two, and I was halfway through the third, [and] that was the one they had offered me. And I called him and said, ‘Well, the material’s really great.’
“He says, ‘Well, you see you fuckin’…’ I mean, it’s just untranslatable from the Spanish… As a filmmaker, it was almost like a lesson of humility, of saying how am I going to do it my own, but at the same time, respecting what has been beloved in those couple of movies?”
Watch Ralph Fiennes discuss his outstanding role in Harry Potter below. Now available on Netflix.