Running with Scissors' JOSEPH FIENNES has been a star since Shakespeare in Love. But in Prague, with its castle and labyrinth of shops and cafés, he can be something even better: a Franz Kafka character.Photograph by Stephen Danelian
This month, Joseph Fiennes joins an ensemble cast in the film version of Augusten Burroughs's dark, funny, and emotional memoir, Running with Scissors, in which a young man (Joseph Cross) from a very strange family is sent to live with his mother's psychiatrist and that doctor's eccentric and extended clan. It's somewhat familiar territory for the 36-year-old Fiennes. After all, he's been part of an ensemble cast, not to mention an eccentric and extended clan, since he was born. Because he grew up with a novelist/painter mother, a photographer father, and five siblings and lived a nomadic existence in England and Ireland, it wasn't a stretch when In Style UK magazine referred to the brood as "the von Trapps of the art world." Joseph's older brother is, of course, Ralph Fiennes, star of Schindler's List and The Constant Gardener. Most of his other siblings are involved in the arts as well: His sister Martha is a filmmaker; his other sister, Sophie, is a film and documentary maker; and his brother Magnus is a music producer and a writer. (Only Jacob, his fraternal twin, has strayed from the family business - he's a gamekeeper and a conservationist.) But Joseph has stood out among the talented Fiennes pack ever since - after several years in the London theater community - he broke out as young Will Shakespeare in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love. Fiennes also stands out among the talented Running with Scissors cast, which includes Annette Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, and Evan Rachel Wood. But it was another film - the historical epic The Red Baron, in which he plays Roy Brown, the Canadian pilot credited with shooting down the Teutonic top gun during the final months of World War I - that brought him back to the city he loves, Prague. "It's one of the most beautiful cities in Europe to work in," he says. Here's why.
What was your first experience in Prague?
I was shooting a film called Enemy at the Gates with a French director, Jean-Jacques Annaud. We were filming in Berlin, and I had a long weekend break. I had heard a lot about Prague, and I decided to take time out over the weekend and spend it there. I drove down, and because I'm a big fan of [director] Miloš Forman - who filmed the movie Amadeus in Prague - I stayed in the Hoffmeister Hotel, which he loves, or so I've read. You drive down behind Prague Castle into the city. Suddenly, I drove over this hill, and the city is almost in a basin or valley. It was winter and snowy, and it was slightly covered in a dusting of snow, and some of the buildings were very dark. That was an amazing romantic contrast. It was like coming across this sort of fairy-tale city.
Besides the Hoffmeister Hotel, where else do you stay in this fairy-tale city?
I've stayed at Hotel Paris. It's very art deco, very simple. I wouldn't say it's cheap, but it's not as expensive as the hotels just up the road. In the dining room and in the bar, it has the most beautiful bit of art-deco style, murals on the walls and paintings. And it's pretty much in the center of the city, about a five-minute walk from the main square. I'm filming right now in a hotel that is called Hotel Praha, and it almost feels like a set out of Dr. Strangelove. It's a huge, Communistic building. It's kind of a fortress with 1950s, '60s design. It's rather beautiful in kind of a brutal way. I think architecturally it is wonderful, but it's not everyone's taste. If you are into that kind of architecture and you want to try hotels, it's impressive. If you are into architecture in general, Prague is great for that. If I get my history right, it survived the Nazi invasion and then the Stalin/Communist invasion. What is amazing is that, during that time, the architecture remained completely intact. So, it goes back hundreds of years, right up to the 1920s with the art deco.
Where do you feel that sense of timelessness and survival the most?
You have to talk about the Charles Bridge, which is a stunning bridge with about 20 to 30 statues that go along either side of it. From that point, you can see the castle that looks down on the city. I also remember that on one side of the bridge there is a wonderful wall that is dedicated to John Lennon. It's a wall of graffiti with a picture of John Lennon, and around it everyone has written graffiti in '60s hippie fashion. It still survives, and people still add to it today.