From ‘Schindler’s List’ to ‘Harry Potter’ to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ These British Brothers Play the Most Brutal Villains

Ralph and Joseph Fiennes’ have been integral actors in Hollywood for over thirty years. While Ralph broke out in hit films like Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, he plays the villainous Nazi overseeing the brutal Krakow concentration camp. Joseph had his with Shakespeare in Love, and now with The Handmaid’s Tale. While neither deals exclusively in villainy, few siblings play villains as Ralph and Joseph do. 

Ralph Fiennes, Francesca Annis, and Joseph Fiennes smiling in front of a dark background
(L-R) Ralph Fiennes, Francesca Annis, and Joseph Fiennes | Dave Benett/Getty Images

The Fiennes family business

According to IMDb, Ralph, the oldest of the six Fiennes kids, broke out in 1992’s Wuthering Heights, but his spine-tingling role as a Nazi officer in Schindler’s List made him one of Hollywood’s biggest villains. While the actor has several more iconic roles, his ability to convey villainy in docudramas like Schindler’s List and fantasy tales like Harry Potter shows why he’s so lauded as an actor. 

Not long after Ralph’s debut, however, his younger brother got into the mix. While his first defining role as William Shakespeare was far from villainous, Joseph’s turn as a Hollywood villain in recent television series like American Horror Story and The Handmaid’s Tale, where he plays the devastatingly cruel Commander Fred Waterford, we get to see how two brothers take on the most despicable characters.

However, hearing them speak about it shows audiences the artistry behind their most heinous roles to date.

Ralph’s brush with evil

Ralph has made a living out of playing villainous characters for as long as he has appeared on camera. From his iconic role in Schindler’s List to Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies, a killer in Red Dragon, and a flawed Shakespearean hero in Coriolanus, villainy defines his roles as much as his iconic acting ability does. Just because he plays these villains, it doesn’t mean that Ralph wants to be defined by them. 

While some actors love to play villains, others find it to be a huge commitment. After all, while some can blend into a character without the need to get into their minds, others find themselves relating far too well to the villainous cretins they play on screen. This caused Ralph, in particular, to question whether he wanted to keep playing villains. He spoke about it with CinemaBlend:

“You have to go to weird places in your head and — well you can never say never — but after an SS commandant, a serial killer in Red Dragon and Voldemort [in Harry Potter], I decided I didn’t want to be that definition of evil any more. If you play those parts, I feel you have to put your head in the place of that person. And it f**** with your head.”

It’s a fascinating look at the toll that villains take on actors. However, it’s a much different sentiment than Joseph has when playing his own iconic villain. 

Joseph Fiennes helps society

Joseph sees his role in Handmaid’s Tale as a way to show a true-to-life form of evil that helps put the real world into context despite the fictional setting. While he admits that occasionally the show goes too far for his liking, as he told Vanity Fair, he also sees some value in seeing humanity at its worse in a fictional setting so that the real-world versions of it stop going unnoticed. 

He spoke about this burden and why he goes so far to capture Fred’s evil to The Guardian:

“You feel as if you’re in something very important and very pertinent to people. So it’s great. At least I’ve done my bit for society. I’ve illustrated the patheticness of misogyny. Fred is very thinly illustrated in the book, so I didn’t know how it would open up. It’s luck, I think. I just got lucky, lucky, lucky.” 

The villainy of their characters does not define the Fiennes brothers, but with this many iconic roles, it’s hard not to connect them to that world forever. However, their similar yet different paths best teach us how different actors approach their most dastardly roles. Whether they add more to the slate in the future, it’s clear that both know how to make their villains something memorable and elevate them to another level.

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