Ralph Fiennes: ‘The Russians think Bond has become too serious’

Ralph Fiennes loves Russia, and the feeling seems to be mostly mutual. But on the subject of James Bond, there is, shall we say, some polite disagreement. When the 53-year-old actor, who plays Bond’s MI6 handler M, arrived in Moscow for the Spectre promotional tour last year, he was constantly told the new films were just too downbeat for the famously blithe and breezy Russian temperament.

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SPECTRE in Russia

I think the British audience likes Bond being brought into a more serious real world,” Fiennes says, looking intently at a glass of water on the table in front of him. “So they should nod to all those well-known Bond tropes and icons that we want, but with an undertone of gravitas.”

But in Russia – well, they seem to prefer the old Roger Moore era. Fiennes recalls slipping off to St Petersburg to meet an old friend after completing his promotional duties on Spectre, who immediately told him he “hated” the film. “It was categorical,” he marvels – then looks up, his voice gliding into a Russian accent. “I hated thees! So serious! Please! Why? Vere are the jokes?”

Later, back in Moscow, another friend just shrugged when asked for feedback, and despairingly reminded him Bond was supposed to be “a show”.

Nevertheless, he suspects the next instalment – AKA Bond 25, the title, release date and star of which remain tantalisingly unconfirmed – will take a lighter, and therefore presumably more Russian-friendly, approach.

Well I think if you’re the next director of Bond, you’re going to not want to go down the tone and argument of what Sam has put into the films,” he says, though is quick to stress he’s “heard nothing”. “Questions of British nationhood, and whether Bond is a dinosaur, all that. So I would guess if you’re coming to do the next Bond, you’d want to take it somewhere radically different, I think.”

About United Kingdom and Europe: perhaps unsurprisingly in light of this, he was, and remains, pro-Remain. “My instincts are very strong that we should be at the table, have a voice at the table,” he says. “For all Europe’s faults, and there are many I think, it was built on the back of world trauma, European trauma, and a sense of being open and aware of the other tribes we sit alongside. I’m not persuaded by arguments of nationhood and sovereignty. I think there’s a bigger picture, and actually Gustave exemplifies quite a lot of what I feel.”

The result came through while he was playing Richard III at the Almeida “and I was optimistic that the remainers would squeak in,” he says. “None of us could believe the result. The depression and anger and bewilderment was very strong, very strong. And it’s still hard to get one’s head around. No-one knows quite what Brexit will be, and it will take a long time, and there will be endless articles written about what it is.”

Is it bad news for films like A Bigger Splash, in which British stars like Fiennes and Tilda Swinton collaborate with European directors with a delicious cross-cultural sizzle? “Well, it might be harder to put together the money,” he says. “But I have faith that these things won’t stop. In a funny way, Brexit voters pushed a question that the rest of us have to answer. We’ve got to have a debate, we’ve got to talk about what it means that we’re in this position. The plays that are written and the films that are made, they’ve all got something to sharpen the blade on.”

Providing Eon Productions can come up with some jokes to go with it, Bond 25 may have its radically different direction.

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