Ralph Fiennes came to the Hamptons International Film Festival on Friday to discuss his film "The Invisible Woman," based on a book by Claire Tomalin about Ellen Ternan, a woman believed to have had a long affair with Charles Dickens sometime after they met in 1857, when she was very young and who reinvented herself after he died in 1870 to live a normal life.
The film stars Mr. Fiennes as Dickens and Felicity Jones as the young and older "Nelly" as she is known to her family and intimates. Kristen Scott Thomas plays her mother. Mr. Fiennes said he had not read Dickens before he decided to do the film, he took that up after filming. For him, the film was about Nelly, she was it's center, and he was taken up with the screenplay and the book it was based on. "Reading the novels came after."
Because the film was centered on the female lead, it was important to find the right actress. "The film has two time frames. At first she is a school mistress, running a school with her husband. Then, you go back in time. I didn't want to go down the road of make up and complicated graying hair and funny lines at side of the eyes." He wanted an actress "who could suggest in an interior shift that age difference." He also found that he had a rapport with the actress. "She can suggest a complex interior life just by shifting or moving."
Although she is the object of Dickens affection and on the receiving end of much of the film's energy, Mr. Fiennes said it was important that Nelly still be active in the role. "Receiving is not passive, it is completly active and that is what she does."
Ms. Scott Thomas and Tom Hollander, who plays Wilkie Collins, were a different story. Both long-time friends, he said of the experience directing them, "you think it might be fun, but it's actually scary."
He didn't want to play Dickens at first, but he found the role and his character's charm and fallibility irresistable after months of working on bringing the project together.
His last two films, including Shakespeare's "Corilanus," screened at the festival in 2011, had him in the lead role and directing. On Friday, he did not reveal any forthcoming projects. "I don't know what's next, I'm having a rest," he said.
The "The Invisibible Woman" will be rescreened on Sunday at 3:30 at Guild Hall and released on Christmas Day by Sony Pictures Classics.