Actor and director Ralph Fiennes held a press conference on during the Cairo Film Festival, where he discussed his latest film The White Crow which he both directed and acted in.
The Cairo International Film Festival honoured Fiennes with the Faten Hamama Outstanding Achievement award, before the film’s screening.
The film captured the raw physicality and brilliance of Rudolf Nureyev, the famous Russian ballet dancer, who escaped to the West at the height of the Cold War. The film narrates the story of how Rose ballet’s most famous star, a wild and beautiful dancer is limited by the 1950s world of Leningrad.
Fiennes said that he was interested to film the moments that led to the defection. The British filmmaker didn’t know a lot about ballet at first, but he was introduced to the energy of the artists and dancers, something that inspired him to film the story of Nureyev.
At first Fiennes was only fascinated by Nureyev‘s thirst and eagerness to learn and see art. “I had no conscious desire to do the film and play the role,” Fiennes told the press. Later he was inspired by the defection and at that moment he chose to take a decision.
The producer of the film, Gabrielle Tana, talked about how she came to produce such a film. She mentioned that she previously worked with the BBC, so she was experienced with how to deal the company. After she secured the rights of Julie Kavanagh’s book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life, they came onboard.
Fiennes also said that he did not only want to recount the story of what followed Nureyev’s defection. “What interested me was the youth and the childhood in the early years as well as his unapologetic lifestyle,” he said.
He explained that the film contains three sequences which intersect until they meet at the final moment where Nureyev makes a choice at the airport in Paris. The first is the sequence of his childhood. The second is the early years of Nureyev as a ballet student. The third is his last weeks in Paris with his ballet company, before he defected.
Fiennes said that the final airport scene was well researched where they not only depended on the book, but also on real-life witnesses who lived the events as they happened.
In the film, most of the dialogue is in Russian. However, Nureyev (acted by Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko) spoke English with his friends in Paris, with other characters speaking in French.
Fiennes said that he wanted to be authentic in terms of language. “Mercifully, we knew that the character spoke English, yet over fifty percent was in Russian.”
Regarding the casting, Fiennes said that “We had to look for a dancer who can act. We auditioned many dancers, and at the same time distributors wanted stars.”
Similarly, producer Gabrielle Tana said that the production was also challenging as they wanted to landscapes from Paris and Russia, and they also wanted to shoot in several monuments in Paris and Russia.
Fiennes earned the Academy Award nomination for his performance in Schindler’s List in 1993, and The English Patient in 1996. Other films which have garnered Fiennes fame include The Reader in 2008. The White Crow is his third film as a director.