Ralph Fiennes remarks on 'Reader' role

THE LAST time I saw Ralph Fiennes, he had what appeared to be a thick, long-ish thatch of hair, and was wearing flip-flops, exposing elegant, well-manicured toes. We talked of “The Constant Gardener.” When I met him two weeks ago to talk about “The Reader,” I couldn’t see his toes or his hair. Ralph has buzzed it off to a neat super crew-cut. He looks wonderful. Was this a new style for a new film? Nope. Ralph says he is letting nature take its course. He’s thinning out, and he’d rather not resort to tortured comb-overs or poofy, monuments to mousse that don’t fool anybody.

He admits that it was one pivotal moment in the splendid David Hare screenplay that drew him in, brought him to tears, solidified his desire to take the role of a man emotionally stunted by the events of his youth. We spoke about Stephen Daldry, “I love working with him, he is so sensitive and so thorough.”

Ralph was hurrying back to London’s West End and “Oedipus.” Greek tragedy is not easy. “There are no props, no bits of business.” You have to just stand there and say things like ‘I’m afraid. The gods are against me!’ It’s emotional nakedness with no actor-ish trimmings.” Ralph confesses, with a big unconcerned smile, that he is “looking for work” even though “Oedipus” could come to Broadway. If not, “There’s travel. Latin America. Japan. Northern Russia. Siberia! I’d love to take the Trans-Siberian Express, and kind of veer right off into Alaska.”

“SEAN, YOU channeled Harvey Milk perfectly!” That’s what Jane Fonda said to Sean Penn the other night, giving him a big hug after the special NYC screening of “Milk.” (Jane campaigned for Harvey 30 years ago, against Proposition 6, which would have banned gays — and perhaps even those who supported gay rights — from working in California public schools.) The screening was hosted by John Sykes at the IFC Center, followed by dinner at John Dory, a terrific seafood place co-owned by Sean himself. Among those congratulating Penn were Robert DeNiro, who brought his kids, Raphael and Drena, Jon Bon Jovi, Ethan Hawke, Anthony Edwards, Roger Waters, co-star Alison Pill, director Gus Van Sant and producers Bruce Cohen and Michael London.

CONGRATULATIONS to Barbra Streisand and President George W. Bush, for acting like the charming adults both of them can be, and exchanging a friendly kiss the other night at the Kennedy Center, where La Streisand picked up an award for her incredible career. I read on Yahoo! (which leans distinctly to the right) that this kiss was “awkward.” It didn’t seem so to me.

Barbra has almost ruined some of her concerts with unnecessary partisan blather. When you have a glorious gift — a voice that millions of people of every political stripe love — just sing when you’re onstage. Especially when the audience has shelled out a fortune to see you! I was so was relieved that the great star controlled herself and allowed the Lame Duck to congratulate her in a civilized manner.

SO MANY PEOPLE come up to me at the kind of charity-fundraising events and they ask me plaintively, “What can I do to help? How can I teach the illiterate to read? Where can I volunteer?” Let me recommend just one interesting and useful tome out this season: “Awareness: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference.” This is for sale everywhere and it’s available at the Kenneth Cole stores all over. (He put it together.) It has essays by Lance Armstrong, Jon Bon Jovi, Don Cheadle, Bill Clinton, Mia Farrow, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford and many others.

I WENT for a delightful dinner with my host the perspicacious producer Doug Cramer, sitting on my right. My dinner companion on the left was a longtime friend, the gifted actor Michael York and by the time I departed from these worthies, Michael’s distinguished wife, Patricia, had given me her amazing new photo book with Andy Warhol on the cover. Titled “Fame and Frame,” it is full of artful snaps of artists, actors and legends galore.

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