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Directors on Their Teams: Ralph Fiennes on ‘Invisible Woman’

For his second directing work after “Coriolanus,” Ralph Fiennes chose “Invisible Woman,” the story of Nellie Ternan and her long and secret love affair with Charles Dickens, who was married with 10 children. Ternan later reinvented herself as a respectable housewife. Fiennes says, “I love shooting. Maybe that’s the actor in me. Saying ‘action’ is like the curtain going up. I love the magic of what might happen and the thrill of when you get a moment of breakthrough.” He is equally enthused about his collaborators. “It’s fantastically thrilling with what they bring. It’s an amazing ride when people who have such skill and experience want to help you realize something.”

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

He did something for British television called “Red Riding”: three different stories about police corruption. He’d shot the first one and I thought it was brilliantly done. Then he did this weird ghost story for the BBC, “Shadow Dancer,” and I loved the way he frames things. Then meeting him and talking, I had the feeling he was the right one. Mainly it was a shared excitement about a certain kind of composition and approach. And we both wanted to shoot on film. When we did location scouting, he would take still photos and say ‘What about this?’ and I liked his unusual but strong ways of photographing something. Thanks to him and his gaffer Julian (White), the film looks incredible.

Production design: Maria Djurkovic

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Maria’s a wonderful woman. When we first spoke, she was thrilled: ‘I love this period! This is my period, please!’ She and her set decorator Tatiana Macdonald loved the Victorian period; it was kind of their zone: the wallpaper, the furnishings, the chairs and cushions and all the other details. I said ‘I want it to be accurate. Let’s not do anything to sex it up — just human detail that was accurate for the time.’ And they liked that.”

Costumes: Michael O’Connor

Michael had a costume room, absolutely filled with an an array of garments and possibilities and photo references. I like getting lost in trying to find the truth of this period, like what the garments were like. A lot of our impression of the Victorian period is through black and white pictures, but then you look at paintings and you realize how much color and vibrancy there was in the period. One of (our inspirations) was the painting ‘The Derby Day’ by William Powell Frith, and a lot of the feel of the racing scene from that painting.

Editor: Nicolas Gaster

He had edited ‘Coriolanus,’ and he taught me so much in an unteachery way, just by putting stuff together and showing me how you can shape a performance or how you can create a different emphasis on the scene. And he taught things that you thought you knew but realized you don’t; you like a scene but then revisit it two weeks later and you experience it differently — the weird mood changes that happen as you work with a film. It’s about things you just have to feel. He’d say to me ‘You have to feel it like music.’ We’d often have debates over which take to use. His instincts for performances is invaluable. He’s very sharp about when a performance is working.

Script: Abi Morgan

The script changed a lot, a lot. I thought it was a bit overlong, but I didn’t know how much it would change. There was one fictitious character central to the earlier draft, a man investigating her past. I liked the character but as we got closer, he seemed redundant. I think Abi was happy to have a director work with her. What’s wonderful about Abi is she wasn’t overly protective. She would embrace it. I hope she would agree we had a great collaboration.

Producers: Stewart Mackinnon, Christian Baute, Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Gabrielle Tana

Stewart Mackinnon of Headline Pictures optioned the book by Claire Tomalin and the BBC and BFI put money into the film. Christine Langham of BBC then gave a draft to Gaby to give to me. Gaby found the right sales agent and the crucial equity investment. She did the heavy lifting. And she was there on the set every day.

Directors on Their Teams runs Monday through Friday. Tomorrow: Joel & Ethan Coen.

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