Ralph Fiennes is in Berlin Thursday to present first footage to buyers from his latest directorial venture, “The White Crow,” which HanWay is selling at the European Film Market. Fiennes spoke to Variety about the project, which centers on the defection to the West of Russian ballet star Rudolf Nureyev in 1961.
Fiennes first considered the story as a subject for a movie almost 20 years ago when he read Julie Kavanagh’s biography of the dancer, but the project was driven into production thanks to the work of producer Gabrielle Tana, who also produced Fiennes’ first two films as a director.
What drew Fiennes to Nureyev’s story was “the force of a young performer, with a hunger to realize who he is as an artist and a person … the force of his spirit, his determination, that was the thing that really moved me.”
He added: “Nureyev doesn’t really want to come to terms with anything. He is constantly pushing himself, constantly hungry. There’s a line in the film: You have to aim higher, always higher.”
David Hare, the film’s screenwriter, is “very good at writing high-definition, provocative characters,” Fiennes said. “He is very good at writing what you might call impossible people, their temperament and attitude, but you need to sympathize with them as well, and see who they are inside. Also his sense of period and the political context is very acute.”
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He added: “I believe David is one of the best writers we have for writing multi-faceted characters, with interior contradictions. In Rudolf Nureyev’s case, [he accurately portrayed] a temperament, an attitude, an ambition, a charm, a vulnerability, an intelligence and an alertness, going hand-in-hand with someone who can be abrasive and quite angry.”
The dance sequences were challenging, Fiennes said, but he was guided by Igor Zelensky, the former principal dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet and now artistic director at the Novosibirsk Theater of Opera and Ballet, and Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
Casting a young dancer, Oleg Ivenko, with no experience as an actor in front of the camera, in the lead role was also a challenge, Fiennes said, but Ivenko has got “a wonderful talent, a wonderful charisma,” he said. He was joined in the cast by Adele Exarchopoulos, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergei Polunin and Fiennes himself.
Another challenge was that Fiennes “wanted it always to be as authentic as possible,” which led him to seek out such locations as St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum and Mariinsky Theater, and Paris’ Crazy Horse. Interiors for other settings, such as the rehearsal rooms at Paris’ Palais Garnier and Le Bourget Airport, were re-created at studios in Serbia.