Before we begin, let us remind everyone that the Joseph Fiennes Fansite does not speak for Joseph Fiennes in any way. All opinions expressed in these editorials or on our social media accounts are those of the editor alone. Our opinions as a fan. A fan of Joe, a fan of drama, of photography, of art. And a burgeoning fan of humanity.
the importance of creative expression
Editorial #3 from the Joseph Fiennes Fansite
As the de facto presence for Joseph Fiennes on Twitter (a platform which for all its wonderful uses in this world does provide too many people with an easy and inappropriate outlet for daily outrage), we’ve had quite a week. We understand that Joseph Fiennes portraying Michael Jackson for Sky Arts’ Urban Myths series is controversial. We understand why. And not only do we understand, but we support everyone’s right to express their reaction to this portrayal. What we do not support is the belligerence, the bullying, the threats (and there have been several). That’s not expressing an opinion. Opinions are expressed with respect, with an acknowledgement that we all have the right to our own, but perhaps we disagree. And, yes, educated opinions are more valuable than those given without considering the facts of a situation. So let’s consider some facts and history…
Sometime in, we believe, 2015, Joseph Fiennes was approached by Sky Arts and offered the role of Michael Jackson in their short, one-episode Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon, a satirical piece created as part of the Urban Myths series which looks at the sillier side of many famous individuals including characters from Timothy Leary to Adolf Hitler. The director, Ben Palmer, has indicated that they approached Joe based on his skill as a nuanced character actor, not his appearance. Joe accepted and filmed the role, and it was after the project had wrapped that the controversy began…. People expressed displeasure over Joe, a white man, portraying Michael Jackson, a black man. (Though, to again consult facts, this occurrence is not all that infrequent—shall we consider the cast of the very popular musical Hamilton for instance?)
“I deal in imagination, so I don’t think imagination should have rules stamped on [it].” —Joe Fiennes
We truly are not writing this to extend an argument. To persuade those who disagree with us to change their minds. To offend anyone’s sensibilities. But after holding our tongue for days and days (really almost a year to be technical about it), we are moved to express our opinion about the nature and purpose of art. Sometimes it’s hard to remember these days, but TV shows, movies, dramatic performance, and storytelling, are art. They are creative expression nurtured by human imagination and shared with others. Not all of them are good. Not all of them are inspired and touching and beautiful. And that’s okay. Because the importance of art in our world is not in the quality of the finished product. The importance lies in the creating, the doing, the process of human expression. Can we all agree on humans’ rights to express themselves? We hope so.
So if art is about creative expression, and expression is a basic right for the human race, it follows that artistic creativity is something to be protected and cherished. It is inherently connected to the concept of freedom of speech, something that, in our own country (the US), is fiercely protected. So…in this important moment, we are going to fiercely protect the rights of artists. We believe artists have the right to express themselves without external limitations. We believe artists have the right to create in ways that question and challenge and provoke thought, discussion, and debate. We believe they have the right to shock, horrify, and offend us just as much as they have the right to welcome, bind, and soothe us. Throughout time, art has always been this way, had these effects. Golden ages of art and science fuel the progress of our human society. We would be nowhere, nowhere, as a society without them.
These opinions we have just shared with you, in an educated and peaceful way, are why we are so saddened by the news that Sky Arts will not be airing Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon in response to complaints by Michael Jackson’s fans and family. We understand that the portrayal may be offensive to some. But that’s okay. If art offends you, you express it, and you do not view it or spend money on that art. It’s that simple. But you cross a line if you declare that the art has no right to exist. And please believe that the number of comments and messages we have received this past week stating that this TV show had no right to be made is high. Very high. We have personally been offended by many pieces and kinds of art throughout the years. And that’s okay. We would never presume to question someone’s right to that creative expression. Sky Arts, who (with Joe’s full support) backed off the project presumably as an act of kindness, a demonstration of good intentions and the wish to leave ill feelings behind, in choosing not to air the controversial Urban Myths episode, essentially let the opinion of some people dictate the sharing of art. And that…that in our mind is a dangerous precedent to set. We do not believe that a person of one race portraying someone of another will set our society back. We believe that the oppression of creativity and personal expression will.
We hope someday, just maybe, this long-lost episode of Sky Arts’ Urban Myths will fulfill its creative destiny and be shared with the world. Joseph Fiennes, other wonderful actors like Stockard Channing, Brian Cox, Carrie Fisher, not to mention so many other hard working cast and crew expressed themselves creatively and made a piece of art. We don’t know if it’s good, we don’t know if it would make us laugh or smile or think. Maybe it would be terrible, maybe it wouldn’t. And that’s okay. But as it stands now, we’ll never know, because this expression of the dramatic arts has been silenced. And that is not okay.
Reflections on artistic connection
Editorial #2 from the Joseph Fiennes Fansite
In our own way, we’ve always had a love of art. A romantic appreciation for the profound emotion it brings to our overly analytical world. And when we say we have a love of art, we don’t mean, “Oh, that is pretty,” or “Yes, we enjoyed it.” We mean that we crave immersion in the experience of artistic appreciation until we can feel and connect with the soul that created it. Because that’s what gives art its timeless power—the connection, the understanding, the open vulnerability of expression.
We’ve been to the theater and seen musicals, comedies, dramas. We’ve watched photographers stage, shoot, and edit their creations into beautiful images. We’ve observed artisans sketching, molding, shaping, and enjoyed the finished art in displays ranging from the barely there to national museum exhibitions. And the music we’ve experienced live—ah, the beautiful preludes and the fiery finales, the intricate jazz and the thundering rock and roll, the simple twang of folksy bluegrass and the pounding pulse of percussive beats. The music most of all has taught us the happiness that connecting to a piece of art can bring, body, mind, and soul.
When it comes to feeling this deep connection, nothing compares to experiencing the art in person, firsthand. Raw and authentic. Elemental and exquisite. Accordingly, the performing arts are typically easier to connect with than stationary creations. And let’s be very clear that the difference between experiencing a performance secondhand and live in person, between listening to studio-recorded music and attending a concert, between watching a movie on TV and seeing a production in the theater, is akin to the difference between throwing a bullet and shooting it. Secondhand, the effect, while still felt, is a mere fraction of its possibility. When you witness live performances, the creative energy of the artists flows right in front of you, all around you, engaging all your senses in a full assault of beauty and humanity. The generosity of live performers is really quite astounding, because they stand in front of us and lay their souls at our feet. What a glorious gift they give.
We spent some time in Editorial #1discussing Joseph Fiennes’ virtue as an artist, his generous sharing of his creativity, so it’s no surprise at all that he has a full appreciation of the power and experience of live art, from both artist and audience perspectives. It’s honestly quite endearing how much he enjoys art in the world around him. If you’ve seen PBS’ Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo and Juliet (2015), you saw a lovely display of his emotion for and understanding of music, visual art, literature, and drama. Certainly, some of that was scripted, but not all, and the joy and exuberance were completely his own. But Joe most eloquently illustrated that he shares our view on the depth of connection through close physical presence and proximity when he discussed live artistic experiences with Shakespeare In Love and Elizabeth costar Geoffrey Rush in a conversation for Interview magazine way back in August of 1999. (All while showing a mature, highly-intellectual appreciation for art at not even 30 years of age.)
“The camera deadens interaction to a degree, whereas onstage it’s all about chucking the ball and catching it.”
GR: What inspires you most about the actors you admire?
JF: I think it’s when someone infects you with their 100-percent commitment to what they’re doing. When you can see from the twinkle in their eye that if you throw them the ball, they’ll catch it. It is a kind of trust. So I guess I look for passion and trust and spontaneity.
GR: I know what you mean by the twinkle in the eye. Do you think you’re more likely to find it in theater than in film?
JF: Yeah, I do, because in film there’s this lens zooming in and out of your face, and so much of that twinkle in the eye is given to the lens and not to the other actors. The camera deadens interaction to a degree, whereas onstage it’s all about chucking the ball and catching it.
GR: When I was a student I realized that you can get something very special just from being close to the actors. I used to love going to plays and sitting right up front and just being able to see the moisture in the actors’ eyes. It’s like watching a fire or something. You just sit there, mesmerized.
JF: It’s literally seeing their breath, feeling their heat. It’s like this incredible experience I had over the weekend. I went to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; there was an extraordinary collection of Van Goghs and Gauguins, and you can go right up to them. I was literally centimeters away from this Van Gogh, and there were about a thousand different colors on the canvas. When you stand that close, you see why he went mad—the madness is just screaming out. So I came away really invigorated just from having been so close to this oil painting. It’s like the same visceral, emotional feeling you have when you see the actors’ breath. ¹
Yes. Oh yes, Geoffrey and Joe! They touched upon some marvelous points in these few statements. Geoffrey Rush is completely right about two things. First, the front row of a performance is truly the only place to be. The back is probably better than nothing, but the front row sees a whole different show from the rest of the venue. From the front, it’s so personal, so intimate; you feel as though the performers are there only for you, and it’s breathtaking. Second, the mesmerizing eyes. The omniscient, omnipotent eyes. We call that moisture, that twinkle, inspiration, and when you connect with an artist’s eyes while lit with that inspired energy, well, there are few experiences in life that can compare. The entire soul is visible through the eyes when you look at them just right, at just the right moment. To borrow phrasing from Joseph Fiennes, “it [is] a connection beyond conversation.”² And to be completely honest, that moment of higher connection and understanding between two souls… it’s what we live for.
Of course, Joseph Fiennes has it completely right, too. Genuine artistry truly is about passion and trust, and not just from the artist’s perspective. So interesting that he brought up trust in this context. Not only can we understand how important that trust between performers must be, but we believe that for an artistic experience to reach those higher levels of connection, there is a vital, underlying trust between artist and audience as well. Personally, when we attend a performance, we trust the artist to give us that 100% commitment to their art (and frankly, if that commitment is lacking, the performer fails to meet our definition of an artist), and to give us the full power of their creativity thereby engaging us in ways we cannot achieve without them. And the artist, in a stunning display of trust, offers us extremely personal glimpses of their heart and mind and soul. Their very essence. And yes, Joe, we feel that essence in their heat and in their breath, in their sheer intensity. It’s emotional, psychological, fully sensual, pervasive, and wonderfully invigorating. And, to us, this complex and layered connection based on trust and understanding is vital proof of an inherent goodness in our humanity.
To that end, you may know that Joseph Fiennes is headed back to the theater this June for the first time in seven years. That’s the longest break from live performance in his career, and we suspect that break will make his creative energy, the twinkle in his eyes, the power of his heat and breath even more dynamic than they were before. So, yes, we are hopping across that big old pond, journeying more than four thousand miles, to sit in the very front row at the Chichester Festival Theatre and experience for the first time the power of Joseph Fiennes’ artistry live. There is nothing on this Earth that would keep us away. We are breathless with anticipation, tingling with excitement, and our imagination is aglow, lit with the happiness his creative gift will bring. It will surely be beyond conversation.
¹ Rush, Geoffrey. “Wherefore Art Thou, Joe?” Interview Aug 1999: 78-83, 118. Print.
² Esteves, Junno Arocho. “‘Risen’: The Resurrection from a skeptic’s point of view.” Catholic News Service Feb 4 2016. Online.
“It’s vital…We can never do enough, to go into those hard-to-reach areas, and [make] the arts important to…children.”
March 9, 2016
Children and the Arts Charity Gala
Joe joined Hugh Bonneville, Dame Harriet Walter, and many others performing sonnets and excerpts from Shakespeare’s romances at a gala concert supporting Children and the Arts, a fantastic charity established by the Prince of Wales in 2006. The concert, entitled When Love Speaks and paying tribute to both the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death and the 10th anniversary of the Children and the Arts, took place on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at St. James’s Palace, hosted by the Prince of Wales and performed for 100 of the charity’s biggest supporters. Joe has been involved with Children and the Arts since its inception and is a long time ambassador for the Prince’s Trust. Click on the links below for more info and photos from the concert.
A few thoughts on editorials…
On the occasion of our first editorial, we thought we’d take a moment to remind everyone that editorials are opinions. We’d also like to remind everyone that we do not represent, speak for, answer to, spend time with, pass messages to, get coffee for, or otherwise affiliate ourselves with Joseph Fiennes. We will always strive to maintain this site in a way that would make him proud, but we do that out of respect, not any kind of direct connection.
In summary, editorials posted on the Joseph Fiennes Fansite represent the opinions of the editor, and do not speak for Joseph Fiennes in any way. He speaks for himself most eloquently without any help from us.
That said, we hope you enjoy reading our opinions. We think you will…
an essay on art, discovery, & viewpoint
Editorial #1 from the Joseph Fiennes Fansite
We recently came across a great article about Joseph Fiennes from Lyn Gardner at The Guardian that was written in 1996. Yep, 1996. Back in the days before Shakespeare in Love. Back in the days when Joe was still part of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The days when people were just starting to know his name, just discovering that Ralph Fiennes had a little brother who might have something to contribute. Just starting to buzz about what might be…
For us, this article was a fascinating juxtaposition to the current day. It’s 20 years later, and now the buzz is mostly about Joe defending his choice to accept the role of Michael Jackson for a satirical short on British TV. About the kinds of roles he chooses, the kinds of movies he chooses. About how he will always live in his big brother’s shadow. This predominantly closed-minded view in 2016 certainly could launch a whole different discussion about the state of the media and its bloated and poisonous presence in our lives, but let’s leave that for another day. But the contrast between the 1996 article and some articles being written today started us thinking about the difference between a mindset of discovery and a mindset of judgment.
Joe’s been around for a while now. The world knows him. The world loves or hates him. Sometimes the world thinks about him, sometimes it doesn’t. The world judges or forgets him. Not only is that the nature of the business, it’s human nature. In the end, familiarity, and the succession of thoughts and judgments that normally accompany it, negates discovery. When you know something, you’ve already discovered it, so to speak. The problem is, when you look at art without a sense of discovery, you’re not really seeing the art at all.
So, if you’re busy looking at Joseph Fiennes with a closed mind, maybe the way you’re used to viewing Hollywood – knowing what you like and liking what you know – you are simply missing out. We assure you. You are missing out on one of the great performers of our time just because he doesn’t fit inside your viewing box. He won’t fit in any of your boxes, ever, so please do us all a favor and stop trying. We think it would be much quicker and easier for you, and certainly less effort, to open your eyes, open your mind, and take a moment to rediscover Joseph Fiennes.
We’ve discussed that he’s an artist and a misfit. But what else is Joe Fiennes? He is “devastatingly effective” with a beautiful “streak of vulnerability.” He’s emotive with fierce depths, immersing himself in his characters “like a marriage between [himself] and their persona.” He values the process over the product and seeks new standards by which to self-evaluate. He treasures acting as a fine art, the dramatic arts, saying, “Art and acting hold hands together. They are both about looking and learning.” He comes from an artistic family, an artistic background that he claims “was strange and wild and unconventional.” And as for that big brother people are always reminding him about…Joe is “even better than Ralph…say many in the know.” Some even say “the real star of the family.” “Joseph is all hesitant, emotional warmth.” He is intense and captivating. He is powerful, touching, and deeply affecting. “There is an element of danger to his performances. You know it’s art, but it seems real. You’d swear there was no safety net.”
“It’s time to rediscover art in Hollywood and the edgy, dangerous, intense artists who share their brilliance with us.”
Those things we just shared about him? Oh, they’re all true, as true now as they always have been. Some words were ours, but all those quotes…they are taken from that great little article from 1996 we mentioned earlier, the one by Lyn Gardner of The Guardian. Why aren’t we reading more articles like this about Joseph Fiennes in 2016? Because the world isn’t looking at him through the eyes of discovery anymore. But the world could. The world should. It’s time to rediscover art in Hollywood and the edgy, dangerous, intense artists who share their brilliance with us. This same-old Hollywood circus that cages and tames and trains to fit the rings and fill the tents is getting mighty dull.
Joseph Fiennes is no tame lion in the Hollywood circus. He is a puma, a panther, a catamount. Elusive and wickedly intelligent, he chooses to roam and hunt and explore his own artistic territory. And if you just turn away from that familiar circus for a moment, and notice the beautiful, wild panther stalking the outskirts, you will witness moving displays of power and grace, soulful artistry in a pure and natural state. That’s a personal guarantee. So turn around, Hollywood viewers, turn away from the bright lights and glamorous rhetoric, open your minds, and rediscover Joseph Fiennes. He’s out there, giving us gift after gift of creativity, and you’re missing the show. But we’re not. In fact, we’re going to go rediscover him right now.
Gardner, Lyn “And you thought Ralph was good.” The Guardian 24 July 1996
Joseph Fiennes answers the question “What was the most challenging part of portraying Clavius?” from the Joseph Fiennes Fansite – February 3, 2016, Risen Q&A, Rome
As part of a special Risen screening on February 3 & 4, 2016 at the Vatican, Joseph Fiennes, co-star Maria Botto, and producers Mickey Liddell and Pete Shilaimon attended a Q&A session that included questions submitted on Twitter. The JF Fansite submitted several questions, and we were thrilled that one was selected and asked of Joe at the Q&A. You can watch his witty and thoughtful response in the included video.
No other video from the Q&A has been released, but there is a nice report available from Matt Page, who was in attendance, as featured in Peter T. Chattaway’s blog FilmChat. Check out that report here.
“In our wildest dreams, it would never cross our…radar. That we would end up here celebrating the film with this kind of background. Amazing.”
– Joseph Fiennes
Joseph Fiennes and family meet Pope Francis
Vatican City, February 3, 2016
While in Rome on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 promoting Risen, Joseph Fiennes and his family attended a public audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. You could see the emotion in Joe’s face as Pope Francis kissed his daughters’ foreheads and Joe said, “You’re incredible. Thank you. Thank you.” Also attending were Risen co-star Maria Botto and Risen producers Pete Shilaimon and Mickey Liddell.
After meeting Pope Francis, the stars and producers of Risen attended a photocall in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a press conference, screening, and special Q & A session. Check out the links to videos of the papal audience and articles written by press in attendance below.