His presence is a mark of quality in a film. Both the Bond and Harry Potter franchises, where he plays M and Voldemort respectively, brought him in for gravitas. Since Rada, he has run the gamut of Shakespeare, from Romeo in 1986 to his award-winning Antony & Cleopatra last year at the National, opposite Sophie Okonedo.
‘She was spectacular. I miss Antony. I found him very moving in his brokenness; his masculinity falling away and him trying to cling on to it. He’s male and middle-aged, and he keeps saying, “I’ve still got it, haven’t I? Haven’t I?”’
Does he recognise that? ‘I am 56 and I try to stay fitter’ – he does cardio and morning yoga – ‘but I can feel myself getting… old. Little shifts of energy and ambition, little impulses. You get tired more, you want to take it easy more.’ Then summoning mercurial energy in that actorly way, he explodes, ‘But I can feel myself fighting that, like, “I’m not gonna let go! Come on, come on. Yeah!” There are plenty of virile 56-year-old men.’
When I ask if he’s got a motorbike yet, like Ralph Richardson, he isn’t impressed. ‘No, my brother Joseph rides a motorbike. He can do fast cars and handle boats.’ Joseph, now 48, will for ever be the young Bard wooing Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, just as Ralph single-handedly made Herodotus hot, that spring of 1997 when we all went to see The English Patient and wept.
Antony gives everything up for sex. ‘Yes, he does, that’s a very real erotic connection, and it’s very emasculating for him.’ Does sex make the world go round? ‘Erm, sex produces more human beings, mostly.’ Nice deflection.
Fiennes married Alex Kingston, his great love from Rada, in 1993. Their marriage ended when he left her in 1995 for the actor who was playing Gertrude to his Hamlet, Francesca Annis, 17 years older than him. Although the relationship broke down in early 2006 amid reports of his alleged infidelity, they still talk, have a deep, mutual professional respect and go to each other’s first nights.