Joseph Fiennes

Joseph Fiennes is a British stage and film actor, best known for starring in films like ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ ‘Elizabeth,’ and ‘Enemy at the Gates.’

Who Is Joseph Fiennes?

Born in 1970, Joseph Fiennes is a British actor who began his acting career primarily on stage and in film. Often cast in period pieces, Fiennes was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early part of his career before moving onto mainstream films such as Shakespeare in Love (1998), Elizabeth (1998) and Enemy at the Gates (2001). More recently, he's been active on the small screen, starring in Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale.


In 2009 Fiennes married Swiss model María Dolores Diéguez. The couple has two daughters.

Is Joseph Fiennes Related to Ralph Fiennes?

Yes. Joseph is the younger brother of Oscar-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes.

Movies and TV Shows

'Shakespeare in Love'

Fiennes' feature film debut was in Stealing Beauty (1996), opposite Liv Tyler. Two years later, he would play Earl Robert Dudley in Elizabeth (1998), which also starred Cate Blanchett in the title role. That same year he lent his Shakespearean background to the role of William Shakespeare himself in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, which garnered Fiennes BAFTA and SAG nominations for his performance. The film co-starred Gwyneth Paltrow as highborn Viola de Lesseps, the object of Shakespeare's affections.

With the success of Shakespeare in Love, Fiennes was offered a multi-film contract deal from Miramax, but he couldn't commit; he wanted the flexibility to experiment as an actor and to do more work on stage.

"I wanted to remain in theatre, where I feel creative," he explained to the Guardian about turning down the contract. "It was a lovely offer. But I guess I love my freedom and I felt that under contract you feel bound to succeed, and I felt that I couldn't achieve the level of Shakespeare all the time."

Fiennes went on to star in Enemy at the Gates (2001), opposite Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, as well as the historical religious drama Luther (2003) and romantic Shakespearean drama The Merchant of Venice (2004). He also collaborated with Paltrow again for the film Running With Scissors in 2006. 

Fiennes has continued making films throughout the years, many of which have been smaller, independent projects that have gone under the radar at the box office. But Fiennes is unfazed by this reality; his need to experiment and explore roles of his choosing has always superseded any desire to be commercially viable.  

'Camelot' to 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Turning to television, Fiennes has played a variety of characters in multiple genres. In 2009 he took on the character of Mark Benford on ABC's sci-fi series FlashForward for one season. Moving into the fantasy realm, he starred as the legendary wizard Merlin on Starz' limited series Camelot in 2011. A year later, he dove into the horror genre as Monsignor Timothy Howard during Season 2 of American Horror Story.

Starting in 2017, Fiennes added "dystopian drama" to his credits when he was cast in the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In it he plays Commander Fred Waterford, a prominent political figure who helped found the theocratic government Gilead amid a world wrought with infertility. Married to a deeply religious wife, he becomes master to the Handmaid Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss), who belongs to a minority group of women (called Handmaids) who are able to have children. Despite the strict rules of how to interact with the Handmaids (sex is only allowed for purposes of procreation), Fiennes' character yearns for more social contact with Offred.

"I’m coming to a character who is examining power, hypocrisy, what it is to be one of the architects of a totalitarian theocracy," Fiennes told Vulture about his portrayal of Fred Waterford. "The prisons they put themselves in — of course, Offred is in the main prison of servitude, but they’re all in their own prisons, if you like."

Early Life & Siblings

Joseph Fiennes (full name Joseph Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes) was born on May 27, 1970 in Salisbury, England. His parents, Mark (a photographer) and Jini (a writer), moved their large family to and fro, from London to Ireland so often that Joseph admitted he must have changed schools over a dozen times. The actor has an impressive group of siblings, many of whom share his passion for the arts. Joseph is famously related to actor Ralph (b. 1962) and has a twin named Jacob, who is a conservationist. His older sisters, Martha (b. 1964) and Sophia (b. 1967), are both directors, and his other brother, Magnus, is a music composer (b. 1965). Joseph also has a foster brother named Michael who is an archaeologist.

"There was a strong sense of discipline as we were growing up," Fiennes said of his family during an interview with the Guardian. "People seem to imagine we were raised in some kind of bohemian, Waltons-style setup, but it wasn’t like that at all. There was creativity, for sure, but it always went hand in hand with discipline."

After graduating from Bishop Wordsworth's School, Fiennes briefly attended art school and finished his studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1993.

His first professional theatrical performance was The Woman in Black in the West End, and he later worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

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