9 Milestones in the Evolution of Ralph Fiennes

In this weekend's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Ralph Fiennes reprises his role as Lord Voldemort, the noseless, screamy "Dark Lord" archenemy of our bespectacled box office hero Harry Potter. How did the English Oscar-nominee transform himself from chilling Nazi war criminal to a J. Lo love interest and back again to another kind of purity-seeking evildoer?

You can always trace a direct line through a few important roles to illustrate what led to an actor's current success. So let's look at nine pivotal performances that track the evolution of villain extraordinaire Ralph Fiennes.

Wuthering Heights (1992)

Like any respectable British thespian, Fiennes studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before logging a few years in the Royal Shakespeare Company. From there, Fiennes earned his first film role in Peter Kosminsky's adaptation of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. As the tortured Heathcliff, the actor exuded a "dark sexuality" that Steven Spielberg would later cite as the reason for casting the newcomer in Schindler's List the next year. "I saw sexual evil," Spielberg explained. "It is all about subtlety: there were moments of kindness that would move across his eyes and then instantly run cold."

Schindler's List (1993)

While some actors and actresses wait decades for an Oscar nomination (that oftentimes never arrives), Fiennes earned his first nod from the Academy for his second feature film role. As Amon Goeth, the evil SS officer who runs the Płaszów concentration camp (and uses its inhabitants for target practice), Fiennes earned critical praise for the first in a series of brilliantly acted villains on his resume. For the role, the actor gained nearly 30 pounds, watched historic newsreels and spoke to Holocaust survivors who had come in contact with Goeth.

The English Patient (1996)

After scaling back the evil to play a polished trivia contestant in Robert Redford's Quiz Show, Fiennes earned his second Oscar nomination for playing the title character (even though he's not really English) opposite his Wuthering Heights co-star Juliette Binoche in Anthony Minghella's sprawling Best Picture. A tip of the hat for graduating from Academy Award-nominated war criminal to Academy Award-nominated heartthrob within three short years.

The Avengers(1998)

Until 1998's The Avengers -- of no relation to the Marvel adaptation of the same name due in theaters next year -- Fiennes had enjoyed consistently positive critical and commercial feedback at the movies. But even superb actors make bad choices (See Robert De Niro in any Fockers movie). Enter The Avengers, Jeremiah Chechik's adaptation of the British TV spy series of the same name which pitted Fiennes against Uma Thurman's Emma Peel in a dueling/romantic relationship that reviled moviegoers and critics alike. Fiennes was nominated for two Razzies (Worst Actor and Worst Onscreen Couple) and the New York Post called The Avengers "a big fat gob of maximum crapulosity, the kind of shallow, stupid, big-budget cowpile that smells of Joel Schumacher." The English Patient, The Avengers was not.

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