Ralph Fiennes: Oscar Nod for his Astonishing Lord Voldemort

Director David Yates says: “It was important to end the series with an epic finale, so we have battles and dragons, spiders and giants, but at heart, this is a story about the characters. Spectacle is important, but caring about the people in the middle of it is what pulls the audience into the journey with them. There’s a lot more action, but the emotional core of the story has always been what these movies are about, and we would never want to overshadow that.”

As I pointed out in my review, of all the impressive secondary parts, Lord Voldemort is the largest and most significant—he represents evil incarnate, which must be defeated by Harry Potter.  The endlessly versatile Ralph Fiennes gives an astonishing, multi-nuanced performance as the Dark Lord, one that (with some justice) should earn him a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Good Vs. Evil

Producer Heyman states: “The all-out war between good and evil is thrilling, but there is still an emotional underpinning. And because we’ve been invested in these characters for so long, it feels there is much more at stake.”

Singular Connection

Harry Potter’s singular connection with Lord Voldemort has caused the young wizard fear and pain, but it has also provided him with a unique insight into the mind of the Dark Lord. Now it is showing him that Voldemort knows what they have been up to. Worse, instead of weakening him, the destruction of each Horcrux has made him like a wounded animal…desperate and even more dangerous.

Yates offers, “When Voldemort discovers that Harry has been hunting Horcruxes, he realizes for the first time that he might be vulnerable and we see him start to fragment, not physically as much as internally.”

“Something essential is ripped out of Voldemort every time a Horcrux is destroyed and David encouraged me to play those scenes as if he’s imploding,” Fiennes recalls. “David was fantastic; there wasn’t one shot—even those that would only be seen for a fraction of a second—where he didn’t try to mine every aspect of what’s going on within Voldemort, and I really valued that.”

The director says, “Ralph and I both wanted to explore Voldemort’s fear, his anger—all the things that make him the monster he is.”

Speaking from an effects standpoint, Tim Burke shares that they wanted the eradication of each Horcrux to have a physical manifestation. “We needed to represent the evil of Voldemort with dark and disturbing images that really tap into people’s subconscious fears.”

Nuances of Expression

From the time Voldemort was resurrected onscreen in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” visual effects were employed to complete his serpentine visage. Burke details, “We used a process called digital prosthetics, where we took away a few of Ralph’s features and added the snakelike qualities like the slits for his nostrils. All of the nuances of his expressions had to be tracked in every single frame where Voldemort appears, and that’s no small feat.”

In a more literal sense, the visual effects team also brought to life the actual snake, Nagini, who is never far from Voldemort’s side. Fiennes says, “He is very tender with her. It is quite possibly the most intimate relationship he’s ever had, like a fellow spirit.”

Through Voldemort’s eyes, Harry also gleans that another Horcrux lies within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Rowling says, “It makes complete sense that Voldemort would have hidden a Horcrux at Hogwarts since he mostly hid them in locations that were significant to him, and Hogwarts was once his home. That’s a major thing he and Harry have in common—for both of them, Hogwarts had been a place of refuge.”

Long Walk Alone

“Harry knows that his and Voldemort’s destinies are intertwined,” Heyman says. “Confronted with the choice to go out and face the Dark Lord or allow everyone else to die, Harry is prepared to meet his fate. And Dan was amazing. He conveyed a wisdom and a maturity in those scenes that was way beyond his years. He really considered the emotions and the reasons behind each of Harry’s actions and brought a real truth to his performance.”

Yates adds, “One of my favorite scenes is when Harry takes that long walk alone to save everybody else. There’s something really beautiful and haunting in his resolve.”

Showdown

The long-awaited showdown between Harry and Voldemort “brings them back to the place where they each became who they were,” Rowling states. “It had to end at Hogwarts.”

Their battle plays out through the school’s once-hallowed halls. Yates staged the sequence so it was not just two wizards in a wand duel, but two sworn enemies locked in mortal combat that can only end when one…or both…are dead.

The director elaborates, “We have them racing through the halls hurling spells at each other, but it also gets very physical. There’s a point where they have each other by the throat and fall off a high balustrade, and they’re twisting and turning, until you’re not sure where one ends and the other begins. I was very keen to explore that because, thematically, that connection is what we’d been developing throughout the films.”

Craig and his team crafted the set to provide a multi-leveled arena. The production designer says, “Our principal objective was to introduce another element to the battlefield that would provide for more interesting blocking, so David (Yates) was involved in the design plan from the start. We created a series of staircases so that either Harry or Voldemort could be in the ascendancy and the other below, but it could switch very easily.”

“I must have climbed more stairs for that scene than I have in my entire life,” Daniel Radcliffe laughs. “But it was incredible.”

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