Dave Karger
December 02, 2011 AT 05:00 AM EST

Usually when actors try directing for the first time, they dip their toes in the water with an intimate family drama or indie comedy. But not Ralph Fiennes. ”I think I was completely mad,” says the two-time Oscar nominee, whose directorial debut, Coriolanus, is an ambitious present-day adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s military play, featuring hundreds of actors (including Fiennes in the title role) and several full-scale battle scenes. ”Some people were going, ‘Ralph wants to do Shakespeare and direct himself? Yeah, good luck. We’ll be in touch.’ But the idea sort of possessed me.” If the film’s war sequences have the look and feel of Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker, it’s no accident: Fiennes, who had a cameo in that 2009 Best Picture Oscar winner, hired its Academy Award-nominated cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, and Oscar-winning sound mixer, Ray Beckett, for Coriolanus. ”We really amped that up, the sounds of the uniforms and the metal.” He may not have officially sought help from Bigelow, but he certainly felt her presence on set: ”Kathryn channeled through me,” he says. ”Somewhere from here, she beamed herself in.” Fiennes took less of a hands-on approach with perhaps the film’s most spectacular aspect: Vanessa Redgrave‘s Oscar-buzzed performance as Coriolanus‘ fiery mother, Volumnia. ”To work with Vanessa was just to make sure she felt supported, put the camera in the right place, and make sure the focus is right.” Next up for the actor: a top secret role in the new James Bond film, Skyfall, alongside Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem. ”Isn’t that great?” he says. ”You want to do all these famous roles, and classic roles always have challenges, but a role no one knows? That’s the best.”

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