Enticed by the prospect of filming in Shanghai, Ralph Fiennes was disappointed to learn that Countess which ended up being late producer Ismail Merchant's last film was going to be shot mostly on a soundstage. Luckily, the actor squeezed in an ''extraordinary'' visit to the Great Wall in between takes playing Todd Jackson, a disillusioned American diplomat who becomes obsessed with building the ''perfect'' nightclub. The lonely expat eventually hires Natasha Richardson's damaged Countess Sofia as his hostess, who moonlights as a prostitute to support her ungrateful in-laws. Oh, and did we mention Jackson is blind? ''In the earlier draft [when the character could see], I remember saying to Jim [Ivory] something extra needs to happen to this character,'' says Fiennes. ''I can't be logical about it, but losing his sight made his peculiar fascination with the nighttime all the more potent.''