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Ralph Fiennes reveals the one thing no one understands about Voldemort

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort

Ever thought that the actor spent hours in the make-up chair getting ready on the Harry Potter films? Think again.

As Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes has been terrorising children since the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005.

You can probably summon the film’s terrorising representation of him in your mind’s eye without much effort: pallid skin, vein-covered bald skull, rotting teeth and two snake slits for a nose. Voldemort is one of the world’s most fearsome villains, and no-one could have embodied him better than Fiennes.

Fiennes is often asked about the arduous process involved in turning himself into Voldemort. In fact, he told GQ, it was far simpler than anyone believes.

“I didn’t have as much prosthetic make-up as people think I did,” Fiennes said. 

The forces of good and evil collide on set of the fifth Harry Potter film, with Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) posing for a friendly picture.

The nose was changed digitally in post production, he explained, “so I was covered in little dots and then I had to sit in front of cameras and every angle recorded for the digital expert.”

The pale skin was all make-up and the veins were “paint work, which was transfers so there was consistency,” Fiennes said. “They sponged the transfers onto my scalp and face to give this sort of slightly translucent vein-like quality to my sickly pallor.”

But other than that, what you see with Voldemort is very much what you get with Fiennes.

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In the GQ video, Fiennes revealed that he made a specific request to make a small addition to Voldemort’s wand. As per Fiennes’ instructions, the villain’s wand was given a small hook that wrapped around one of his fingers, allow him to hold the wand in the palm of his hand without gripping onto it. The idea, he said, was so that it “could be light in the hand” and almost feel like a part of him.

Fiennes also admitted that he almost passed on the role of Voldemort. When he was offered the part, he said he had very little awareness of what Harry Potter actually was.

“I knew there was a Harry Potter huge thing happening,” he said, “but I hadn’t seen the earlier films so I had no sense and it was only when my sister who has children said ‘Don’t you realise what they’re asking you to do? It’s extraordinary!’ And then I took it a bit more seriously.”

Fiennes approached the role the same way he has approached his other parts in movies like Schindler’s List and The English Patient. “Do I like this part?” he asked himself. “What does it involve? Is it something that I will enjoy playing? And I did, in the end.”

So much so that if they decide to include Voldemort in the new Fantastic Beasts franchise, Fiennes said that he wants to be asked back. “I’ll be pissed if they brought back Voldemort and didn’t ask me,” he laughed.

Considering how fast and loose Fantastic Beasts is playing with the Harry Potter timeline – a young Professor McGonagall teaching alongside Dumbledore in 1927, before she was even born? No, thank you – then a Voldemort cameo is not outside the realm of possibility. 

Images: Warner Bros, Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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