So how does an actor get inside the fever of madness and evil to portray it authentically on screen?
Suspend judgment, answers Ralph Fiennes. "I'm just loath to use these words 'evil' or 'bad,' " he says.
Certainly in Fiennes' hands, Francis Dolarhyde, the serial killer of "Red Dragon" becomes more than a cartoon villain.
Of Spider, Fiennes says, "People looked at the screenplay and felt Spider was a malevolent schizophrenic with a mother hang-up. But I saw him as a pitiful figure, actually not realizing what he had done, trapped in some oedipal nightmare.
"Spider should never be a ghoul or a creepy guy," Fiennes says forcefully. "He is frozen, alone in the world and locked in his own head."
The unforgettable Amon Goeth, the concentration camp commandant of "Schindler's List," is the sort of Nazi who shoots Jewish prisoners from his balcony for momentary peace and quiet. Can there be any sympathy for him?
"No, 'sympathy' is the wrong word, really," Fiennes says. "But once you've read the script and you decide to play someone like Amon Goeth, your job is to look at the world through their eyes. I know he's terrible, awful, psychopathic, but you know.... "
Fiennes slips into Goeth's voice, a moaning, complaining drawl. "I've got to go out today and more people coming in on trains ... aahh," he says and groans. "He's pulled into the fact they are vermin. His head is in that place that says we just don't need these people, they're everything that's going to screw up the country." Fiennes returns to Goeth's voice.
"Ah God, it's exhausting. I need a drink, I need a girlfriend, and I need a good game of poker because I've had a long day."
"Of course it's horrific when you're the audience," Fiennes says in his demure English tone once again. "We look on appalled. But if you're inside it you must have a very different reality. And in playing the part, that's sort of the way I try to look at it."
-- William Wallace