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Fiennes, Blanchett gamble on 'Oscar and Lucinda'

January 1, 1998
Web posted at: 4:25 p.m. EST (2125 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Flawed characters -- perhaps even irredeemable ones -- people the Australian film "Oscar and Lucinda." As such, it was arguably the perfect next film for Ralph Fiennes, who has become known for the imperfect people he's portrayed.

He was the heartless Nazi commandant Amon Goeth in "Schindler's List," a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for best-supporting actor. Later, he was a partner in adultery in "The English Patient." Now, he sins again as an 1800s-era Anglican priest addicted to gambling in "Oscar and Lucinda."

"I'm quite interested in characters that audiences have a hard time getting to like," Fiennes said. His character Oscar Hopkins, he notes, is consumed by the adrenaline-pumping risk of gambling. "It's almost a life-enhancing, little tiny beat in that moment when the dice roll and the horse crosses the finishing place, that moment of not knowing," he said.

Fiennes' ability to roll the dice on risky characters does not surprise the film's director, Gillian Armstrong.

"Ralph first and foremost sees himself as an actor, not a movie star," Armstrong said. "Why is this a great role?" Armstrong said, speculating on Fiennes' thought process: "Because I've never played anything like that before, it's going to be hard for me and it's going to be different."

Co-star Cate Blanchett, who plays Lucinda Leplastrier, an Australian heiress and fellow gambler, was drawn to Peter Carey's original story for similar reasons.

"There's a great danger with large roles for women in film, that they can do no wrong," she said. "What Peter has written in Lucinda is someone who's got testy, ugly, sort of scratchy sides to them."

What follows is an untraditional love story, in which Lucinda, determined to transport a church made of glass from Britain to the Australian outback, bets Oscar her inheritance that he can't accomplish such a daunting feat.

Trailers from "Oscar and Lucinda"
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Expecting a boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl kind of plot? Don't count on it. This film's Australian roots explain, in part, why it breaks away from recent Hollywood tradition.

"You used to get credits when you wrote your essay in school, for originality. You got 10 out of 10," Armstrong said. Carey got a "10" from book critics, who awarded his novel "Oscar and Lucinda" the Booker Prize in 1988. But, Armstrong said, Hollywood has forgotten to reward creativity.

"(Now) you have to have a formula and halfway through, this and this have to pay off," Armstrong said. "Life isn't that way, and storytelling shouldn't be like that either."

Correspondent Sherri Sylvester contributed to this report.


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