Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to chat with Ralph Fiennes, who popped into town to promote The Duchess, in which he plays the Duke of Devonshire, an ice-cold 18th-century aristocrat who breaks his young wife’s (Keira Knightley) heart when he takes her best friend as his live-in mistress. Ouch. Fiennes is really quite wonderful in the part, bringing emotional layers to a character a lesser actor might have portrayed as a two-dimensional villain. (’Twould be great to see Fiennes get an Oscar nom for it; speaking of which, be sure to check out Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch interview with Fiennes, embedded after the jump!) “I would argue that [his] is a cruelty born of a certain emotional malfunction,” Fiennes explained of the Duke. “It’s not a sadism. It’s not a willful evilness.”

All that talk of not-so-nice guys got me thinking about He Who Shall Not Be Named — and how Fiennes wraps his head around playing pure, unadulterated b-a-d in the Harry Potter films. “That’s actually the hardest to do because you have to personify evil, and there’s such a history of clichés and villains and monsters,” he said. “You’ve got to struggle not to play all the obvious notes. And with such extreme makeup, such an extreme look — that’s the challenge. Also, the style of the movies is so strong. The movie itself is its own machine, and you’ve got to fulfill a function of a bigger machine. It would be good to keep the sense of some kind of real psychology going on, even in all the special effects and everything.” That is, assuming that Fiennes reprises his role as Lord Voldie for the final movies, which he has every intention of doing. “I’m not officially contracted to the last ones, but I think that’s in the cards,” he said. “I want to do it. It’s just that they haven’t got a script yet, so the deal side of it isn’t in place. But the indications are that it’ll happen.” Watch for the Dark Mark in the sky.