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Harry Potter Fans Have Ralph Fiennes' Sister To Thank For His Voldemort Role

As fans continually wrestle with the question of valuing the art over the artist, the "Harry Potter" stories remain at the forefront of that discussion. While author and creator J.K. Rowling faces continued backlash for her transphobic views, it's difficult to deny the power and emotion the Harry Potter universe has created, particularly in its films.

It's been over 20 years since the first movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," took the world by storm, kicking off a cinematic universe for Warner Bros. that was something the MCU merely dreamed of back then. The November 2001 film, like its source material, was an immediate success, bringing in a record-breaking $93.5 million in three days, and establishing the careers of young new stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. Each sequel's release broke the same record, with the final film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" still sitting at No. 18 on the list of biggest opening weekends of all time, behind the multiple Marvel and Disney films that came after. And that doesn't count the "Fantastic Beasts" films or the Broadway smash "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."

HBO Max celebrated the success of the film franchise with a 20th-anniversary reunion special that premiered on New Year's Day 2022. Many of the child and adult stars who populated the films gathered to tell stories of their experience, including Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Gary Oldman, and the late Robbie Coltrane. We also learned how Fiennes' sister was instrumental in his decision to play Lord Voldemort in the films.

Ralph Fiennes needed some convincing to accept the role of Voldemort

Though the prosthetics and CGI made him practically unrecognizable, actor Ralph Fiennes is known as the evil, nose-less Big Bad of the story, Lord Voldemort, starting with "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." But Fiennes almost didn't accept the role, primarily because he was unfamiliar with the franchise.

"I wasn't that aware when it was first proposed to me," Fiennes told GQ. "I hadn't invested time in reading the books. I knew there was a Harry Potter huge thing happening but I hadn't seen the earlier film so I had no sense." Fortunately, his sister, director Martha Fiennes, knew better. "My sister has children who were then around ten, 11, 12, and I said, 'Martha, I don't know about this Voldemort," he explained in the "Return to Hogwarts" reunion special. 

She apparently responded, "'What? You're being asked to play Voldemort?! You've got to do it!'" Not only did he take the role, but his nephew Hero Fiennes-Tiffin played young Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." 

It seems Fiennes also needed some convincing from director Mike Newell because he fell for the same trap many others did in the book's early days: they underestimated the power of a story written "for children." "What I think he was watching was whether we were taking it seriously or not," Newell told Den of Geek, expressing Fiennes' concern that it would be camp. But Newell assured Fiennes that he was working on an honest-to-goodness drama, which he said made the actor feel more comfortable.