One look at those soulful brown eyes burning under impossibly long lashes, and you know that this is no ordinary Joe. As Elizabeth‘s lover Robert Dudley and as Shakespeare in Love, British actor Joseph Fiennes, 28, has proven to be our favorite man in tights. “He’s got slightly old-fashioned, smoldering good looks,” says Elizabeth producer Alison Owen. “I think that’s what women respond to—a harking back to that knight-on-a-white-charger kind of thing.”
Though his clout in breeches has made him a star, Fiennes has apparently had enough of ye olde hosiery. “Try walking [in costume] through the pub next door packed with the electricians and carpenters, and hear all the remarks,” the 5’11” alumnus of the Royal Shakespeare Company recently told Britain’s Sunday Times. “If you can survive that, you can survive anything.”
Fiennes grew up knowing the risks. Raised in England and Ireland by his photographer father, Mark Fiennes, and novelist-painter mother, Jennifer Lash (who died of cancer in 1993), Joseph has joined four of his five siblings, including older brother Ralph (The English Patient), in the theater. Only his twin brother Jake, a gamekeeper, escaped the lure of the greasepaint.
In the forthcoming thriller Forever Mine, Fiennes, who recently ended a six-year relationship with English actress Sarah Griffiths, dons modern duds to play a lowlife—his third outing as the “other man” in a romantic triangle—but he may soon miss his Elizabethan rig. “When he was in character and in costume, he said he suddenly found himself flirting with girls and being much more naughty than he usually would be,” says Elizabeth‘s Owen. Now, now, keep your socks on.