Ralph Fiennes filming "Coriolanus" in Serbia

BELGRADE (Reuters) - After two years struggling to win funding amid the global financial crisis, actor Ralph Fiennes said on Wednesday he would start filming his directorial debut of a Shakespeare tragedy next week in Serbia.

Ralph Fiennes smiles during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade March 10, 2010. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Filming of “Coriolanus” will start in Belgrade on March 17 in the country’s highest profile movie project in decades, and is expected to last two months, the British actor told Reuters in an interview.

In the movie, Fiennes also plays the leading role of Coriolanus, a Roman general who betrays his native city Rome and allies with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius for revenge.

“Shakespeare is always examining in his plays how society functions ... he always looks at the fallibility of leadership,” he said in Belgrade, which is still emerging from wartime isolation under nationalist leadership in the 1990s.

“We see the necessity for the strong leadership, but also how the human element can corrupt leadership.”

Fiennes, who was nominated for Academy Awards for his roles in the “The English Patient” and “Schindler’s List,” said he chose Belgrade rather than better known locations in Eastern Europe because “there’s a spirit to Belgrade which I liked and responded to.

“There’s history in the stones and I needed the weight of a capital city,” he said. “There was an eagerness which was inspiring.”

In 2007, Fiennes first visited Belgrade where he teamed up with a local production house. It took him two years to secure funds, described by producer Colin Vanes as “a medium budget for a European movie.”

Fiennes said his project felt the pinch of the economic downturn: “Last year I thought I had funds and it fell away. It’s been a challenge.”

Most of the filming will be done in the Serbian parliament building and other locations in Belgrade, which offers settings from the Roman era, a medieval Serbian state and buildings destroyed by NATO aircraft during the 1999 bombing of then Yugoslavia.

Fiennes will direct a script by John Logan, who also worked on “Gladiator,” “The Aviator” and “The Last Samurai.”

The actor said he and Logan wanted to make the play -- written 400 years ago -- by using the original lines in a contemporary urban setting.

“Coriolanus as a play is thought to be difficult ... as the text is very dense,” Fiennes told Reuters.

“We’ve edited it quite aggressively and this is the case with Shakespeare adaptions, you have to lose a lot of text ... but the narrative lines of Coriolanus are very dynamic.”

Gerard Butler, who starred in “The Phantom of the Opera,” plays Afidius, and others in the heavyweight cast include Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Coriolanus’ overbearing mother Volumnia.

Fiennes said his past acting role as the evil wizard Lord Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” movies impacted casting of children, as some were afraid to meet him.

Editing by Adam Tanner and Paul Casciato