How we met: Ralph Fiennes & Tom Hollander

'I love going on holiday with him, as he enjoys being taken to places that are in a state of degradation; maybe it's a man thing'

Tom Hollander, 46

A former member of Cambridge Footlights, Hollander (right in picture) has appeared in films including 'Gosford Park', 'Pride & Prejudice' and 'In the Loop', but is perhaps best known for being the co-creator and star of the BBC sitcom 'Rev'. He lives in London

I saw him in Schindler's List in 1993 and it still stands up as a brilliant performance. He was playing a bad character [concentration-camp commandant Amon Goeth], and there were things about his face that did cruelty well – yet he brought a strange vulnerability to the monster; he was a good villain. It's led to him playing a whole lot of monstrous people since, of course, climaxing in [Harry Potter's nemesis] Lord Voldemort.

We were introduced at the Almeida Theatre, in north London, in 1996, after I played Tartuffe in the [eponymous] Molière play there. Ralph came backstage to say how much he enjoyed it and I was thrilled.

We discovered we had mutual friends, including Liam Neeson, and as we got to know one another, I started joining them on holidays in the South of France, where we'd sit around chatting and getting drunk. We used to talk about girls; now it's more work and big ideas.

When we first met, he was the withdrawn, serious person and I was the lively, jokey one who could lighten his sense of the world. What I got from him was a thoughtfulness about work – that it's OK to take acting seriously. And I've become more curmudgeonly over the years while he's become less serious.

I think it's true what his brother Magnus has said, that Ralph lives like a monk who's won the Lottery: he's not materialistic, he doesn't have a car or own a grand house. He's simply interested in ideas, he's an arts person – though I can't think of a more successful actor of his generation. And while he's not a Harry Potter nerd, he understands that without Harry Potter it would be hard to finance a film such as Coriolanus.

I always quite like going off the beaten track, but when I've gone on holiday with girlfriends, we've always had big rows, with them shouting, "What the hell are we doing here? Take me back to the nice places!" But I love going on holiday with just Ralph as he enjoys being taken to these places that are in a state of degradation: maybe it's a man thing.

It was pretty easy for us to play best friends in his new film The Invisible Woman [which charts an illicit liaison between Charles Dickens and a young actress]. Are there parallels? Well, Dickens [played by Fiennes] was the most successful novelist of his time and was clearly the boss, with Wilkie Collins [played by Hollander] not as successful; he was the junior partner in that friendship. Wilkie was also known to be charming and easy company, while Dickens was a more difficult person: so, yes, there is a parallel there between Ralph and I!

Ralph Fiennes, 51

After graduating from Rada, Fiennes became known as a Shakespearean stage actor. His major film breakthrough came with 1993's 'Schindler's List'. Since, he has appeared in many films, from 'The Constant Gardener' to 'In Bruges', and directed and starred in his own update of 'Coriolanus'. He lives in London

When people meet Tom for the first time, he quickly turns on the charm and can have a room in stitches, recounting stories that go against him. I'm not like that at all: I don't like parties and I find rooms of people chatting hard to deal with.

We met after I saw him play Tartuffe at the Almeida, in 1996. I went as I was friendly with its director, Jonathan Kent, and I saw this bare- chested fine figure of a madman on stage.Tartuffe is one of the great comic parts, as he pretends to be humble and self-effacing, but isn't. And with Tom, it wasn't just about pressing the funny button; he had an ability to make the character he inhabited feel real, too.

Our friendship developed slowly at first – it relied on Tom coming to see me in a show, followed by big gaps. It's in the past eight to 10 years that we've become close. He'd give me critical honest feedback on performances and I'd do the same: it's good to have one or two friends to guide you on your performances. Tom's very perceptive, too, about the petty lunacy of other actors and their self-involvement. That acting bubble needs to be burst and Tom's very funny about doing so.

We've listened to one another's ups and downs over the years, and hanging out with Tom I feel comfortable in my own skin; I don't have to be someone else or put on a show.

He also has a great curiosity, which I like. We went to Istanbul a couple years ago and he insisted on taking us to run-down places, to see the "real experience", which I would normally have second thoughts about.

Since working together, our friendship has grown stronger. I have been on a couple of episodes of Rev and he's been in my film The Invisible Woman, playing my on-screen best friend. I was under incredible pressure during filming and another actor might have revealed a twitchiness and impatience, but he was so calming, he made me feel on top of it.

There is a part of Tom that can be glass-half-empty: I try to nudge him to see the glass is actually half-full. He gets upset and twitchy about his career, that things are not happening for him. But I want to tell him, "You don't realise how amazing an actor you are."

What has he given me most? The ability to see the ludicrous side of life. We've just come back from 10 days riding on horseback in the Argentine countryside. We were trying to be gauchos; we weren't, of course – we were English actors bobbing about in the saddle – but it was fun, as he's such easy company.

'The Invisible Woman' (12A) has a limited release on 7 February, before being released nationwide on 21 February

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