Ralph Fiennes on "The White Crow" and the "ferocious desire" of its real-life subject

Ralph Fiennes on directing "The White Crow"

Last Updated Apr 25, 2019 4:07 PM EDT

Actor Ralph Fiennes' latest project — decades in the making — sees him in front of and behind the camera. The new film, titled "The White Crow," is based on the true story of ballet master Rudolf Nureyev who became one of the first high-profile Russians to defect from the Soviet Union.

The Oscar-nominated actor told "CBS This Morning" the idea for "The White Crow" started 20 years ago when he was given the first five chapters of a forthcoming biography.

"I never lost the impact of reading these five chapters gave me, which is the story of young Nureyev's childhood, his student years in Leningrad and Soviet Russia and finally on tour with the Soviet ballet company in France," Fiennes said.  

Fiennes, known for his turn as Lord Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" series and films like "The English Patient" and "Schindler's List," stars as Nureyev's ballet teacher and mentor, Alexander Pushkin.

"The White Crow" is set in Paris in the time leading up to Nureyev's infamous defection, which, as Fiennes put it, "sent shockwaves through the cultural world between the Soviet nations and the western countries."

While Nureyev is undoubtedly an important historical figure, he's also been credited with reinventing male performance.

"I think he saw that the ballerina tended to get the best bits," Fiennes said. "I think he sort of wanted to grab some of the best bits of dancing for himself and I think he did take some aspects of the feminine presentation of ballet and elongated his leg and did things that were considered to be feminine but now I think are not. I think he definitely had a ferocious desire to kind of take the stage."

Fiennes said it's that ferocious desire and dedication he hopes people will take away from Nureyev's story.

"I want them to be moved by the journey of this young boy. I think for young people, too, that they can see with a certain kind of ferocious dedication you can get somewhere."

"The White Crow" opens in limited theaters Friday.