Trained in the ways of Shakespeare and a player in many an Oscar-nominated and winning motion picture in the past, Ralph Fiennes is no stranger to playing villains in Hollywood blockbuster fare. It’s a bit surprising then that the latest rumors about next year’s James Bond flick don’t exactly peg him as a candidate to play 007’s new foe.

Word has it that director Sam Mendes wants to reunite with his old comrade Fiennes (the two worked together on a stage production of the Bard’s tragedy, Troilus And Cressida) on his next project, which will see Daniel Craig reprise his Jason Bourne-esque take on the iconic secret agent.

The rumor comes from UK tabloid The Daily Mail and says that Fiennes is being considered for a role “of extreme complexity [that] only an actor of great ability and dexterity can take [on]” in the latest James Bond pic. While the most prominent, non-Bond male part in these films is traditionally that of the (generally) diabolical antagonist, Fiennes is apparently being considered for a different role than Javier Bardem, who confirmed this week that he’s been approach to portray a villain.

Mendes is reportedly conceiving the project as “the first of a new generation of Bond films” that will cover “darker territory where the characters are modern, mature and challenging.” That gels with claims from the pic’s former screenwriter, Oscar-nominee Peter Morgan, about Bond 23 having a “shocking” plot, but considering how brutally gritty and morally questionable the character’s quest for revenge in Quantum of Solace often was, how much darker and more “challenging” can this mainstream movie franchise really get?

Bardem indicated that Mendes and his screenwriting team – series vets Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Gladiator‘s John Logan – have something unusual up their sleeves for Mr. Bond’s 23rd outing, saying that “they’re changing the whole thing, the whole dynamic.” Based off his comments, some have speculated that the current Oscar contender for his turn in Biutiful could potentially portray a much more nuanced and ambiguous bad guy who’s noticeably less hammy in design that previous Bond foes (no stroking a fluffy white cat or having a bleeding eye for Bardem).

Assuming the news about Fiennes is legitimate – and right now that’s a significant if – then it’s possible that he and Bardem could both portray unscrupulous figures who incur the wrath of agent 007 in the film. Whisperings about Rachel Weisz as Bond’s nemesis re-surfaced recently as well, so it’s difficult to say how much truth there is to any of the current rumor mongering about the part. Production on Bond’s next venture is slated to begin in the second half of 2011, so there should be some official casting news sometime over the next few months.

Fiennes can portray bad guys that range from chillingly sinister (Schindler’s List) to quirky yet vicious (In Bruges) and just hilariously over the top (Clash of the Titans), so he could make for a excellent foe opposite Craig. That’s not to dismiss Bardem, whose performance as a sadistic killer in No Country for Old Men sent shivers down many a moviegoer’s spine and could be a perfect opponent to match wits with 007. Weisz isn’t quite so well versed in tackling villainous roles (not counting The Shape of Things), but it could be refreshing to watch Bond spar with a female who he’s unlikely to end up in bed with. Okay, he’d probably end up sleeping with her anyway, but still…

Who do you want to see play a villain in the next James Bond movie?

Source: The Daily Mail (via Empire)