As part of our Fall Movie Preview, '2012' director Roland Emmerich explains why he's traded action for historical drama.
By Josh Wigler
For his next trick, Roland Emmerich — the man who brought you such blockbusters as "Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012" — will be taking you all the way back to the times of ... Shakespeare?
It's perhaps not a conventional choice for a filmmaker who is best known for his over-the-top alien invasions and natural disasters, but make no mistake, "Anonymous" is a movie that is very near and dear to Emmerich's heart. The project — which takes place during Elizabethan England and centers on Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), the Earl of Oxford and a man who some believe to be the true author of Shakespeare's works — has been in development for nearly a decade. Now, Emmerich's ready to tell his story, with his take on the Man from Stratford's real identity arriving in theaters on October 28.
MTV News' Fall Movie Preview continues today with a conversation with Emmerich, who spoke with us about his interest in Shakespeare, the themes of succession and identity crises, how visual effects are actually working to keep budgets down, and whether or not he truly believes that Shakespeare was a fraud.
MTV: "Anonymous" deals with conspiracies centering on Shakespeare and conflicts during Elizabethan England, but for you, at its core, what is this movie about?
Roland Emmerich: In the foreground for people, it's probably the whole issue of did [Shakespeare] write [his works] or did he not? But for me, it was also always about this time and succession. The most important thing in these days was, "Who will be the next king?" Especially Elizabeth's [succession], being the virgin queen, there was a lot of insecurity.
When you want to come up with a story to explain to people why it could have been that the wrong guy got credited, it has to have a really big reason. I kind of thought everything in Shakespeare is about the prince, it's about succession. Half of his plays are pretty much about that. I kind of said, "This has to be the reason why he can't put his name on it."
MTV: It's also interesting when you consider a lot of his work focuses on doubles and dual identities.
Emmerich: Exactly. It's a lot about bastard children, the identity crisis of the young prince, you know? The court, the court intrigue, and about how power gets distributed by the king. I knew that the movie had to be about that.
MTV: On the surface, "Anonymous" doesn't seem like the kind of movie that fans of your films like "Independence Day" or "2012" would necessarily expect from you. What drew you to this? What made this story something you wanted to tell as a filmmaker?
Emmerich: Well, first of all, you get older. [Laughs] I always was super interested in reading about history. I think history is kind of something that isn't explored enough in movies, honest to god. I know this is kind of a relatively adult movie, but I said to myself, if I'm interested in something, I assume other people are too. This time around, it's probably another crowd and another audience. But the movie also doesn't have to perform that well to make money, so I'm kind of hopeful that Sony won't be [left] there with empty pockets.
MTV: You've been attached to this project and working on it for several years before the movie got made. How did "Anonymous" finally come together for you?
Emmerich: I've been on this project for nine years. Around five years ago, Sony greenlit it, and we'd headed to England. We had a lot of money, and [we got] more and more, and it became too expensive of a movie. We also couldn't quite get the cast. So we stopped it. But then I realized that this movie had to be done for a certain price. When I did "2012," I realized that now with digital cameras and blue screens, you can do quite amazing things and you can cheapen a movie without making it look smaller.
This movie, even if it costs very little, when people come out they're asking, "How much did this thing cost?" And I'll say, "Much less than you think!" [Laughs] Some people ask, "What was it, $70 [million]? $90?" And I say, "No, it was $30." And they're super surprised. I tell them, "Look, everyone keeps talking about this, the fact that one day, visual effects can help us to make movies cheaper." And this was actually the first movie where visual effects helped to make a really, really big look, but it actually saved us tons of money.
MTV: What was the research process like on "Anonymous"? What did you do to brush up your Shakespeare, so to speak?
Emmerich: I never claimed to be a big Shakespeare scholar or anything. I've watched every movie that was made about his plays, which is a good way to get into William Shakespeare's plays, because most of the time, the plays themselves — you get the highest grade of talent and I did that. I said to myself, "I'm not a theater director." What we did was we looked for a theater director, and found one in Tamara Harvey, who's very young but has worked under Mark Rylance at [Shakespeare's Globe in London]. We had long discussions with Mark and some Shakespeare actors in London, and we tried to approach it like that. For me, it was very important to get the plays right and the work right. I wanted to glorify William Shakespeare; I didn't want to destroy him.
MTV: But at the core of this movie's marketing campaign, there's been that tantalizing four-word question: "Was Shakespeare a fraud?" Based on what you discovered in the process of making this movie, do you have your answer to that question?
Emmerich: He was a fraud. I'm totally convinced.
MTV: What makes you so convinced?
Emmerich: I read pretty much everything on the Freudian side and the Oxford side and made my own opinion, you know? I'm not alone with this opinion. There are very famous people throughout history, a lot of writers and a lot of artists like Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Sigmund Freud. ... There are so many people who were absolutely convinced of what I'm convinced about. And when you talk to Shakespeare scholars, they're kind of totally biased, because they've lived their whole lives and written books about the Man from Stratford. Sure, they have to scream and yell and say this is all nonsense, but I think these guys over the next 20 or 30 years will not be able to uphold this.
I think it's not good to tell kids lies in school, and I'm saying, why not openly discuss that there's a problem? I think to get access to William Shakespeare, the Man from Stratford, for kids today is totally boring. You cannot get this guy together with the plays. The plays are super complex and tell a lot about court life and themes that represent his time incredibly well, and then there's this Bard from Stratford and Avon, a guy who, when you look at him, was probably a businessman.
From "Abduction" to "Muppets, "Moneyball" to "Breaking Dawn," the MTV Movies team is delving into the hottest upcoming flicks in our 2011 Fall Movie Preview. Check back daily for exclusive clips, photos and interviews with the films' biggest stars.
Check out everything we've got on "Anonymous."
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