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Anonymous - Roland Emmerich interview

Anonymous, Roland Emmerich

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ROLAND Emmerich talks about why he wanted to make a film about the authorship debate surrounding William Shakespeare in Anonymous and why he feels things need to be stirred up a little.

He also talks about some of his casting choices, including getting Mark Rylance involved, and which plot points in the film have created the most controversy.

Q. How did you come upon this script and why did you want to make Anonymous?
Roland Emmerich: When I found that script it was called Soul of the Age and also I was fascinated in the subject matter and the whole notion of showing the Elizabethan age in a little bit different. There are some misconceptions about it and I thought it was a good idea to make this movie. The only casting choice I was really sure about was Joely and her mother [Vanessa Redgrave].

Q. Because this is a different Shakespeare from the one we know, did that give you carte blanche when it came to creating the characters?
Roland Emmerich: When you accept that William of Stratford didn’t write it, all of a sudden the world is open to you because all of a sudden you’re freed of certain ties. I’ve always believed that the whole literature establishment is too rigid to only believe that this one man wrote these plays. He’s not quite the right candidate for me at least. Whatever you read about him does not quite feel like the career of a writer.

So, for me it was very cool to take on a project where another more interesting character, the Earl of Oxford, is the true writer. And when you look at Oxford and the work, there’s quite a lot of correlation and overlap. It’s quite striking in a way and I always thought that this was more like a movie that just shows you a different picture of everything and that also goes for Queen Elizabeth, who is quite different. Overall for me it was probably also good that we were shooting in Germany because we were away from London and far enough away to have a freer look at things.

Q. You already destroyed the White House in Independence Day, now you’re destroying a British icon in Shakespeare. How does it feel as a German doing all those things?
Roland Emmerich: Well, you know, I always said that when I destroyed the White House I was very frustrated with American politics at that time and I think many Americans were to, which is why it went over really well when they saw the White House exploded. I’m also a little frustrated with the English literary establishment: I think they feel that they own William Shakespeare, uncertainly in a way, because all people of all opinions own William Shakespeare. So, because of that I found that I had to stir up the pot a little.

Q. So, what has ruffled more feathers: portraying Shakespeare as a man who couldn’t write his name or the fact that he portrayed Queen Elizabeth as a lady who was a bit loose with her loins?
Roland Emmerich: I don’t know what ruffled the feathers more. In a way, both. I also get a lot of flack from Oxfordians because I use the baby Tudor theory. But for me, the who story was meant to be Shakespearean because it was a movie about the true author of Shakespeare, so I felt it had to be very Shakespearean. So, I picked up all these scenes of all the plays and tried to insert them into my film. If you know Shakespeare very well, you know there’s a lot of talk about incest and bastard children and so I tried to insert this into the story.

Q. The bulk of the film doesn’t focus on the Shakespeare conspiracy. It’s there, but it’s a story of historical intrigue, politicking and almost a coup d’etat political conspiracy thriller. Do you feel the Shakespeare angle was there to sell the film to wider audience rather than be the core of it?
Roland Emmerich: Well, the authorship question was in the first script called Soul of the Age and I loved it very much and I thought it was an important story, but I also told John that we have to find a bigger story than that. And I mainly said that if you want to make people believe that an author who did all this work, it has to be a very important reason why he didn’t or can’t put his name on it. It was down to the whole idea of succession.

Succession at that time was the most important thing in the last 10 years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign… that was the fight, who would be the next king was that storyline. And that became the A story and in a way, the whole authorship story became the b block. Also it made the theme clearer. Is the Pen mightier than the sword? In true Shakespearean fashion, it’s told as a tragedy. But then we, as the audience know, the pen triumphed because we know today about William Shakespeare but we don’t know about Cecil anymore.

Q. Can you talk about the significance of casting Mark Rylance [actor and Chairman of the Shakespeare Authorship Trust] and Derek Jacobi in cameo roles?
Roland Emmerich: Well, the very first person I tried to meet in London was Mark Rylance because I think whoever knows him knows that not only is he a great actor, but he’s also a very eloquent defender of the theory. He doesn’t believe it was Oxford, but nevertheless I just needed him to get access to different people to help make the film. For example, the Globe, and he helped us a lot with the research. And at one point I said: “How can I get you in my movie?” I knew he was doing theatre at the time and was not available – but he went out of his way to be in our movie because he wanted to support it and he decided to do the prologue in Henry V and then later Richard III.

Q. And Derek Jacobi?
Roland Emmerich: I’m a really big admirer of him. I think Love is the Devil is one of my favourite films. So, when we said who can play the prologue, Derek’s name came up and I said, yeah, if he wants to do it, anytime.

Read our review of Anonymous

Read our interview with Rafe Spall