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Anonymous - Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

VANESSA Redgrave and Joely Richardson talk about their involvement in Roland Emmerich’s controversial Shakespeare epic Anonymous and some of the issues and challenges involved.

Vanessa also talks about reuniting with Rhys Ifans for the first time since they did theatre together and Joely explains why she feels the film is a good advert for theatre.

Q. How did you both come to be involved in this movie?
Joely Richardson: I’d worked with Roland [Emmerich] before and I’d heard about the project and found it absolutely fascinating. We then met for a cup of tea at his house. I think he was still undecided at that stage and checking out options [laughs]!

Q. So Vanessa, did you play hard to get for this role?
Vanessa Redgrave: No, I didn’t. I fell over myself to get it [laughs]. I really did. I so wanted to play this Elizabeth.

Q. What do you mean by that?
Vanessa Redgrave: Roland’s Elizabeth and [screenwriter] John Orloff’s Elizabeth because she’s something of what I got when I read, decades and decades ago, a wonderful book, which is now out of print, by Lytton Strachey called Elizabeth and Essex. I got a glimpse then and more than a glimpse from Roland and John’s script of a woman queen who had been through many, many terrible experiences, and perhaps some glorious ones, and by the time she became old was disintegrating under the pressure, but clinging to the things she held dear… and to memories.

Q. Vanessa, you first worked with Rhys Ifans when he was a trainee flyman at Theatre Clwyd when you were playing Cleopatra there. Do you have any special memories from that time?
Vanessa Redgrave: Yes, I have a memory of Chernobyl because the stuff was coming down on Welsh soil and all the women were queuing up at the shop to buy purified water. I love the play and I loved performing it.

Q. Vanessa, what is your theory about who wrote all these plays? And why is the debate still going on?
Vanessa Redgrave: Well, can I start – and I will answer this – but can I start with the fact that, you know, inevitably we lot, here in Britain, the Tudors are a part of our history, so of course we’re fascinated by the Tudors. I was anyway since I was about eight-years-old. So, within that context of being fascinated by the Tudors I started going to see plays that my father was in and a lot of them were apparently by this writer called William Shakespeare. So, if you’re excited by the plays and I was from the very beginning… I saw my father in Macbeth, and I saw him about 15 years later playing Hamlet when he was 50, and I’m not going to bore you with all the ones I’ve seen but they’re all in my family, but of course I went to see Joely when she was playing at Stratford, I’ve seen my sister playing in Shakespeare, my brother playing in Shakespeare.

It’s what you hear and what you see and this extraordinary understanding that comes through to you through these plays of that particular time in the courts. And you see something that the newspapers don’t give you, or didn’t give you in those days, which are insights psychologically through Shakespeare’s plays. And I can only say, and I’m sorry if I haven’t answered your question, that I really agree with Rhys… it doesn’t matter. The film has to be taken as an absolutely enthralling film. I was shaken when I’d seen it because I felt I’d lived through those circumstances… not because I’m playing Queen Elizabeth but because I became so – to use that very Elizabeth word – enthrall to the film and its story and the characters that I saw. So, I cannot start with… I don’t feel the film is debunking Shakespeare. I think the film is glorifying Shakespeare actually. I just have a different point of view.


Q. And Joely, what do you think?
Joely Richardson: I totally agree with what Rhys Ifans said and with what mum, Vanessa has said, and with what Roland has said. I see it as totally Shakespearean. My level of enthusiasm and fascination for Shakespeare has heightened since reading all the different theories. I’m much more informed. But I find our film, which Roland has very clearly pointed out is not a documentary, is totally Shakespearean in that it has reversed everything. I feel that whoever it was that wrote them would be laughing. The hero is the villain and vice-versa, the way it was in all his plays, they’re often changing identities, be it with the sexes… it’s a total celebration of the works of Shakespeare and as Vanessa has said, the minute the film starts it just grabs you and takes you on this enthralling journey, which again with Roland’s background, is shot in such an epic style and with such inter-weaving stories.

There’s this beautiful love story, a thriller, court-life… so, going back to what Rhys says, I don’t like the class debate about authorship because I do feel that Shakespeare, whatever his background, was the writer of the people without a doubt. He was the writer of us human beings, of the human condition, etc, so I really see our film as a Shakespearean story.

Q. Vanessa, there’s a marvelous moment at the end of the film where we see the old queen as a young girl again when she jigs to She Shall Have Music Wherever She Goes. Was there anything in the script that gave you a clue to where she was and what she felt at that time? What gave you the essence for her portrayal? Was that one of the moments?
Vanessa Redgrave: I’ll have to answer you in three sentences instead of 300! But one of the things I loved about the script was that anything I’d ever read or studied, both in the plays themselves and the sonnets, but also in the history that I’d read – particularly Lytton Strachey and his generation and some of the big English language academics – I just felt that I knew this lady and if I was wrong, then Roland would correct me and would steer me where I should be. After all, I’m Queen Elizabeth in his film and not in my own head. But in that particular scene you mention, she is so excited that she is going to see the guy she loved many years before and still has hidden there inside. She thinks she’s going to see him. It is an old English nursery rhyme that goes way back to the 15-somethings, as many of the English nursery rhymes do, so it came to me and Roland seemed to like it.

Q. Did you have any apprehension about upsetting Shakespeare purists when you first read the script?
Vanessa Redgrave: Well, part of you always gets nervous when you’re going to begin filming because there are many decisions that were being made and they’re decisions you have to understand as well as you can. The other thing is that I was so excited because I’ve always wanted to play Elizabeth from the time I was about 19, and finally a year and a half ago I got to play the old Elizabeth and I was very thrilled about that, because I’ve always been fascinated by her young and old.
Joely Richardson: Ditto really. I was just incredibly excited to play Elizabeth. I felt it was really wonderful that mum and I could both play her. I was really excited to work with Roland again and the subject matter was fascinating for all its different levels.

Something that we haven’t talked very much about, I feel in this press conference or because of the controversy… and I wasn’t aware that people were quite so passionate about it before we started. But I just feel there’s another element to the film – to me, the scenes in the Globe and the communication between the actors and the audience and the way it comes alive, I just thought that was absolutely thrilling to see. And so, for all those reasons, I was thrilled and not in the least apprehensive.

Vanessa Redgrave: And all the people in it love the theatre, more even than perhaps people in our day younger people loved the theatre, so perhaps we’re coming back to that. I think the film is also a celebration of theatre and communication – for many reasons. Not for a message necessarily, but for a deepening of our understanding and our love of life, and being able to survive life!

Read our review of Anonymous

Read our interview with Roland Emmerich