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October 31, 2011 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2011-10-31

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8A -- Monday, October 31, 2011

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

FILMMAKER INTERVIEW
Emmerich and Orloff talk 'Anonymous'

New film seeks out
true Shakespeare
authorship
By PHILIP CONKLIN
DailyArts Writer
Was Shakespeare a fraud?
Since the middle of the 19th
century, important thinkers like
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt
Whitman, Mark Twain and Sig-
mund Freud have questioned
whether "the man from Strat-
ford" is in fact responsible for the
revered Shakespearian corpus,
and books on the Shakespeare
authorship debate have proposed
countless potential authors.
This question is also on the
poster of "Anonymous," the most
recent entry into the Shakespeare
authorship debate. The film,
from German director Roland
Emmerich ("2012") argues that
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of
Oxford, wrote Shakespeare's
plays.
"We don't know who William
Shakespeare was," said the film's
writer John Orloff, in an exclu-
sive interview with The Michigan
Daily. "We know nothing about
this man. And when you read that
800-page biography, you're really
reading one page of facts and 799
pages of guesses."
Emmerich shares Orloff's ("A
Mighty Heart") suspicions about
the whether the Shakespeare of
history is the author of the works.
"It is four hundred years ago,
and there is very little known
about these people, and what is
known is probably edited and alot.
of documents were purposefully
destroyed so that people wouldn't
find out the truth," Emmerich
said in the same interview.
The road to getting this film

made was long and arduous. Orl-
off first learned about the Shake-
speare authorship debate about
20 years ago through an episode
of the PBS show "Frontline," after
which he wrote the first draft of
"Anonymous."
"Sadly, two months later,
'Shakespeare in Love' came out,"
Orloff said. "So nobody wanted
to make another Shakespearean
drama."
It wasn't until five years later,
in a meeting with Emmerich
that the idea gained momentum.
Emmerich, who knew next to
nothing about Shakespeare or the
debate, did extensive research
after reading the script. What
resulted is a story of political
intrigue revolving around the
Essex Rebellion and the succes-
sion of Elizabeth I, intertwined
with the narrative of the origin
and true author of the works of
Shakespeare.
"Suddenly, our film became
this Shakespearean drama," Orl-
off said. "In the sense of, it's about
incest, it's about uncrowned
princes. It's about all the things
Shakespeare talks about in his
plays."
However, even after the script
was finalized; they encountered
resistance in trying to finance
the film, because of Emmerich's
past work. As the director of
such sci-fi spectacles as "Inde-
pendence Day" and "The Day
After Tomorrow," Emmerich's
work with "Anonymous" marked
a departure from his usual style.
But it was a departure the direc-
tor welcomed.
"It's really not easy to make
these huge tent-pole mov-
ies because of all the money
involved. They're incredibly com-
plicated, you're under time pres-
sure," Emmerich said. "I was a
little bit frustrated too because

you get pigeonholed as a master
of disaster, but you're actually
quite a normal person who's not
constantly running around trying
to destroy the world. I just do that
because it's what genre I was suc-
cessful in."
Despite the studio's reluc-
tance to let him direct, Emmerich
found a way to get the film made,
and to get it made cheaply.
One advantage of Emmerich's
miniscule budget was that he
could cast the film as he wanted.
The result is a cast of relatively
unknown English actors. But the
lack of familiar faces does not
discourage Emmerich, who, in
his casting process, tried to be as
open as possible to find the best
players.
One face American audiences
might recognize is Rhys Ifans
("Greenberg"), who plays Edward
de Vere, the film's protagonist.
Better known for comedic roles,
Ifans was an unlikely choice for
such a weighty part. But his audi-
tion surprised Emmerich.
"He was assuming that he was
doing Shakespeare, whose char-
acter is a bit like the fool in our
film," Emmerich said. "And he
said, 'Yeah, you've probably got
me here for William Shakespeare,
but I'd love to play the Earl of
Oxford.' And I probably made an
astonished face."
But after doing some research,
Emmerich found that Ifans was
an underappreciated dramatic
actor. Emmerich said he also real-
ized Ifans was similar to de Vere,
a nobleman who is banned from
writing the plays that he loves
and cannot accept the acclaim he
is due.
"Howperfectisthat,youknow,
a man who is misunderstood in
his work in real life - that's also
why he could so deeply empa-
thize with this character," Emm-

"Anonymous" director Roland Emmerich is known for "Independence Day" and "2012."

erich said. "He put alot of himself
and his frustration in this part."
In casting and portraying the
film's characters, Emmerich and
Orloff had to tread a thin line
between historical accuracy and
dramatic energy. It was also more
important for Orloff to write a
film with a gripping narrative,
rather than simply answer the
film's tagline.
"It's not a documentary," Orl-
off said. "It's fun to talk about
the authorship debate, but that's
not what the movie's about. If
the movie were really about the
authorship debate, it would be a
mystery."
"Ultimately, I hope it's about
compelling characters that you
become interested in, like any
other film," he added. "This isn't
a history lesson, this movie. It's

a movie, it's supposed to be fun,
you're supposed to enjoy your-
self."
Though the film is clear in its
position on the authorship ques-
tion, the filmmakers aren't pros-
elytizing.
"I want people to think about
it, though," Orloff said. "We don't
try to convince you in the movie.
The movie takes it as a given that
this is what happened."
However, Emmerich recog-
nizes that the film might provoke
some controversy in the academic
community. Orloff also recog-
nizes the potential controversy,
especially from the Stratfordian
movement - those who believe
the man from Stratford wrote
Shakespeare's works.
"Well they're upset. They're
very, very upset. They're really,

really angry," Orloff said. "I think
art should provoke. That's the
purpose of art. If it's not provok-
ing, if it's not engendering conver-
sation, then, as I say in the film,
it's just decoration."
The film will certainly stir
passionate reactions from both
sides of the debate with its strong
views on this contentious subject
and unflattering portrayal of the
Shakespeare character, who Orl-
off called the "stock Shakespear-
ean fool."
And it's a debate that Orloff rel-
ishes.
"What we are trying to do is
open up a discussion, and tell
people, 'Well, you should think
about this - this is interesting,"'
he said. "Maybe you'll come to the
same conclusion we did, which is:
this might be true."

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