Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Anonymous" with a byline - screenwriter John Orloff interview (part 3)

Below -- in honor of the 462nd birthday of Edward de Vere (Apr. 12) -- we continue with the third and final part of our exclusive, long-form interview with Anonymous screenwriter John Orloff. (Here are links to parts one and two of the interview.)

Anonymous is now available as a DVD or Blu-Ray video disc and as streaming online video -- through Amazon. 

This site can only urge once more... Please see it. In my experience, and that of many I've spoken to, it's so rich and densely packed that seeing it a second time is better than the first. (Review here.) 

Anonymous also changes the conversation in the authorship debate in some fundamental ways. Its box office performance was good but not great: Falling somewhere between the revenues generated by Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation of Hamlet and the 2004 Merchant of Venice (starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons). Nevertheless, it lives on and will continue to do so for many years to come -- albeit in less culturally conspicuous ways than in first-run cineplexes around the world, where it has been over the past six months.

At issue in this part of the interview with Orloff was a separate conversation I had had with the emeritus Berkeley English professor Alan H. Nelson about Anonymous. Nelson -- like most orthodox Shakespeare scholars and fans -- took great exception to actor Rafe Spall's over-the-top portrayal of Will Shakspere of Stratford as a bit of an illiterate oaf. (Pictured here, left to right, Sebastian Armesto [Ben Jonson], screenwriter John Orloff, Rafe Spall [Shakespeare])

Here is where the conversation picks up:

MARK ANDERSON: Let's talk about the portrayal of Will Shakspere of Stratford by Rafe Spall. How did you imagine him? How did that role evolve?

JOHN ORLOFF: Rafe is amazing. I love his performance in the movie. [The film] started off with the conceit that Shakespeare is a movie star.  He's young. He's handsome. He's got an ego. He loves the ladies. He's ambitious. But in his heart, he really wants to act. That's what his art is, and that's what calls him. 

He was always in our script as illiterate. The scene when Ben Jonson demands that he writes something in front of the Mermaid wits, that was always in the script. 

MKA: But when you say illiterate...

JO: He couldn't write. 

MKA: So in every draft, he was able to read his parts. But he just couldn't write. 

JO: Correct. That was always in there. 

And then Rafe came and read. And he really just broadened the character. He was always a little funny in our script. But Rafe broadened it -- but at the same time, I find his Shakespeare a little dark and menacing, as the movie progresses. And I like that about him. He's got a lot to lose, by the middle of the movie. And goddam it, he's going to protect it. There's a dark side to our Shakespeare. 

I would ask [Spall] what he thinks about the [authorship] issue. I think Rafe was on our set a "closet Stratfordian." He would never really comment. Fair enough. But what he did say is, 'I think Shakespeare is the hero of this movie.' And I'd say, 'What do you mean?' And he said, 'If he didn't do this, none of it would have happened. Thank God he said Yes to Ben Jonson.' So we have these fabulous plays. That's how he thought of Shakespeare. 

I started to think of Shakespeare as a Greek tragedy. He was the fool. He has the fool's role in our Shakespearean tragedy. 

MKA: So Rafe thinks Shakespeare's the hero. You think he's the fool. 

JO: In the sense that he's our comedic relief throughout the film, which I think it needs, because it's such a serious, somber and at times melodramatic story. It needs that lighter touch that Rafe peppers throughout the film. 

And, listen, if you're going to go there. If you're going to say Shakespeare didn't make the plays, you don't want to make him a super-smart character, do you? Because you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot. You don't want to make an argument in the universe of the film that he's totally capable of making the plays. You want to make the argument of, 'No, he's some stupid actor.' You have that line when Oxford discovers that it's Shakespeare. The first thing out of his mouth is, 'An actor??!! An actor, for God's sake!' As if it's the worst thing imaginable. 

It was also poking in the eye of professors -- my own professors. I would also argue that the thing scholars know least about is Shakespeare and his personality. And so I think the version we have of Shakespeare is just as justifiable as Joseph Fiennes' Shakespeare. The professor [Alan] Nelson might have a big issue with Shakespeare in my movie. But that's because he's coming to it with his own emotional baggage of his impression of who Shakespeare was. I'm not responsible for that emotional baggage. I can't help him with that.