Roland Emmerich talk Anonymous Blu-ray, available today
Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, Anonymous speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds alike: Who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.
Anonymous is available for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD starting today, February 7th. To celebrate this exciting release, we caught up with the film's director, Roland Emmerich. This is our conversation.
How does it feel to have your old nemesis Roger Ebert splashed across the front of your DVD?
Roland Emmerich: (Laughs) I don't know...I haven't seen that yet...(Laughs) Life is full of surprises!
When I first heard about Anonymous, I thought it was going to be this dank little art house flick. But it's as lush and detailed, and as wide in scope as any of your disaster movies. Are you incapable of making a small movie, even when the story is considered "more intimate"?
Roland Emmerich: Listen, that's what I like. I didn't have much money for this film. You just do it like you think it should look. I am really very proud of how it looks. It was how I felt it should be brought to the screen.
I was a little bit blown away by how it looks. It's gorgeous. But that seems to be your aesthetic as a director. Even working small, you can't help yourself. You can't help but pull those dynamic, larger than life images in. Do you think that is a true statement?
Roland Emmerich: Yes! Yeah, yeah...I've always said, whatever I do, it hopefully has to have my handwriting on it. (Laughs) Otherwise they could just go get another director.
You can't deny, after making a string of films like Independence Day, and the Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, that this is a sharp left turn for you. What grabbed you by the throat here? What screamed, "Roland, this is your career change!"
Roland Emmerich: It was the script, which came out of nowhere. I read it. It was just a writing sample, and it immediately grabbed me. The tragedy of this figure, this artist, who, at the end of his life, had written all of these things, yet he cannot put his name on them. That got to me.
Have you ever experienced that in your own career?
Roland Emmerich: No! But I can empathize with someone like that. Because, when you see yourself as a creative person, and an artist, you can very much feel for someone like this. Sometimes, I want to show a new world. Something that people have not seen. I realized that through this story, I could give people a look at the Elizabethan age in a way they've never seen before.
Through any medium, the writer is often overlooked or forgotten. Especially in cinema, when you have a name director such as yourself attached. Did you intend for Anonymous to shine a light on the writer in particular? Or do you feel it speaks to all artists in any medium?
Roland Emmerich: I think this is mainly a writers' movie and an actors' movie. People do talk a lot about how it looks. But in its true essences, it is an actors' movie. More so, it is a writers' movie. So, in that way, that was different for me...
In terms of the acting...How difficult or challenging was it to find actors that could fit into and really represent the Victorian age?
Roland Emmerich: For me, the casting was a very long process. I took this very seriously. Casting this movie. There were a couple of bigger names squirreling around. But I said at a very early stage that these actors would not fit. You know? They were out. Luckily, because the movie was at Sony Pictures, and not really a big movie...I think they only spent $22 million on it...So, for that, I had the freedom to choose however I wanted. We went to England, and saw every actor that country has to offer. It builds slowly. We found, slowly but surely, the right cast for this movie.
When it hit theaters, the movie really struck a chord with those who saw it. It became one of those coffee shop thrillers, where you hunker down in the booth with your friends and really discuss some of the implications that the film presents after it is over. What is your stance on the argument that Anonymous presents? Is it the voice we see in the movie?
Roland Emmerich: You know what? Its like this...I am totally, 100% convinced that William Shakespeare of Stratford didn't write these words. I don't think that my movie, in any way, tells a true story. It is my interpretation, it is the writer's interpretation, of what could have happened. That's why we use this prologue. Let's tell you a different story. Let's tell you a darker story. Whatever you think you may know about William Shakespeare of Stradford? I consider that all science fiction. In a way, that's that. Then you come to the way a lot of people see the film. I think a lot of film critics critiqued the theory. They didn't criticize the film, or how it was made...No, no, no...They criticized that I had the audacity to tell this story. Which was very strange to me. But I also understand that most high-class film critics have studied literature. In a weird way, we went totally against the literary establishment. Whatever you do, you want to have endless discussions at the podium. You want to hear from people on both sides. I saw it through all of these discussions. After it came out, I was even more convinced that what the movie says is the truth. Its like, when you sit with literally professors...I sat with some at Oxford Union, and you see how flustered and emotional they get. You realize all of a sudden, how much this is an infliction for these people. When somebody goes against the Dogma, if this were the middleages, you'd get beheaded. Or burned at the stake.
I guess, in this day and age, they just call that a film review.
Roland Emmerich: When they look at a movie like Anonymous, they say it's nonsense and conspiracy. That's what they do.
The young kids are into this movie. The college kids. Does it surprise you that there is still such an interest there? That Shakespeare never fails to thrive amongst the youth?
Roland Emmerich: He is the biggest writer of the English language. He started modern English as a writer. He was the first to write characters that dealt with psychology. I think that's why William Shakespeare will never die. Because he is the first one that did it.
With so much coming at us in this day and age, kids could have easily looked at a film about Shakespeare and went, "Ugh, that looks boring." But the film is anything but boring. Do you have to take into consideration that the subject matter might be a little dry for some tastes? Especially that all important youth market? Did you do anything to curb that?
Roland Emmerich: No! I am not that kind of filmmaker. Not when I am doing this kind of movie. I am not trying to think about anybody. I am only doing what I like. And I wanted to follow that. Because this is not a movie that costs money. It's affordable. So I followed my own instincts. I didn't worry about whether young people would want to see it, or not see it. I think I only made this movie for me and my friends.
Yet, on that note, it seems that you are incapable of making anything that is not viscerally exciting, no matter what it is...
Roland Emmerich: (Laughs) It's just my taste. That's how I see other movies. I must immediately become engaged in something.
Since this interview is for the DVD, and I notice you have a commentary with screenwriter John Orloff...Do you get excited to participate in something like that for the studio? Or do you see it as more of a chore?
Roland Emmerich: Not necessarily. I know that a lot of people like to listen to them. And they want me to do one. That is why I normally say yes to it...But do I really enjoy it? It depends. I like doing it with people. That always makes it easier. The one with John Orloff was pretty easy. It was fine, because we could both discuss this movie to the scene.
There was a rumor floating around that you are going to direct a movie based on the video game Asteroids. Is that a substantiated rumor at this point? Are you really thinking about doing such a thing still?
Roland Emmerich: No! That is wrong. I was, for five seconds, interested in it. But I chose not to get involved. It was a very interesting script. A friend of mine is the producer. It was one of those moments where he said, "We have to do something!" Because I really like him, and he is the producer of Transformers...I felt inclined to listen to him. To engage. You know how this goes. Then the studio gets wind of it. They are super excited. They leak it to someone, to boost up the project. Then all of a sudden, I am getting asked by all of these mental people, "So, Asteroids is your next film?" No! I have tons of other projects. And Asteroids is not one of them.
Does this mean you may stay in line with Anonymous on your next project? Are you going to stay a little more grounded in your storytelling? It seems, structure and form wise, this movie was praised a little differently than your action thrillers of the past...
Roland Emmerich: You know what? I try not to be discouraged by critics. If I was, I would not make any more movies. I would have stopped after Independence Day. You know? When I did it, I got some of the worse reviews of my career. It then became one of the most beloved movies amongst audiences. If that movie came out today, it would make $1.8 billion dollars. What I am saying is, I can't look at critics. When they have someone on their target list, on the bad side, it becomes increasingly hard to get any good reviews, no matter what the genre is. They have to wait and see what you give them.
For you, though, if you get a bad review, all you have to do is walk into the theater and hear the audience for yourself. There's your review. Audiences were very vocal in their love for 2012 while the film was playing...
Roland Emmerich: It's like this. I have a measurement for success. The Cinema Scores. When the people come out, they do a survey of the audience. They learn how much people like it. What the word of mouth will be. Anonymous? It has an A-. For a movie like this? It's unheard of.
You talk about having all of these other projects lined up, but I don't see that you are in production on anything...
Roland Emmerich: I am off being an artist. That's why something like Asteroids happens. I have several projects that are in active preparation. I am actually working on something for ABC TV. I'll shoot a pilot I wrote with Harald Kloser, my co-writer on 2012. We will shoot it in March.
Is that the extension of the 2012 movie? I know you guys were discussing the prospects of turning that into a TV show...
Roland Emmerich: No! This is something completely original. Its like...I have agreed with ABC that we keep the title and what it is about under wraps. They want to have it when they pick up the pilot...They want to have that surprise then. It is a very provocative title and subject matter.
So it will pull people in on the title alone?
Roland Emmerich: Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm. I am going to start shooting it on the 6th of March. These things go really fast. When it is finished, ABC will have audience tests. They will see if this goes. By that time, I will already be preparing another movie.
We might see it this fall?
Roland Emmerich: Yeah. Could be.
What happened to Singularity? You guys were trucking forward on that at the time of Anonymous' theatrical release...
Roland Emmerich: It is in active development. We stopped production on it, because we were not happy with the script. Though, I am now developing another script.
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