Interview: Director Roland Emmerich on ‘Anonymous’

Alex Williams

Roland Emmerich has built his career on disaster film epics such as “Independence Day” and “2012,” but his passion project “Anonymous” is a film of an entirely different vein. Positing that William Shakespeare’s (Rafe Spall) works were in fact written by the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), Emmerich’s film has been in development for more than a decade and is the director’s latest since 2009’s “2012.”

The Daily Texan participated in a round table interview with Emmerich when he was in town for a screening.

The Daily Texan: Why did you choose to make a film about the Oxford theory?
Roland Emmerich:
I got a script where Oxford was the candidate. Right now, I’m 100 percent of belief that the man from Stratford [William Shakespeare] didn’t write it. I would say that Oxford is the most likely but also the most interesting candidate of all the candidates. I think it’s appropriate that Oxford is the true author in our version.

DT: How is doing a period piece like this one different from your bigger blockbuster fare?
On one hand, it’s exactly the same. It’s shooting a movie. You have a camera, you have a crew, you have actors. When I’m doing a big movie, I always dread the days when I have to do action scenes or visual effects scenes because they’re actually really boring, and it’s very hard to keep the energy of the actors up and say, “John [Cusack], you have to run faster!” He tries to run faster on this fake walking machine. It’s ridiculous. In this movie, everything was there for me, because the actors were all there.

DT: Did you have time afforded to you that you could spend with actors on set?
It’s English actors. When you look at my other films, I use a lot of English actors. I love how well-prepared they come and how easy they are to direct. You can really have a normal conversation with them. They have no ego and really just want to please you. When you’re good with them and you say the right things to them, they give amazing performances, and I think we have some of the best performances we have seen ever in a film in this film. I think it’s stunningly acted. I don’t know how these guys did it, they can even control the tears in their eyes.

DT: Tell me about casting.
These are high-class English theater actors. You’re quite honored that they want to take a meeting with you. And then some of them are my favorites. David Thewlis has been one of my favorites since “Naked.” He’s a terrific actor. And Vanessa [Redgrave] and Rhys Ifans. A friend of mine shot a movie with him like 10 years ago, and he said he’s probably one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I started studying him, and when we met, he was so interesting. You kind of pigeonhole directors, but you can also pigeonhole actors. He’s always been pigeonholed since he was in his underwear in “Notting Hill,” and he is the clown. That’s it.

DT: Was it by design that you had Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave [a mother-daughter team who play the adult and elderly versions of Queen Elizabeth] in the film?
When we wrote the final draft, I said, “I know how we do Elizabeth. We cast Vanessa and Joely.” It was an idea I had at that moment, but it totally made sense for me and I never wavered in it. I got very lucky that they both wanted to do it. Joely always kind of stands a little bit under the shadow of her mom, and I think she gives an amazing performance. It was tough for both of them, they’re competing in a weird way to overcome that it’s not competing. It’s showing two sides of a character, and they kind of understood that.

“Anonymous” opens in theaters today.

Printed on Friday, October 28, 2011 as: Director Roland Emmerich returns with 'Anonymous': Emmerich branches out from disaster genre