German-born director Roland Emmerich — best known for directing Hollywood disaster epics like Independence Day — has turned his hand to Shakespeare, or, more specifically, to the costume drama and thriller Anonymous. The movie advances the view that the Bard didn’t write the world famous plays attributed to him. Emmerich sat down with me to discuss Anonymous and why he wanted to direct it.
TOM: You have an interesting background as a director. When people hear your name, they wouldn’t think of kind of Shakespeare period drama. Do you think in a way your background, making say action films, actually helped you with this film?
ROLAND EMMERICH: Yeah, I think you have to be a little bit ignorant in a way at first, because a lot of people would not have had the guts to do this… And sometimes I was a little bit afraid of my own courage, but also I have to say, over the ten years I [was] planning and making this movie, I did so much study and so much… I went through such a discovery phase, also of Shakespeare’s plays. I met so many different people, scholars. I learned so much about a world we had no clue about, and I’m really happy that I did it.
TOM: And what about the British actors that you were working with? I mean, at first, did they kind of do a double take? “Oh Roland Emmerich is directing us in this film. Why Roland Emmerich?”
ROLAND EMMERICH: English actors they’re just excited to meet you, because I think my movies like work very well in England, but then, they ask the same question that you ask, “So Roland, why do you want to do this?” And then they get the script, and then they know why, and they just loved, loved the script. I just want to be very, very free and meet everybody and then decide who is the best to play these parts.
TOM: There are scholars who are saying in polite terms that this film, the premise, is historical rubbish, that Shakespeare definitely did write those plays. I mean, what’s your response to them?
ROLAND EMMERICH: If they would produce some evidence in written form that this guy ever wrote. All what they have is evidence, which was then after his death by other people, and that’s just too shaky.
TOM: But I’m sure in a way, you don’t mind all this debate that’s going on, because it only brings people’s attention to the film…
ROLAND EMMERICH: Yeah, I enjoy it. I enjoy it. I had a lot of discussions with these people, and I go through the universities and take on, and what I do is I just ask very simple questions. I said, “I’m not a scholar. You explain to me why somebody has illiterate parents and his two daughters are also illiterate, and he wrote all that. Tell me why. Do you think a writer of the stature of like William Shakespeare doesn’t want to have his daughters read his work?”
Do you agree with Roland Emmerich? Are you convinced Shakespeare wrote the work attributed to him?