Hamlet (2000)

reviewed by
Ross Anthony


Interviews with actor Ethan Hawke and director Michael Almereyda of "Hamlet"

By Ross Anthony

Ethan Hawke slides into the plush leather chair at the press table with a smile just as comfortable; his upbeat, talkative demeanor nearly mock his timid, shaking (often sweaty) screen persona.

(On Hamlets) It's a testament to why the piece is a masterpiece because everybody brings something different to it. He's so multifaceted everybody who attacks it focuses on a different side of the character. Mel Gibson had him real rambunctious, reminded me of the guy in "Lethal Weapon," which was a good thing.

Mostly these other guys who played hamlet were too old. In a modern sense he's much more of a Holden Caulfield or a Kurt Cobain. Many of his dilemmas are a young man's dilemmas ... Seeking meaning, feeling overshadowed by your parents feeling lost and overwhelmed by society ...

We wanted to make it as accessible as possible ... Allow for the audience to experience ... in a new way and treat it not as some old dusty thing that is very precious but to break down those walls and let the character's emotional life live in a new way.

Shakespeare purists, people who really know a lot about Shakespeare will love it, because they just want it to be a living breathing art form. If you have some idea in your head that British people are they only people who do it right, then you're not gonna like it. But I don't follow in that school... Despite the modern setting, when the movie is done it's the play that resonates.

(On work and family life) If you don't make your family a priority then you'll loose them. So now I try to do things that I really believe in, get the most bang for my buck, thus "Hamlet."

(On literature) I wrote a novel, "The Hottest State" came out a couple years ago, it was a really fun experience for me. The book is about a twenty-year-old guy who's so in love with a girl that he loses his mind. I was so interested in doing something else, because I've been in movies since I was young. At the time, I was adamant to not make a movie out of it, but as time goes by ... I might.

(On philosophy) We live in a community which tries to box us all in. Like you're a journalist, you just do this or you just do that ... you can't also be a musician. You know... I just resent that. I think we're all a lot more than that.

(On other film activities...) I just directed a picture on DV. I got turned on by "The Celebration" and how cheaply you can make a movie. If it's any good ... it's call "The last word on Paradise" it's mildly inspired by Dylan Thomas' "Under Milkwood" which is it all takes place in a hotel over the course of a day and involves about 35 people. The hope is to illustrate how close we are in proximity, and how cut off from each other we are, how similar all our experiences are but how separate we all feel.

(Favorite non-film thing to do...) Take my daughter to the park and play guitar, which unfortunately she doesn't like me to do .. "No daddy No."

(On Music)
I listen to a lot of Beck and a band called Wilco.

Michael Almereyda, eloquent in his soft-spoken boyish manner, replaces Ethan in the pressroom. (On his contemporary interpretation of Hamlet) It never occurred to be not to do it modern. I was thinking about other plays, but this one seemed to be chasing me.

< I couldn't pretend I had a high-cultured British background. [Besides] it's been done beautifully. I wanted to address it in terms I understood that were specifically American, the entire cast is American except for a couple Irish people thrown in for good luck.

Every spoken line is by Shakespeare, the original language is very in tact as much as it's been cut I hope it's more of a distillation than anything else ... in an attempt to get to the essence of the play.

There's so much that's great. There is no definitive Hamlet, there's variance, different versions, ... it wasn't published in Shakespeare's lifetime. It's an unruly play an unwieldy play, part of the challenge and excitement about taking it on is that you have to make cuts. You have to decide what means the most.

That's the nature of Shakespeare is that he accommodates extremes, invites them and demands them in a way. The adaptation was done with an element of respect. The way you can respect Shakespeare the most is not being too precious not being to reverent because these plays were always done as popular entertainment they were meant for big crowds. They were meant for mass audiences. A scholar explained the Globe theatre had a seating capacity of 2000. I never realized that. The plays are still alive and kicking, the idea was to pack it with spirit.

(On Bill Murray) He's is one of my favorite actors ... He brings a peculiar kind of tenderness to the role, he warms it up.

He was my first choice, I was glad to have an excuse to work with him and he was glad to be excused to work with Bill Shakespeare (Laughs).

(On Ethan Hawke) I think he's just turned twenty-nine ... but he was twenty-seven at the time we shot it and he looks particularly boyish with the right lighting (chuckles). He was the first one I thought of for the role and the first one I went to. I had a six-page treatment, on the basis of the treatment he said yes. He's an old friend, and when he said yes understanding we'd be shooting on 16mm and everyone working for scale, we knew we could raise the money. [Two million]. Without him the movie wouldn't exist for a second. From that point we had the luxury of inviting our favorite actors to participate, the key was I needed final cut because I had some bad experiences before. And that's why the budget is so tight.

(On small budget independents) We didn't always have permits, sometimes we were just charging around. New York is pretty filmmaker friendly, you don't have to pay for the streets, you just gotta get the permits. We went super sixteen because we wanted the movie to be above all intimate, and you can be more mobile with the smaller cameras.

I wasn't any more obsessed than when making any other movie - I just thought I was having fun.

The challenging thing is that the movie was done so cheaply, with everyone working at scale, and we didn't have much time especially to rehearse, we were flying at times, so there's an edge of panic to it that I wouldn't have minded deducting.

I like big budget films. My favorite movie last year was "The Matrix", but it's maybe my character, my sensibility that makes me think I won't be having big budgets to work with. I just get a sense that in order to make films and retain final cut I'll probably stay independent.

Press: Is there a downside to making independent films?
MA: Poverty...

-- Copyright 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: http://RossAnthony.com


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