Million Dollar Mel
For a project that’s been around for half a decade, The Million Dollar Hotel, Wim
Wenders’ collaboration with singer/composer Bono of Irish rock band U2, has showed a
surprising amount of speed coming into the home stretch.
The Million Dollar Hotel is just about ready to go into production and its cast will be
headed by none other than Mel Gibson, the biggest name ever to appear in a Wenders movie.
What is more, it may even turn out to be a Mel Gibson with a shaven head, since that is
what his role - that of a prying detective trying to solve a murder in a seedy LA hotel -
Gibson’s is not, however, one of the two main parts in the movie: those are taken
by Jeremy Davies (who played the gentle-natured translator traumatised by battle in Saving
Private Ryan) and Mila Jovovich, who came from outer space in Luc Besson’s The Fifth
Element and has now put her acting career literally at stake in the same director’s
Joan of Arc. They play a couple of misfits holed up in the hotel and hassled by
The latter, incidentally, backed out of the Barry Levinson version of A Tale of Two
Cities because he didn’t think he could prepare a period role while also readying his
own version of Fahrenheit 451, the Ray Bradbury story previously made by François
Truffaut. Wenders’ movie does not pose quite the same problems, however, since the
role is not as demanding.
He’ll be 435 years old this April; he was in love with Julia Roberts, but that
didn’t work out, so now he’s settled for Gwyneth Paltrow; and he’s just
done an output deal with Kenneth Branagh and Miramax.
He is, of course, the English language’s greatest dramatist, William Shakespeare,
who is played by Joseph Fiennes in this up-market love story, Shakespeare in Love, and is
due to have a number of his plays turned into films by Branagh over the next few years.
But that’s not all: a remarkable cast recently signed up for a mid-budget screen
version of Hamlet to be directed by cult film-maker Michael Almereyda. Ethan Hawke will
play the title role, with David Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan as a presumably
younger-than-usual Claudius. The story will have a contemporary setting, and will also
feature Sam Shepard as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Diane
Venora as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and Bill Murray as Polonius.
Producers are Andrew Fierberg and Amy Hobby, veterans of the New York indie scene.
Hobby produced Almereyda’s last movie, the lavishly shot vampire epic Nadja, which
was executive-produced by Lynch.
The King and Her
Another much-touted project is closer to reality: Anna and the King, the true-life tale of
a young but rather prim British schoolteacher called Anna Leonowens who went to Siam (now
Thailand) in the 1860s to tutor the King’s children, and ended up falling in love
with the King.
It is, of course, the same story that became a hit Broadway musical - book by Oscar
Hammerstein III, music by Richard Rodgers - and was turned into a hit movie musical in
1956, with Yul Brynner as the King and Deborah Kerr as the governess. But the book on
which the musical is based, Anna and the King of Siam, had been turned into a non-singing
movie a decade earlier, with Rex Harrison (in his Hollywood debut) and Irene Dunne in the
two main roles.
The new version - which looks like featuring Jodie Foster (for a $15-million fee which
would make her, along with Julia Roberts, the highest-paid actress in Hollywood) and Hong
Kong star Chow Yun Fat (seen most recently in The Replacement Killers) - will go back to
the original book, reportedly quite different from the 1946 film and will most
emphatically not have singing in it. It will also draw on material from Leonowens’
own unpublished diaries.
Plans to make the movie have been around for a couple of years, with Chow attached from
the start. Earlier reports suggested it would be more historically accurate than either of
its predecessors, looking at the King's struggle to educate his people and keep Thailand
independent from the various colonial powers who were busy grabbing bits of South East
Asia in the 19th century.
Andy Tennant (Ever After ) will direct; Tarantino associate Lawrence Bender will
produce with Ed Elbert; and filming is due to start this month (January). But not in
Thailand, whose authorities object to the tone of the piece.
A Case of Balzac for Gérard
His recent cinematic activity somewhat curtailed by last summer’s motorcycle accident
in which he broke his leg, French star Gérard Depardieu has been spending the
pre-Christmas period playing Honoré de Balzac, the prolific 19th-century French novelist
who was like Charles Dickens and Herman Melville all rolled into one. But don’t
expect to see the result on a screen near you in the near future: the Ffr 60 ($10) million
project is being made for French television (TF1, to be precise).
Depardieu completed Claude Berri’s live-action Astérix, in which he co-stars with
Roberto Benigni (guess who plays Asterix and who plays Obelix), but the accident meant he
could not play a cameo role in Anjelica Huston’s feature, The Mammy.
And it turns out that Balzac producer Jean-Pierre Guérin never meant him to play the
novelist: it was Depardieu himself who brought up the idea when Guérin approached him
about playing the lead in an adaptation of one of Balzac’s novels. Josée Dayan is
directing the four-hour miniseries, which also stars Jeanne Moreau and Fanny Ardant.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Play
Mick Jagger, who has been toying with the movies since the sixties and recently formalised
the affair with the setting up of his own production company, Jagged Films, is looking to
link up with a film-maker every bit as legendary in his own field: Martin Scorsese.
The project which may link them is still at the planning stage, but Paramount has
committed to make Swap, the story of a rock star (Jagger, maybe) who changes places with
one of his roadies. The original story is by Jagger himself, and is a comedy with a
‘grass-is-greener’ theme: the star thinks he has all the pressure, while the
roadie has all the fun; the roadie reckons he does all the work while the star gets all
It’s a theme that Shakespeare riffed on more than once, but its appeal to Scorsese
has less to do with its literary origins than with who wrote it: he’s a huge Stones
fan (as anyone listening to the soundtrack of Casino ought to be able to work out), and
served his rock ‘n’ roll apprenticeship as a cameraman on Woodstock.
Strangely enough, a similar theme turns up in another rock-related movie currently in
the pipeline: an indie epic called Goodtime Charlie, based on the true story of a roadie
who drove John Lennon to a seventies rally for White Panther leader John Sinclair. It is
written by Kostas Iannios and Thomas Penner, and Iannios will produce and direct the
movie, which is due to roll next month (February).
For the record, Jagger’s Jagged currently has four other films on its extensive
front-burner: Saving Grace, starring Brenda Blethyn; Enigma (no connection with the 1983
movie which gave David Puttnam’s production company its name), adapted by Tom
Stoppard from a Robert Harris novel and directed by Michael Apted; Tanya, in which Antonio
Banderas will play Che Guevara; and the Dylan Thomas biopic, Map of Love, to be written
and directed by Chris Monger.