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HOLLYWOOD NOTES – JANUARY 1999

NICK RODDICK uncovers Mel Gibson’s shaven head, Jodie Foster’s new King - and much more.

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 - reportedly requires.

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 Gibson’s cop.

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.

Bard Timing
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 the perks.

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.

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Jeremy Davies in Saving Private Ryan


Ethan Hawke


Chow Yun Fat


Robert Benigni







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