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For years, reporters have been asking Roland Emmerich -- director of 'Independence Day' and '2012' -- why he has such a fascination with blowing up the planet (I even gave it a shot once, too), which is usually met with a downplayed answer about it all being a coincidence. Or something like that. Then -- while discussing his new movie about Shakespeare -- Emmerich offered this, almost in passing: "I always have the feeling that our whole culture is like a lot of lemmings... and pretty soon it will all be over." Honestly, has there ever been a sentence to better describe Roland Emmerich's motivations than that?
Oh, yes, then there's his new "Shakespeare was a fraud" movie opening in some markets this weekend, 'Anonymous.' In the drama, William Shakespeare (played quite terrifically by Rafe Spall) is actually a buffoon, selected to pose as the author of some of the greatest plays in history that were actually written by Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), 17th Earl of Oxford -- a theory Emmerich says is "plausible." Moviefone spoke to Emmerich about 'Anonymous,' the challenges of making a mostly CGI world look realistic, and why 'Anonymous' looks better than the 'Star Wars' prequels.
Last time I spoke to you it was for '2012' -- it's a very different movie this time around.
OK, I'm game: How do you think they are similar?
I think they are kind of twins. [Laughs] No, actually.
I'm going to quote you on that now. Honestly, though: How does Roland Emmerich make this movie?
Don't forget, my next movie is typical Roland Emmerich ['Singularity'] -- and another one after that. I think, for me, it's good, once in a while, to do something that is important for me. Just to reconnect. It's much smaller and less pressure and I could do what I wanted. And to go back to Germany for the first time in 20 years and work with incredibly talented people there, because I always believe that German crews are, actually, in a weird way, the best -- especially when you speak German. So, all around it was a personal movie for me.
So it's different than filming, say, '2012.'
When you do these big movies, it's a little bit like being a general in a war or the executive of a big company. You're not quite down and dirty. In the end, what happens around the camera and the actors is exactly the same. There's no difference.
So did you enjoy making this movie more than your movies with explosions?
I liked the intimacy. Even in my big movie, I actually like shooting dialogues the most and working with actors. I actually look on the schedule and I go, "Oh, God," when there's an action scene on the schedule. But when there's dialogue on the shooting schedule, I'm like, I can't wait to do it.
Why do the action movie then?
Because I like it... it's not like I'm miserable or anything.
But if that's the part that you don't enjoy...
I'm not miserable... and I have a very good hand with it and keeping these tedious moments in front of a blue screen and stuff that's lively and fun. I feel a director is an animator -- we should all have training at Club Med so we can get better at that. Because it's a lot about motivation and keeping acting fresh in tedious situations. What I always find fascinating is how movies influence one another. For example: when I was shooting '2012,' I shot a lot in front of blue screen. And I realized, using digital cameras, the digital compositing is so much better than anything I have ever seen. So I thought, Oh my God, I can actually do whole scenes in front of blue screen. And it's relatively simple and easy to composite. So we shot the scenes and it looked really good and convincing, so I said, "Why don't we use this in our Shakespeare movie?"
Here's what I don't understand: If I watch 'Revenge of the Sith,' it's pretty obvious that whole movie is CGI. I didn't feel that way with 'Anonymous.' Why is that?
Because I think we worked a little bit harder than they do. It's a different kind of movie, you don't care. Also, you forget, George Lucas has to make three and a half thousand shots and we have, maybe, in a movie like 'Anonymous,' between four and five hundred. That's a big difference. And I think I have somebody who just likes, like me, realism. It's always how much you like something or don't like something. And I think whenever you feel composited, it's not a good shot -- there are a lot of tricks where you can make it look less like a composite. There's always this talk that one day special effects will help make movies cheaper -- and it never happens like that. But in the case of 'Anonymous,' it was the first movie that visual effects made it look bigger but was half as expensive.
Were you worried it wasn't going to look real?
Yeah, you're always afraid of that. And we cut five or six shots out because they didn't live up to the rest.
Shifting gears, were you aware of this Shakespeare conspiracy before you did this movie?
Not at all. Not until the script.
I really wasn't either, but -- after looking into it -- there are quite a few different versions.
Well... there's only one really serious theory right now, of the Earl of Oxford. His whole life is too good of a match and he blows every other candidate out of the water. Also, he was a writer, he had an acting group, he invested in theaters. He had an annual salary for the last ten years of his life from Elizabeth, who was extremely stingy. So there was a lot of evidence there.
So you think it's true?
Well, for me, I would say it's very plausible that it was Oxford. But I'm 100 percent sure that it wasn't the man from Stratford. There's too much evidence there that proves he wasn't.
Do you worry people will judge this movie based on your other disaster movies?
There are a lot of things against this movie. First of all, I'm "the Master of Disaster" -- that's my official title. Then, naturally, there is the literary establishment. For them they will absolutely fight this movie and try to belittle it -- which is always happening to movies that want people to think. So there will be a big battle going on. And that's all fine, but I think we made a great movie and we stand for it and whatever happens, happens. We can't control it, you know?
You should have released this movie anonymously.
I wanted to. But you could not do that. The studio only gave me the money because they could sell it under my name.
See, that would have really shocked people when you made your eventual big reveal that is was you.
But it's a little bit like that, too, because people are just stunned that it is from me. They're always saying, "How difficult is it to make this movies that I normally do? Do you think you could be brain damaged doing these movies?" It's just like all public perception. It's the same thing that happens to Michael Bay and people like that. Everybody thinks we're kind of idiots.
That's a strong word. I don't think even the people who don't like your movies thinks that you're an idiot.
I have to come back to this: You did say that you don't look forward to the action shots and you like dialogue. Why not just do more movies like this?
It's not that. What I want to stay away from in the future is disaster films -- fewer disaster films. And I just kind of want to make... I love making these movies. Also, you know what, it's the movies I love the most. I see a great, entertaining movie -- a big, entertaining movie -- and it's such a joy for me to see it. Like the first 'Pirates of the Caribbean' was one of those. And the first 'Back to the Future' was one of those. The first 'Star Wars' was one of those. So that's what I'm truing to aspire to and that's why I make movies. But, I kind of also have other interests. For example: I'm a huge history buff, I love to read biographies, I'm very into reading and I never watch TV or anything and I'm hardly on the computer. So, in a way, it's another Roland Emmerich. And I have the smallest problem with it; I think everybody else has a problem with it. But people who know me see 'Anonymous,' and say, "Yeah, totally vintage Roland."
I'm a very inquisitive person. I think inquisitiveness is lost in our culture. I always have the feeling that our whole culture is like a lot of lemmings... and pretty soon it will all be over.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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[Photo: Sony/Columbia Tri-Star]