The first thing Shakespeare fans will notice about director Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest” is that the angry, exiled old magician Prospero is now a woman — and not just any woman. But Taymor, always an envelope-pusher, insists casting Dame Helen Mirren in the lead role — making it Prospera — wasn’t done for attention. “All I knew was that Helen could play Prospero and there’d be no problem. And that’s where I started,” Taymor says.

Among the talent-heavy cast supporting Mirren are Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina and Russell Brand. While the “Get Him to the Greek” star might seem an odd fit, Taymor insists his was the easiest role to cast. “There’s nobody who is the contemporary court jester — in the way that Shakespeare understood the court jester — better than Russell,” she says.

“The Tempest” is near to Taymor’s heart, as it was the first Shakespeare play she directed, in 1984. And much like her earlier genre-bending Shakespeare adaptation, “Titus,” Taymor got to know the text on stage before getting behind the camera. “I never would direct a Shakespeare [play] if I hadn’t done it on stage first, because in the theater you strip it down,” she says. “This was low-budget for a film, but theater is even lower low-budget — or can be.” At that, she lets out a little laugh.

That laughter is an allusion to “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” Taymor’s latest Broadway production, which has had costly delays on its way to the stage. But despite some injuries and mishaps in its first performances, the director is staying positive, saying only: “It’s in previews. We’re doing our job. It’s working well, third preview ran smoothly. We’ve got another four weeks and I’m very excited about it.”

Literary theory

Russell Brand, who plays arrogant fool Trinculo in “The Tempest,” admits he was blown away by the experience. “I suppose initially I thought, ‘Oh, Julie Taymor’s one of the best female directors, and Helen Mirren’s one of the best female actors,’ but then as I became immersed in the experience, I thought, it’s just — these are some of the best people working in this medium regardless of sex organs,” the British comic says. “And for me to disregard sex organs is a huge leap forward. It’s normally focal.”

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