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. “This idea of turning Prospero into Prospera wasn’t the instigation for doing it. It was, ‘Who do I want to play Prospero?’ And there she was. And the play lent itself to that.”
The play also lent itself to the medium of film, Taymor found.
“I love directing Shakespeare on film,” she says. “I have that extra additional camera to get in there when it’s supposed to be a soliloquy. This I think is a boon and an enhancement for the audience of now that is very impatient with comprehension, with listening.”
And she’s hoping dazzling visuals and locations will help win over the impatient and Shakespeare-averse.
Among the talent-heavy cast supporting Mirren are Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina, Djimon Honsou and British comedian Russell Brand. While the star of Get Him to the Greek might seem an odd fit for Shakespeare, 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.