While he was busy making millions with disaster films like Independence Day, the Day After Tomorrow and 2012, German director Roland Emmerich secretly had a completely different kind of film in mind — a film about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.
And while he does manage to sneak an explosion or two into Elizabethan London, Anonymous is indeed a completely different film than what he’s made before, and he always knew bringing it to the world would be “an uphill battle.”
Do you have your own opinion about the identity of Shakespeare?
I side with the artists and writers. I side with Mark Ryland, Derek Jacobi, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles — all these people believed that the man from Stratford didn’t write it.
The problem with this whole thing, anyway, is there’s the literary establishment — the educators, the professors, the school teachers and all these people who write books about the man from Stratford.
They’ve devoted their whole lives, and now the Master of Disaster comes along and makes this movie — maybe I’m the antichrist, we don’t know yet. They’re thinking I am. But whatever it is, they have to bedevil me, they have to kind of think this is all nonsense, but it isn’t. And it’s an uphill battle, I knew that going in.
What made you want to take on this subject?
The orthodox scholars have a huge problem with the work of Shakespeare. How do they want to explain that? How can a commoner write only about the point of view of an aristocrat? Why is there so much poetry? It’s very hard to believe that it was written by a guy who was a younger man who was just coming to London as a commoner. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. We wanted to just show another version of it, just an alternate history.
The last time we spoke, you were casting this film. How is it to show the finished product to the world?
It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s always nerve-wracking whenever you make a movie. You have to show it, you know? I actually do movies mainly because I want to see them, but films are so expensive, you have to show them to people. Lots of people!
And that’s always nerve-wracking for me because I’m just afraid that they’ll throw tomatoes at me or something.
It’s not your usual subject matter.
Yeah, it was very risky to make, because boy if I would f--- that one up, then people would say, “Oh, my God. Do we need that?” But I think we did a pretty good job, so hopefully the people will not say that.
But it was just a pleasure to work with these incredible actors. I had on this film the freedom to cast whoever I wanted, and because of that it was really a joy to do it. Also, it was the first movie I did in Germany in 20 years. I chose Germany because I felt most at home there and I know a lot of people there and I have a great group, which could be all Germans because I speak German.
How did the mostly English cast feel about that?
They thought we were kind of like Hobbits who speak in their secret language, you know?