What first attracted you to this play?
I loved the film. It’s a wonderful piece of
work, extremely well directed and written. Then when I was asked to do the
play, I thought about it and realized that it’s not so much about Shakespeare;
it’s about Tom Stoppard and Shakespeare. It’s Stoppard’s dream of Shakespeare.
I found that extraordinary – and moving.
The other thing that attracted me is that it’s
about this strange mystic moment that divides people who go into the theatre
from the rest of us. Most people who go into the theatre business have it
around the age of sixteen or seventeen: they see something in the theatre and
experience a kind of falling in love. They feel incredibly alive and they
immediately know, “This is the
thing that I have to do.”
It’s not even really love:
it’s a need, an addiction, even. And they’re frightened it’ll be taken away
from them. So there’s a joy about it but also a compulsion. And that’s
brilliantly articulated in Shakespeare in Love. Viola has it, a young woman who lives for this one amazing moment when
she becomes Britain’s first actress. And even Fennyman has it. I don’t think
those are side issues to the main plot. To me, the play honours that moment,
that driven and crazy moment.
How closely did you and the original company
work with playwright Lee Hall on creating the adaptation?
Very closely. The company worked at great length
and in great depth, and we made an enormous amount of changes all the way
through the period of preparation and all the way through the rehearsal as
well. It arose very organically. There are things that we can do on stage,
transformations we can make through theatre, that you can’t do on film. And
that’s rather wonderful.
The play is about the theatre, and the idea of
the company is fundamental to that. Falling in love with the theatre has to do
with becoming a member of a group, participating in an ensemble. It becomes a
kind of family.
One of the charms of the play, and of the
film, is the way it imports contemporary British speech into its Elizabethan
Tom Stoppard has an amazing ear. Like a magpie,
he observes and gathers and catches. I don’t know if people here will get this,
but “I had that Christopher Marlowe in the back of my boat once”: that’s very
much the London taxi driver. You hear that all the time: “I had that – insert
name of film star – in the back of my cab once.”
It’s very funny, but there’s also something
incredibly human about it. There are cadences of some lines that are just so
alive. And as a director, I know that’s very rare: people who can put that kind
of life into their writing. There’s lots of worthy writing, earnest writing,
clever writing, but there’s not a lot that just catches the actual sound of
Shakespeare himself was a bit of a magpie,
In The Winter’s
Tale, Autolycus describes himself as a “snapper up
of unconsidered trifles.” That’s a marvellous line. But in a way, that’s all
anyone who’s an artist can do: lift things from life. Great artists aren't so
much creative as curious. They see something outside themselves and they know
how to choose it and incorporate it. The dreadful thing is when we start to be
“creative” and think, “It’s all about me and my sense of
creation.” And we get stuck in the inner sense of me: “What’s my production going to be about? What do I want to say?”
Shakespeare in Love does its own lifting: from Romeo and
We tend to sentimentalize
Romeo and Juliet so much that we forget that they do a really stupid thing.
They have an incredible death wish: they know they’re going to kill themselves.
If you analyze the verse, they’re always talking, right from the very
beginning, about death, night, death, night: these patterns of imagery keep
coming up. When you’re younger, you think what they do is wonderful. But it’s
actually really stupid.
That’s something that
feeds into Shakespeare in Love. Will and Viola don’t do the dumb thing.
They could have destroyed their lives, but they actually do something more
mature than Romeo and Juliet. They’re hard-headed, not self-destructive.
What do you hope people will take away from
I always hope that when people see anything that
I’ve done, they’ll be moved. Then I hope they’ll think about what was moving,
and then that they’ll try to ask themselves why they were moved. You make a piece of theatre
hoping that people will have an emotional reaction to it. But there’s always
something slightly troubling about that reaction. In general, when something
moves me, my next thought is, what is moving about that? What was that that
struck me so much? What does it have to do with me? Why did that get to me?
And what answer do you come up with?
I must say, it’s a mystery to me.