Love's Labour's Lost a Labour of Love for Star
Ottawa Citizen, March 13 1999
by Jamie Portman
'I really thought he'd lost his
mind when he hired me.'' That was Alicia Silverstone's reaction
to Kenneth Branagh's decision to cast her as his leading lady
in his new film version of Shakespeare's comedy, Love's Labour's
''But now it's just super, super
wonderful and I'm so excited to be doing it and I'm working really
hard on it,'' she says happily.
As for Branagh, he promises that
when it comes to putting Shakespeare on the screen, this film
will be unique -- ''sexy, entertaining and accessible. '' He
has moved it from its late Elizabethan setting to Europe in the
He is also turning the play into
a musical, with a bouquet of familiar songs by such 20th-century
greats as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Jerome
''These particular 20th-century
geniuses can stand next to Shakespeare if you give the story
a '30s setting,'' Branagh says. ''It's amazing to take Shakespeare's
text and the words of these songs and put them together and see
how well they work.''
Branagh cites one example. When
his character, a young aristocrat named Berowne, comments that
''the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony,''
these Shakespearean words become a cue-in for the ''heaven, I'm
in heaven'' lyrics in Irving Berlin's classic song, Cheek To
The last Shakespeare film Branagh
directed was Hamlet. There he insisted on using the full text
of the play and the result was a four-hour running time. But
with Love's Labour's Lost -- which deals with a group of young
students who find it impossible to keep their pledge to keep
women out of their lives and study for three years - - he administered
some ruthless cuts.
''I'd say maybe one-third of
the text will survive,'' Branagh says.
''I haven't actually counted
the lines because I feared I would actually hear the sound of
Shakespeare turning in his grave. But I would say we have retained
the most accessible part of Love's Labour's Lost, which is an
enormously ornate text with many contemporary allusions and other
words we simply no longer know the meaning of.''
As for Silverstone, she had earlier
been approached to do Romeo and Juliet opposite Leonardo Di Caprio,
but turned it down because she didn't like the type of contemporary
treatment envisaged. But after seeing Branagh's screen version
of Henry V -- ''The battle scene was so amazing!'' -- she felt
she would be comfortable working with him.
Now, all she has to do is learn
to sing. ''It's scary and wonderful because I've never sung before,''
says the star of the current Blast From The Past.
''So now I'm learning how to
sing. It's a very neat thing, kind of what I imagine painting
would be like. I know it sounds weird, but I always wanted to
paint. Yet every time I think of it, I say I can't do it. That's
what I thought about singing: I can't sing, so I'd better shut
up ... I don't even sing in the shower because I'm so scared.
But now I'm doing it ... and having fun.''
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