Sleuth Gang Bonds Over Bard

Toronto Star, 13 September 2007
By Richard Ouzounian
**Thanks Renie

Jude Law, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh may have come to Toronto to promote 'Sleuth', their movie about two murderous Englishmen, but yesterday afternoon, they all wanted to talk about a melancholy Dane.

The London entertainment scene was buzzing Monday with the news that Law would play Hamlet for the Donmar Warehouse Theatre in June 2009 in a production directed by Branagh the same actor-director combination which has proved so potent in 'Sleuth'. It's part of a four-play season, which will see the cutting-edge Donmar take up residence in the 759-seat Wyndham's Theatre, in the heart of London's West End.

"I was keen to get involved for a variety of reasons," Law said in an interview yesterday. "Apart from the obvious great part, great play, great director it's the fact that it's part of a whole season of serious work at an exciting theatre." "There's been a great damning of the West End recently as a high-priced playground for nothing but musicals," continued Law. "Ticket prices are insane ... 250 quid (pounds) for a family of four! That's wrong. Theatre shouldn't be some elitist thing. They're going to see to it that one-third of the tickets at every performance will be only 10 quid, so anyone can afford it."

Branagh was brought into the Donmar season first and when he told Law about it, the actor expressed his desire to be part of the project. "He told me he'd love to play Coriolanus, Henry V or Hamlet," recalled Branagh, "and the minute he said Hamlet, I could see it."

Branagh has been involved with Shakespeare's most well-known play on five previous occasions, including the 1996 film version he directed, scripted and starred in. "But since I put the tights away," he joked, referring to his decision never to play the role again, "I learned that if you want to do this play, the first thing you need is your Hamlet." And to Branagh's mind, the obvious choice for the role was Law. "He's a hard worker, a Renaissance kind of guy. He loves art, music, sports. He's a complete individual, just like Hamlet is."

So Branagh offered Law the part.

"He asked me the day we locked Sleuth," Law recalled. "And he said to me, `The one thing about Hamlet is that you can't hide. You are Hamlet. There is no character; it's a reflection of you.'" Law gulped in comic horror, then broke into laughter. "What's great is, we've got a year and a half. We'll tinker with it, we'll think about it, we'll make it ours."

But it looks like he didn't waste any time starting. "Last Tuesday night in Jude's kitchen," Branagh said, "I heard him do `To be or not to be' for the first time and it was a bit of a moment. That's a special thing in an actor's life."

Michael Caine, Law's Sleuth co-star had been sitting quietly throughout these Shakespearean musings, but he suddenly entered the conversation with a bang.

"I played Horatio once," he began, "opposite Christopher Plummer's Hamlet. On the telly. Shot it in 1964 at the actual castle in Elsinore. It was black-and-white. No colour TV way back then. Lucky we had sound." Law chortled at Caine's remark and the older actor said, "Wait till you see it. I look about 12." Caine waxed enthusiastic over Plummer's work. "He was wonderful. It was the first time I'd ever really understood Hamlet and I'd seen them all."

There's another Canadian that Caine remembers from the production. "The director, Philip Saville, was having trouble casting Fortinbras because you need someone with the authority of a star, but he can't be a star yet, because the role is too small. "Then one day he came in and said, `I've found this actor named Donald Sutherland....'

"I also remember the foghorns," Caine said, his eyes twinkling. "They'd keep interrupting Chris in his speeches. `To be or not to be,' he'd begin, then `Waaaaaaaa!' from the foghorn and Chris would say `Oh, f---!'"

By now, Law was starting to look a bit manic, wondering what he'd gotten himself into, but Caine had a final piece of good advice.

"Get a copy of Plummer's Hamlet and keep it close by you. When you get to a scene you don't know how to play, then give it a look. Always nick from the best, that's what I say."

The rest, as they say, is silence.


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