Making Love's

Premiere, November 1999
by Alex Lewin and Matt Mueller
*thanks to Jude Tessel

The bard gets a jazzy shot of '30's Hollywood musical comedy in Kenneth Branagh's Upcoming Adaptation of 'Love's Labour's Lost'

On day one of rehearsal for Love's Labour's Lost, director Kenneth Branah had the entire cast watch the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classic 'Top Hat'. "All the lights came up, and they reacted with a mixture of horror, depression, and elation," Branagh says. It was a fitting start to the making of Labour's, one of Shakespeare's lesser-known comedies, which Branagh set in the 1930's, with musical numbers by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, et al. The movie is scheduled to be released next spring.

"Someone once called Love's Labour's Lost a fashionable play that's 300 years out of fashion," Branagh says. "It's rarely done, partly because of the ornate language, which we have cut and replaced with songs." But how do lines by Shakespeare and Irving Berlin flow together? "Shakespeare talks about people feeling as though they're in heaven," Branagh says, "and that allows you to go into the song 'Heaven/I'm in heaven/and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak..."

Alicia Silverstone, who stars in the film, thinks the adaptation is seamless. "If you hadn't read Love's Labour's Lost," she says, "you would think that Shakespeare wrote it this way."

In the play, four young men (Branagh, Alessandro Nivola, Adrian Lester and Matthew Lillard) swear off romance in favor of study, until four seductive young women (Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Emily Mortimer and Carmen Ejogo) make them reconsider. For many of the actors dancing and singing were new territory. "Ken never asked if we could sing," says Lillard (Scream). "At some point, I think I volunteered the fact that I could dance a little but I couldn't sing a lick. My fear was that he was going to hear me open my mouth and send me home." But after three weeks of musical-comedy-Shakespeare boot camp, the actors were ready. Well, almost: Lillard never did get used to his dance belt. "It's the undergarment you wear," he says. "There's nothing like being in a full top hat and tails and having a dance belt run up your ass."

Branagh, a veteran Shakespeare adapter (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet), never let his company forget the cardinal rule of performing musicals. "At all times," he told them, "whatever happens, whether the pool is leaking or the top hat and tails have been trod upon - smile, smile, smile! No one's interested in your pain, darling. Eyes and teeth, all the time."

Always present in spirit were Branagh's muses, Fred and Ginger. "I said [to the cast], "They're geniuses and we're not. but if we can capture the twinkle in the eyes and feet of those performers, then we'll recapture something that gives people a great deal of joy."


1) "We had various contact-lens alarms," says Branagh of the movie's Esther Williams-style swimming-pool number.

2) Branagh says of The Truman Show muse McElhone, "She came in saying, 'I've been cast in femme fatale parts-I want to be silly and mad and crazy'."

3) "He's funny and intelligent and can dance and sing halfway to mofo," Lillard says of Branagh, "and then direct on top of it all."

4) "People have a certain image of Alicia because she's so young," Branagh says. "But she was a natural Shakespearean."

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