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Emmerich tackles Shakespeare conspiracy theory with ‘Anonymous’

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Roland Emmerich isn’t a director known for costume dramas.

Known instead for helming large-scale blockbusters such as “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012,” Emmerich is venturing into the genre in his latest film, “Anonymous.”

“Anonymous” is set in Elizabethan England, and touches on the theory that Shakespeare’s works were actually written by Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), a British Earl, who wrote the plays under a pseudonym because poetry and playwriting was considered taboo by the royal family and Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave).

Emmerich spoke to The Lantern from London about the film.

Emmerich said he first read the script, penned by screenwriter John Orloff (“Band of Brothers”), about 10 years ago.

“And after I read it, I read it again, and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is an amazing story in itself if it’s true or not,'” Emmerich said. “But then I found out it’s quite true in a way.”

The film tackles a theory that’s sparked controversy among aficionados of prose.

In Shakespeare’s home county in England, people took issue with the film’s claims and covered up signs and statues of Shakespeare in protest.

Emmerich said he expected backlash from the idea that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else, but said he was prepared to debate his critics.

“Especially here in England, (the critics) are very loud,” he said. “I’m ready and prepared for it. I’m actually seeking discussions with them.”

Joely Richardson, who plays the younger version of the queen in the film, told ITN that the backlash isn’t necessary.

“We’re not making a documentary,” she said. “It is a film. It is a story. And I do believe it’s one Shakespeare would like.”

A story Emmerich isn’t particularly known for, that is.

Emmerich is known more for his big-budget blockbusters where destruction runs rampant, though he did direct another costume drama, “The Patriot,” which is lower in scale.

Since growing up in Germany, Emmerich said he always wants to make the same kind of film — films with an emotional connection. “Anonymous,” he said, stays true to that, but he still likes to vary between big blockbusters and smaller, dialogue-driven films.

“I want to make as varied movies as possible,” Emmerich said. “My next film’s a really big one again. I want to kind of still do my big movies, but once in a while it would be great to do something like ‘Anonymous’ because it’s great when you reconnect with the art of filmmaking.”

Despite a pantheon of films dominated by big-budget action flicks, Emmerich said he enjoys filming the quieter days on set the most.

“I always had in my big movies — my favorite days are the dialogue days,” Emmerich said. “I really like actors on the set doing dialogue scenes, and here … the whole movie was dialogue.”

On “Anonymous” Emmerich worked to portray not only the light-hearted nature of public theater in contrast to court performances, but to also show what England looked like at the time.

Emmerich said that’s a problem most costume dramas have.

“But I kind of found that these period pieces … they were all very close-ups, very tight,” Emmerich said. “You never ever really saw the world. I kind of thought to myself, ‘If I can add something to the genre, I can open up a movie like that.'”

As of Wednesday night, “Anonymous” had a 56 percent on RottenTomatoes.com. For reference, Emmerich’s highest rated film is “The Patriot,” which scored a 62 percent.

When asked if Emmerich pays attention to reviews, he answered simply.

“No.”

His second highest-reviewed film was 1996’s sci-fi blockbuster, “Independence Day.”

That film, which made more than $800 million in worldwide box office revenue, has spawned ideas for sequels, but those have failed.

Until now.

Emmerich said he and cowriter Dean Devlin are working on the script and attempting to get the personnel from the original film in place. But when can we expect to see Will Smith and company back to save the world from aliens?

“I’d say hold tight,” he said. “It’s happening soon.”

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