Julie Taymor on ‘The Tempest’ Gender Switch: I ‘Didn’t Have an Actor In Mind’ for Helen Mirren’s Role

9:30 PM PST 12/07/2010 by Philiana Ng

“It was really about knowing that she could play [the] part [of Prospero] and that it could work for a woman,” the director tells THR.

Helen Mirren can do anything — and that includes playing a role originally meant for a man.

The Tempest director Julie Taymor told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s afterparty Monday night that she “didn’t have an actor in mind” to fill the classic role of Prospero in the William Shakespeare play, so instead, she began considering actresses.

“I thought about Helen and I thought, ‘Why not?,' ” Taymor said to THR. “She could play it, and she’s one of the greats. So it was really about knowing that she cold play that part and that it could work for a woman.”

Mirren, who was honored Tuesday morning with THR’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award and portrays Prospera on the big screen, criticized the lack of quality roles available to women, noting that virtually every drama has 20 male characters to only a couple of women — including Shakespeare.

“Why do you think I had to play Prospero in The Tempest?,” she said. “I had to nick one of their roles!” (Watch the full video of Mirren above.)

Taymor addressed what this gender swap might mean for women’s progress in the industry.

“It offers the opportunity for a lot of older women out there to play one of the great Shakespearean roles, which I think is really wonderful,” she said. “It is Shakespeare, and it’s really beautifully done Shakespeare.”

She spoke candidly about the film’s costumes, which included black zip-ups, and the effect it took on the actors while they filmed in Hawaii.

“They complain but they get it. It’s hot, but so what. Do your job,” Taymor said. “The thing is that this was to remind you of how the conquistadores would come to those Southern climates and be in those ridiculous black clothes and suffer.”

She added: “No one really complained because they all thought they were beautiful and they loved how good they looked. They were sexy and the men looked so hot.”

Taymor, who helmed Across the Universe and the Spider-Man musical on Broadway, wasn’t shy about saying how proud she was of the cast.

“This is a dream cast. This is better than my original,” Taymor said. “No really, because I didn’t know who Reeve Carney was or Felicity Jones. I had just met Russell Brand for one day, cast him and then he did it.”

The Tempest is in theaters Friday.

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