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In 2000, Michael Almereyda adapted Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet, with Ethan Hawke in the starring role. Fourteen years later, he’s brought the bard’s least-known play to the big screen, transforming Cymbeline into a modern tale of cops versus biker gangs, premiering in Venice on Wednesday.
Ed Harris plays the “king” of the biker gang, with Milla Jovovich as his evil queen. The film also stars 50 Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson, John Leguizamo, Penn Badgley and Anton Yelchin. And Hawke, in the peripheral role of Iachimo.
“I think Ed Harris looks great in a leather jacket,” Jovovich joked to reporters regarding the reason for setting the play against the backdrop of a biker gang war. Almereyda, who had never seen an episode of Sons of Anarchy before penning the script, just saw it as an appropriate cultural backdrop for the play.
The film’s co-stars all agreed. “It’s very relevant. Bikers are part of American culture,” said Leguizamo. “There are still formidable gangs. They’re on New York City on Third Street, the Hells Angels. There are modern gang starting up all over America. They drive around and they all pop wheelies and they try and scare you off the road.”
“What’s kind of wonderful about Shakespeare is to kind of think of him as pulp and genre,” said Yelchin. “It’s very prevalent in his plays. They’re filled with gangs and rivalries, and these material forces that lend themselves very easily to pulp, biker gangs and cops versus bad guys.”
The low-budget film reveals the artifice behind Cymbeline’s kingdom. The family lives in a decaying home and subsists on smalltime drug deals. “I think what’s also interesting about Cymbeline is there’s this kind of pettiness about [the family’s] crimes,” said Jovovich. “There’s this charm to the whole story because these people think of themselves as much grander than they actually are.”
The actress admitted that she was surprised when she received the call to take on Shakespeare, as she is normally associated with her action-hero roles from The Fifth Element and the Resident Evil franchise.
“I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and 25 years into your career is a little late to be starting with Shakespeare,” Jovovich tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was so surprised when it came to me. I said, ‘Really? You know who I am, right? You sure?” ”
Jovovich sees Shakespeare as a rite of passage for any actor. “I just saw something different. Nobody is going to put me in a big movie, playing something unique,” she says. “They’ll put me in a big movie toting guns or whatever. So for me to really experiment as an actress, I have to do the smaller films, more independent films.”
Cymbeline was picked up for domestic distribution by Lionsgate’s Grindhouse Entertainment division, before it screened at the fest. The U.S. release date is to be announced.
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