Exclusive: Emmerich On Anonymous

Thewlis, Redgrave and Ifans Sign Up

Fresh from annihilating the entire planet in 2012, Roland Emmerich is soon to set to work on the reputation of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, with Anonymous.

It’s a major departure for Emmerich, who’s abandoning global cataclysms and puppies-in-peril for sonnets and subterfuge, and swapping CGI for live action. Anonymous tackles the thorny theory that's circulated for the past 100 years that Shakespeare’s plays were, in fact, written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The director divulged his cast of Elizabeth types when we caught up with him.

“We have Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth; David Thewlis as William Cecil, old and young; and Rhys Ifans as The Earl Of Oxford. It’s a true English cast and I’m really proud of it. There’s 12 main characters and 20 or 30 other characters, and each of the characters is really good.”

The (admittedly Welsh) Ifans will be playing the key figure in this literary intrigue. Oxford, a playwright, poet and patron of the arts, fell under the influential shadow of Robert Cecil, the Queen’s secretary of state, a key player in Elizabethan politics and the man widely thought to be the inspiration for Hamlet’s Polonius.

So how does Emmerich describe Anonymous? “It’s a mix of a lot of things: it’s an historical thriller because it’s about who will succeed Queen Elizabeth and the struggle of the people who want to have a hand in it. It’s the Tudors on one side and the Cecils on the other, and in between [the two] is the Queen. Through that story we tell how the plays written by the Earl of Oxford ended up labelled 'William Shakespeare'.”

It’s the grassy knoll of literary conspiracies and not exactly the material you’d expect Emmerich to tackle (unless he’s secretly planning to blow up Stratford), but the results should be intriguing. Shooting starts in Berlin in March.