Rhys Ifans: “Shakespeare is kind of a bastion for an actor. Until you get Shakespeare, especially in England, you’re not a real actor”

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Rhys Ifans stars as the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere in Anonymous, in which de Vere is suggested to be the “true” author of William Shakespeare’s plays (which is known as the “Oxfordian theory” of the Shakespeare authorship question). Surprisingly, Ifans confesses to San Francisco Gate that not only did he not expect to get the part, but he didn’t even like Shakespeare’s work at first!

Ifans, whose heavy Welsh accent is one of his most recognizable trademarks, had his doubts that he’d be cast as the Earl of Oxford because of his accent. He explains that when he was sent the script, “They weren’t offering me a part, but he cleverly said, ‘Which part – if I were to offer you it – would you like to play?’  I said, ‘If you were a lazy director, you’d offer me the part of Shakespeare and if you’re a brave director, you’d offer me the Earl of Oxford.’ He [director Roland Emmerich]very kindly and courageously let me read for the Earl of Oxford, which I don’t necessarily think that an English director would even have dared to do, so I have a lot to thank him for.”

It’s interesting that Ifans would chose to take the role of the “real” Shakespeare since the actor didn’t particularly care for Shakespeare in his younger years. Of Shakespeare, Ifans says, “We didn’t have a great relationship, because it was kind of academic and it just felt distant and alien, so I felt no connection at all.” 

But his opinion changed while at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama and working with teacher Patsy Rodenburg, who works with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  While working on the opening monologue of Richard III, Ifans had a revelation.  He remembers, “It was one of those extraordinary moments. It just all made sense and before that moment, Shakespeare made me feel stupid.  I spoke those words and worked with her on it and I wept. I thought, ‘Oh my God!’  Shakespeare is kind of a bastion for an actor.  Until you get Shakespeare, especially in England, you’re not a real actor. It was like a coming of age for me in a way. It really freed me up and it made me brave, particularly that speech.”

Ifans explains why the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays has remained an unanswered question, and offers an explanation why the “true” author might have had to remain, well, anonymous.  He theorizes, “The theater was essentially the Internet.  That’s why these places were burned, razed to the ground time and time again. They were dangerous. They were rabble-rousing, mob-gathering mouthpieces, and I think that’s what the film does well. It reminds us of the power of the stage at that time.”  In fact, Ifans believes that being in the film has made him fall in love with the stage again.  He confesses that while standing on the replica Globe Theatre stage built for the film, “I was so moved to be on set with an audience and these amazing actors.  It was transporting with the extras dressed as peasantry and the staging – just to hear those words. I hate it when actors speak like this, but I have to say it, to hear those words spoken on the stage and to also feel like the author of those words, was deeply spiritual.”
So what Shakespearean parts does Ifans see himself in now that he’s rediscovered his love for the iconic playwright?  “I don’t think it’s too late for Hamlet, but before I die, definitely Lear, King Lear, a man whose fractured kingdom is reflected in his own fractured animus.”Anonymous is set for an October 28 release.
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About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...)For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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