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.”