STAGE TO SCREEN: "Hamlet" Stiles-Style & Summer Stuff

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: "Hamlet" Stiles-Style & Summer Stuff Manhattan Real Estate Rule No. 1: No matter how much room you have, it either isn’t enough or won’t be enough within months. I was reminded of this when I visited Miramax’s new Tribeca offices a few weeks ago for an online press roundtable on Michael Almereyda’s “Hamlet,” set in modern-day New York and starring an unusually young Ethan Hawke.

Manhattan Real Estate Rule No. 1: No matter how much room you have, it either isn’t enough or won’t be enough within months. I was reminded of this when I visited Miramax’s new Tribeca offices a few weeks ago for an online press roundtable on Michael Almereyda’s “Hamlet,” set in modern-day New York and starring an unusually young Ethan Hawke.

Even though the Miramax staffers had seemingly inhabited the offices only days earlier -- an enormous pile of empty iMac boxes sat in the middle of the floor -- space was already tight. A nondescript bookcase had several cool titles in it, including a script for “Scream”; one of the journalists (not me) started thumbing through it until a staffer poked her head out of the adjacent office and explained that the books were hers. (It wasn’t until I started talking to the other writers that I realized what a space crunch really was. One guy told me he and a few other people were generating a guy-themed Web site out of someone’s Upper West Side apartment.)

The format for roundtables is pretty clear-cut. Big interviewers get one-on-one time with famous people. We lower-level journalists generally have to settle for eight-on-one interviews. The actors come through one at a time, answer questions from whomever and then leave, where they are followed by the next star. Everybody has license to use everyone else’s quotes, since the actors are only sort of answering you specifically. Think of it as a low-key press conference.

After the “Scream” script incident, we were all herded into a small room with a “Hamlet” poster on the wall. (A camera crew had apparently used the space to film an interview earlier that day.) A press associate dug around and found a bunch of bottles of water, and then the lovely Julia Stiles came in.

Stiles, who has turned modern-day Shakespeare films into a regular habit (“10 Things I Hate About You” was last year, with the Othello retelling, “O”, due this fall), plays Ophelia here, and she has already learned to carry herself like a young star. She looked each questioner directly in the face and chose her words carefully. She said Bill Murray and Liev Schreiber, who play her father and brother in the film, each worked with her individually outside of rehearsal. I was one of the only people who had yet to see the film, so I hung back for the most part. But I did know that the film was shot very quickly, and I asked her if she thought that helped or hurt her performance. She specifically mentioned shooting her mad scene in the Guggenheim Museum, where Almereyda had been given six hours -- and not a minute longer -- to film. “At the time, it’s really frustrating and you’re panicky,” Stiles says of the breakneck pace. “In retrospect, though, things like that are beneficial. They kind of light a fire under you, and they make you think not so hard about it.” There were only two glitches during her interview. One came when someone asked her about the college she is now attending; she wanted to keep the actual school anonymous, which her press reps apparently didn’t realize when they included it in her bio. The other bump came courtesy of an interviewer who entered the room late. Out of nowhere, the new arrival shouted out, “JULIA!” while Stiles was trying to finish a point.

Stiles was eventually followed by Kyle MacLachlan. A group of the interviewers were from Lycos, and they had already talked with MacLachlan in preparation for a live chat. So he already seemed to know half the room when he came in. People were eager to ask him about playing Claudius, a role that generally goes to older actors. He said he thought his agent had screwed up when he told him he was up for the role of Hamlet’s stepfather. However, he said, it raised new questions by making him more of a peer than usual and “a worthy adversary to any kind of stirrings that Hamlet may have had.”

MacLachlan had no problem talking about some of the highs and lows of his carer. He volunteered the fact that Nick Nolte was first approached for the role of Claudius. When someone asked him what still made him excited about the business, he answered: “A job.” The Lycos guys said he was as willing to talk about “Showgirls” as he was about “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks.” And I don’t know if this was intentional, but this self-effacing quality made him a much more plausible Claudius. He seemed like a guy who was confident enough to take his failings -- like, say, killing his brother -- in stride and moving on. And he was charismatic and ingenuous enough to get away with it.

Ethan Hawke was the last scheduled guest, but I had to slip away early. I was eager to ask him about the Malaparte theater company -- perhaps some other time. In all fairness, I should mention that the woman who had shouted questions at Julia Stiles gave me her press kit as I was leaving. She wasn’t so bad after all. And neither was the roundtable.

*

The unofficial opening keeps creeping earlier and earlier -- Easter had barely come and gone when “Gladiator” opened -- but the summer movie season is now in full swing. Although tons of people buy movie tickets in the summer (the studios make 40 percent of their annual revenue in the next three months), it’s traditionally not a great time for stage adaptations, which tend to be a bit ... well ... small for the multiplexes. Studios can talk all they want about counterprogramming, but opening your intimate four-character drama against “Mission Impossible 2” is senseless. Even if the studio have dim hopes for the project itself, they’re usually trying to curry favor with a marketable actor or director by making the movie in the first place, and major names don’t appreciate it when their pet project is sacrificed.

That said, a select handful of interesting titles are opening this summer. I’m casting the net a little wide here, but not to the point where every film with, say, Gary Sinise is mentioned. As always, keep in mind that the smaller releases may take their time getting to your multiplexes, now that “Battlefield Earth” is opening on 3,000 screens. You already know about “Hamlet” and “Center Stage”; here are the others, in chronological order:

• “Cirque de Soleil: Journey of Man” (May 19): Cirque de Soleil fans, you know who you are. For those of you who haven’t seen the Canadian animal-free circus troupe, this large-screen 3-D IMAX production might serve as a good introduction. The preview features all the acrobatics and New Age music that you’ve come to expect; the plot seems to involve a little kid in a wonderland, but who goes to IMAX movies for the plot?

• “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (June 2): You’ve read about it here. Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone and Nathan Lane are the names in this 1930s Hollywood retelling, but a bunch of young talents fill out the cast, including Adrian Lester, Alessandro Nivola and Matthew Lillard. They all sing Cole Porter and George Gershwin tunes. Let’s hope that Branagh, who has had some pretty drastic misfires recently (“Wild Wild West,” “Celebrity”) doesn’t deliver an “At Long Last Love” here.

• “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” (June 30): Des McAnuff sure does like cartoons. After using animation in Tommy (effectively) and How to Succeed ... (distractingly), he executive produced last year’s shockingly underrated “The Iron Giant.” Now he’s directing this hybrid live-action/animated comedy starring Jason Alexander and Rene Russo as Boris and Natasha. The preview looks pretty un-hilarious, but we’ll see.

• “Water Drops on Burning Rocks” (July 12): This French film, coming to New York’s Film Forum for two weeks, is based on a never-staged 1970 play by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. A May-December gay romance goes awry when the participants’ respective girlfriends arrive.

• “All the Rage” (July 14): When Keith Reddin talked to Stage on Screen about this project, which he adapted from his own play, he was still searching for a distributor. He apparently found one, and the gun-themed black comedy will likely get a platform release. Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, David Schwimmer and Gary Sinise are among the stars.

• “Psycho Beach Party” (August): Ruth Williamson, now stealing large chunks of The Music Man, talked to "Stage to Screen" right after filming her cameo in Charles Busch’s campy teen comedy. Busch no longer plays the ingenue, as he did Off Broadway, but he still wears a dress. Thomas Gibson of “Dharma & Greg” is also featured.

• “You Can Count on Me” (TBA): Kenneth Lonergan (This Is Our Youth, The Waverly Gallery) took Sundance by storm with this dramedy about a small-town bank loan officer whose life is uprooted when her wayward brother returns home. Current Broadway denizens Laura Linney and Matthew Broderick star, along with Mark Ruffalo and J. Smith-Cameron. Paramount Classics plans a summer release, but no dates have been announced yet.

*

Cutting-Room Floor: The other items went a bit long this time, so I’ll fill you in on a few other projects next time, including Jeremy Irons in a new Tennessee Williams film. For now, be aware that Irons’ wife, Sinead Cusack (Our Lady of Sligo), can be seen May 26 in “Passion of Mind,” Demi Moore’s low-budget quest for legitimacy. Paul Giamatti gets smacked around a lot in “Big Momma’s House” (June 2), starring Martin Lawrence dressed as an enormously fat woman. And Peter Greenaway, who held his postmodern prism up to The Tempest in “Prospero’s Books,” does the same for Fellini on May 26 with “8 1/2 Women.” Tony nominee Toni Collette and Amanda Plummer play two of the women.

My Favorite Thought/Your Thoughts: It was a pretty slow week for responses. I expect each and every one of you to write at least once this time. Anyone see “Hamlet” yet? Nobody has chimed in much about “Center Stage”—what did you think? Any summer releases really catch your eye? Do any of these have the makings of a “Blair Witch”-type sleeper?

Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage.