STAGE TO SCREENS: Theatre Stars and Stories Flicker on the Big Screen in Fall 2011

News   STAGE TO SCREENS: Theatre Stars and Stories Flicker on the Big Screen in Fall 2011 Hugh Jackman, Meryl Streep, "War Horse," God of Carnage, playwrights John Logan and Beau Willimon, and a speculative tale about Shakespeare are in movie theatres this fall. Playbill.com offers coming attractions of the stage stars, stage writers and stage titles making their way to the movies.

John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz
John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz Photo by Sony Pictures Classics

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Oscar chatter has already commenced, with the prognosticating class busy twittering and blogging their early predictions for awards season. As the fall season kicks into gear, theatre fans can look forward to three high-profile stage-to-screen adaptations being in the mix as likely awards contenders, including two of the last three Tony Award winners for Best Play — God of Carnage (2009) and War Horse (2011). One boasts a star-studded cast, the other traffics in epic adventure, and both have legendary directors at the helm in Roman Polanski (the story is shortened as "Carnage" on film) and Steven Spielberg ("War Horse," which, technically, draws on the source novel by Michael Morpurgo, not the London and Broadway stage adaptation of the book).

In addition to those two December releases, Beau Willimon's acclaimed Off-Broadway drama, Farragut North, has been adapted for the big screen by Willimon, George Clooney, and his producing partner Grant Heslov as "The Ides of March." The film, directed by Clooney, opened in theatres on Oct. 7, starring acting dynamo Ryan Gosling.

Besides those three stage-and-screen-related properties, there's a slew of fall films featuring theatre talent both in front of and behind the camera, from the long-awaited second feature from playwright Kenneth Lonergan, to Michael Shannon's riveting lead performance in "Take Shelter," to Meryl Streep embodying another real-life figure (and tackling another accent) in "The Iron Lady."

Here's a rundown of what to look forward to this fall on the big screen: Could there be a better time for a political thriller about scheming spin-meisters, dirty tricks, and shady power plays on the Presidential campaign trail? Zeroing in on the disillusioned zeitgeist with laser-like precision, "The Ides of March" has been loosely adapted from playwright Beau Willimon's Machiavellian morality tale Farragut North, which was produced in 2008 by the Atlantic Theatre Company and in 2009 in Los Angeles headlined by "Star Trek" star Chris Pine. Co-written for the big screen by Willimon and directed by George Clooney, the film co-stars Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. Set in the tense waning days of heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, "Ides" highlights the corruption that emerges from the runaway ambition and the insatiable thirst for power that infects the political class. Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a charming, fast-rising, ruthless press secretary who works for a Howard Dean-like insurgent Democratic presidential hopeful with a few skeletons in his closet. As a political scandal threatens to upend his candidate's chance at the presidency, Meyers' loyalty and idealism are brutally tested.

Matt Damon and Anna Paquin in "Margaret."
Fox Searchlight

Talk about a sophomore slump. The award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and film director Kenneth Lonergan has spent the past six years trying to bring his second feature film, "Margaret," to the big screen. After blazing onto the scene in 2000 with his acclaimed debut drama "You Can Count on Me," which earned Oscar nominations for Laura Linney as Best Actress and Lonergan for best original screenplay, Lonergan wrote and directed his second feature, "Margaret," all the way back in 2005. Since then, the film has been caught in a hellish legal limbo between its producer, Gary Gilbert, and studio Fox Searchlight. Lonergan reportedly handed in a film that had a three-hour running time, much longer than what was necessary to secure his right to final cut. Lawsuits between Gilbert, Fox Searchlight, and Lonergan were filed, and Gilbert was reportedly unable to get Lonergan to trim the epic running time, despite attempted assists from the likes of producer Scott Rudin and editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The film, which opened Sept. 30 in a limited release, now clocks in at 149 minutes. But it's been six years since it was shot. Indeed, Anna Paquin, who's 29 now, plays a teenager in the film, and Matt Damon still possesses a fresh-faced boyishness.

Early versions of the screenplay were praised for its allegorical parallels to 9/11. With the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks having just passed, perhaps "Margaret" will resonate. The film centers on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student who's plagued by debilitating remorse that she inadvertently played a role in a bus accident that claimed a woman's life. She attempts to reconcile her feelings and make things right, but meets with opposition at every step. Increasingly angst-ridden, she begins emotionally brutalizing her family, friends, teachers, and most of all, herself — as her youthful ideals collide with the realities and compromises of the adult world. A raft of theatre veterans, including Matthew Broderick and J. Smith Cameron, star in the film. A theatre director and writer and best friend of Broderick, Lonergan is known for his plays This Is Our Youth, Lobby Hero and The Waverly Gallery, which was nominated for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Michael Shannon
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Steppenwolf Theatre Company veteran and "Boardwalk Empire" star Michael Shannon, who gave a riveting performance last winter as a desperately frantic producer in the Off-Broadway play Mistakes Were Made, stars in "Take Shelter" (it opened Sept. 30 in NY and LA, and goes national in October) as a Midwestern everyman possessed by increasingly harrowing visions and quietly coming apart at the seams. Shannon, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2009 for his role as the mentally disturbed neighbor in "Revolutionary Road," has become the go-to actor for playing unhinged men that burn with a disquieting, often manic, intensity. But for his lead role as Curtis LaForche in "Take Shelter," Shannon also shows off his tender and vulnerable sides, even while he's unraveling at the seams. In the film, Shannon plays a young husband and father living in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha (rising star Jessica Chastain) and his six-year-old daughter, Hannah, who is deaf. They're a happy family. But when Curtis begins having a series of terrifying dreams and daytime hallucinations about an encroaching, apocalyptic storm, he channels his anxiety into the obsessive building of a storm shelter in his backyard in hopes of keeping his family safe. As Curtis descends into a downward spiral of anxiety, manifested by increasingly strange and erratic behavior, he begins to privately fear that his harrowing apocalyptic visions could signify something uncontrollable inside of him.

Hugh Jackman will return to the Great White Way this fall — for the first time since The Boy From Oz seven years ago — with his one-man show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway. But before he gets started with the seductive soft-shoeing and soulful singing, Jackson hits the big screen in "Real Steel" (it opened Oct. 7), which imagines a future in which boxing has gone high-tech — with humans replaced by 2,000-pound, 8-foot-tall remote-controlled steel robots. Playing a washed-up former boxer, Jackman and his estranged son bond over their attempts to restore a hunk-of-junk robot-fighter to championship glory.

That smoldering Spaniard Antonio Banderas, who made his Broadway debut in the 2003 revival of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's musical Nine, reunites with the visionary Spanish auteur, Pedro Almodovar, for his pulpy new thriller, "The Skin I Live In." Almodovar helped establish Banderas as a leading man in classic films like "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (turned into a musical by Lincoln Center Theater last season), but the duo haven't worked together in 20 years — since the 1991 film "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" Banderas first teamed up with Almodovar on his 1982 directorial debut, "Labyrinth of Passion," and the two continued to collaborate throughout the '80s. Banderas eventually transitioned to Hollywood, first making his name in films like "The Mambo Kings" and "Philadelphia," then becoming a bona fide leading man with "Desperado," "Evita" and "The Mask of Zorro." In "The Skin I Live In," a macabre mix of Hitchcockian melodrama and erotic beauty, Banderas plays a wealthy and prominent plastic surgeon whose wife was burned in a car crash. Since then, the twisted doc has doggedly been trying to invent a synthetic skin that can protect people from any type of harm. In need of a human guinea pig, he appears to be holding a woman hostage in his palatial mansion. Yet captor and captive seem to be in love. Could this woman be the doctor's supposedly dead wife? Or someone he's been surgically altering to resemble her? The unsettling creep-factor is through the roof on this one.

Kevin Spacey
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Set in the high-stakes world of the much-reviled financial industry, "Margin Call" stars a slew of actors who regularly shift between stage and screen work — Zachary Quinto (of last season's Off-Broadway revival of Angels in America), Kevin Spacey (A Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten), Jeremy Irons (The Real Thing, Richard II) and Stanley Tucci (Broadway's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune). The thriller, which opens Oct. 21, entangles the key players at an investment firm during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. Entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan (Quinto) unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm. A roller-coaster ride ensues, as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of economic and personal disaster.

Indie queen Michelle Williams, whose expressive face and eyes are capable of projecting a deep well of emotional turmoil, may get all the attention (including a possible third Oscar nomination) for the high-profile upcoming release, "My Week With Marilyn" (opening Nov. 4). In the film, Williams will embody Marilyn Monroe, once the most lusted-after woman in the world. But the film also features another breakout performance by the Brit actor Eddie Redmayne, seen on Broadway in Red as Mark Rothko's art assistant, who finds his voice as his confidence grows. In "My Week With Marilyn," Redmayne plays a 23-year-old Oxford student who befriends Monroe while he's working as a lowly assistant on the set of her film, "The Prince and the Showgirl." When her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, departs England during their honeymoon to return to the States, Monroe is desperate to escape from the Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work. So Clark takes the opportunity to introduce Monroe to some of the pleasures of British life during an idyllic week. The film is based on the published diary of the real-life Colin Clark and stars Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier, with whom Monroe clashed, The History Boys' Dominic Cooper as the famed photographer and Monroe confidante Milton Greene, as well as veteran stage luminaries Judi Dench, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi and Simon Russell Beale.

Joely Richardson and Jamie Campbell Bower in "Anonymous."
Columbia Pictures

While "My Week With Marilyn" is based on reportedly real events from the life of an American icon, the upcoming film "Anonymous" (opening Oct. 28) wades into the speculative search for the supposed true identity of the greatest literary icon and playwright of the English-speaking language: William Shakespeare — a man who left school at the age of 13 and never traveled abroad. The debate about whether or not a man named William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays — and if not, who was the real author? — has been raging for centuries amongst scholars and other assorted experts. A painstakingly researched book by Brenda James and William Rubinstein, "The Truth Will Out," made a persuasive case several years ago for Sir Henry Neville, a prominent Elizabethan diplomat and member of Parliament. Others have argued for Sir Francis Bacon and even Queen Elizabeth I herself.

Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, "Anonymous" borrows the popular theory that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) and a member of Elizabeth I's Court, was the author, with the real William Shakespeare a lucky actor who got to put his name on the greatest works of literature in the English-speaking language. Directed by disaster movie maven Roland Emmerich, the film posits the fanciful theory (worthy of one of the Bard's most preposterous plots) that Oxford was not only the real Shakespeare but the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I, and that the couple had an incestuous relationship that produced a son, the Earl of Southampton. In the end, the film may not be about who really wrote the plays, but with cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances, and power-grabbing schemes to steal the throne, "Anonymous" certainly sounds like a wild ride. Along for the journey are veteran stage thespians Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and Derek Jacobi.

Ellen Barkin in "Another Happy Day."

Onetime screen vixen Ellen Barkin captured this year's Tony for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for her hair-raisingly volcanic turn as a wheelchair-bound AIDS doctor-turned-crusader in Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. This fall, she will blast onto the big screen in "Another Happy Day," which sounds anything but. A black comedy about a family gathering that turns into an emotional roller coaster, the film (opening Nov. 4) finds Barkin as a hot-tempered woman whose emotional intensity has always been right on the surface and often cranked up to ten. It's the eve of her estranged son's wedding, and Lynn is grappling with enough family dysfunction to make Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams blush: a long-simmering tension with her ex-husband (Thomas Haden Church) and his prickly wife (Demi Moore), the icy contempt of her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and distant father, the mocking of her judgmental sisters, and the antics of her three deeply troubled children. Adapted for the big screen by award-winning playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton ("Dangerous Liaisons," Sunset Boulevard) from his 2002 play The Talking Cure, "A Dangerous Method" (opening Nov. 23) centers on the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the beautiful but troubled female patient who comes between them after Jung engages in an S&M-stoked sexual affair with her. The film, inspired by true-life events, is directed by that master of bodily horror and harrowing psychological suspense, David Cronenberg ("A History of Violence," "The Fly," "Scanners"). Set in Zurich and Vienna at the precipice of World War I, this tale of sexual and intellectual discovery explores the friendship between the two pioneers of psychoanalysis and the rift that erupts between them — forever changing the face of modern thought.

Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz in "Hugo."
Paramount Pictures

Martin Scorsese's first 3D film, "Hugo," an enchanting epic adventure revolving around an orphan boy living a secret life inside the walls of a Paris train station, is a far cry from the director's usual blood-soaked films about gangsters and urban decay. Opening Nov. 23, "Hugo" features a script by Red playwright John Logan (who penned screenplays for "Sweeney Todd," "The Gladiator" and "The Aviator") and stars a slew of stage veterans, including "The Queen" actress Helen McCrory (she was Cherie Blair), History Boys Tony winners Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, and New York theatre veteran Michael Stuhlbarg (The Pillowman). Based on the award-winning New York Times bestseller "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," the film centers on the plucky young hero as he searches, with the help of an eccentric girl, for the answer to a mystery linking his father who recently died, the irascible toy shop owner living below him and a heart-shaped lock without a key.

"Juno" teammates Jason Reitman (director) and Diablo Cody (screenwriter) reunite for "Young Adult," which stars Oscar winner Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a writer of teen lit who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days. Her first order of business? Wooing back her happily married high school sweetheart, played by Tony Award nominee Patrick Wilson (now starring in the CBS drama "A Gifted Man"). When her cockamamie plans prove more challenging than she imagined, she forms an unusual bond with a former classmate who hasn't quite put high school behind him, either. The film opens Dec. 9.

Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady."
photo by Alex Bailey

In recent years, Meryl Streep has played real-life figures ranging from Anna Wintour and Ethel Rosenberg to Susan Orlean and Julia Child. Now she's tackling one of the most famous — and controversial — political figures of the past four decades, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In "The Iron Lady" (opening Dec. 16), Streep brings to life one of the 20th century's most influential women, who came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world. The biopic spans seven decades in Thatcher's life, but zeroes in on the peak of Thatcher's power in the 1980s, when she (along with Ronald Reagan) helped usher in an unprecedented era of conservatism in the Western world. The film is directed by veteran British stage director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!, the 2009 Broadway production of Mary Stuart). Streep, the most nominated actor in the history of the Oscars, famously got her start in the theatre. She was last seen on stage in New York in the Public Theater's Central Park production of Mother Courage and Her Children in 2006.

Will the riotous comedy and scathing satire of bourgeois pretensions that were hallmarks of Yasmina Reza's 2009 Tony Award-winning God of Carnage translate to the big screen? Sporting an abbreviated title, "Carnage" opens on Dec. 16 starring Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and theatre veteran John C. Reilly as two pairs of upper middle class Brooklyn parents, who meet to discuss a physical altercation between their two boys. While the conversation between the foursome starts off in a fraught but seemingly civilized manner, a passive-aggressive tone soon takes hold and insults start flying like daggers to the gut. There's even a "Bridesmaids"-worthy vomit scene (as there is in the play). Needless to say, the parents' behavior becomes increasingly childish as the evening devolves into the chaos, humiliation and maturity befitting a playground squabble. With that master director of psychic suspense Roman Polanski at the helm, will Reza's facile skewering of rich folks' values and behavior achieve a deeper psychological dimension on the big screen? Stay tuned.

Like "Carnage," this year's Tony Award-winner for Best Play, War Horse, also faces thorny questions about the financial and critical prospects for its stage-to-screen transfer. Fortunately, "War Horse" (opening Dec. 28) has Hollywood powerhouse Steven Spielberg as its director and a beloved colt-turned-stallion as its central figure. The allure of the spectacular stage production (still ensconced at Lincoln Center and in London's West End) was its magical and magnificent use of large-scale puppetry to bring the horses to life (manipulated by multiple puppeteers). But for the movie (based on the book, not the stage script), Spielberg employs live horses and the sweeping canvas of cinema to tell the epic story of an unbreakable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young farm boy, Albert. Set in rural England and Europe during the First World War, the film follows Albert as he nurtures and tames Joey from a wild pet colt into a strong and steady workhorse that saves the family farm. But Albert and Joey are forcefully torn apart when Albert's father, in dire financial straits, secretly sells the steed to the British army. Nothing, though, can keep Albert from his beloved horse, and he soon signs up to fight in the war, in a desperate attempt to reunite with Joey. From there, we watch as the horse endures the brutality of the front lines (where thousands of horses perished), while changing and inspiring the lives of the people he encounters. Hollywood's obsession with all things '80s seemed to peak the past few years with big screen remakes of "The Dukes of Hazzard," "The A Team" and "The Karate Kid." But that nostalgic yearning for addictive but empty-headed '80s cheese appears to be continuing unabated. And '80s lovers will no doubt be kickin' off their Sunday shoes and getting loose at the multiplex when a reboot of the 1984 teen classic "Footloose," which made Kevin Bacon a star, opens in theatres on Oct. 14. The film centers on a fleet-footed city-slicker, Ren McCormack, whose parents move him to a conservative town where dancing has been banned by local religious zealots. But Ren quickly kicks up a sweaty hot mess of trouble with his rampant hoofing, then raises the ire of the local zealot preacher after he starts making eyes at his teenage daughter. "Footloose" spawned not only the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game but a blockbuster soundtrack with a slew of candy-coated pop hits (including the title track, "Let's Hear It For the Boy," "Almost Paradise" and "Holding Out for a Hero"). It also gave birth to a 1998 Broadway musical version that ran for almost two years and scored four Tony nominations. After being turned down by both Zac Efron and Chace Crawford, the producers of "Footloose" were holding out for a hero and found Kenny Wormald, a professional dancer best known for his music video work, MTV's "Dancelife," and a starring role in the little-seen "Center Stage: Turn It Up." The new "Footloose" is co-produced by the prolific Broadway, film, and TV producing powerhouse team of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (the film versions of "Chicago" and "Hairspray," the upcoming TV drama "Smash," and the current Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business). Let's hear it for these boys!

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