Shakespeare, Madonna keep buzz going at Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO — Gerard Butler, as vigorous and virile a performer as you're likely to find, looked bone tired Monday.
The Scotsman who Ralph Fiennes had just clapped on the shoulder and called a warrior was, in fact, a man promoting not one but two big movies at the Toronto International Film Festival. That meant nearly nonstop interviews, photo sessions, red carpets, parties and press conferences like the one for "Coriolanus."
He's pulling double duty and had been at the gala screening of "Machine Gun Preacher" not even 12 hours earlier. In that movie he plays a drug addict and biker from outside Johnstown in Cambria County, who ends up becoming a preacher and building an orphanage in Africa in the midst of civil war.
"I woke up this morning, and I have never felt so exhausted in my life," Mr. Butler said. "I literally thought, if I could die now, if somebody could just let me die, then I would take that option. I guess it's just been days and days of press for 'Machine Gun' and now 'Coriolanus.' "
It's a good place to be but an exhausting one, and that seemed evident on the face that launched a thousand digital-camera flashes from women of all ages near the red carpet the previous night.
On this day he was seated on a panel with director-star Mr. Fiennes and fellow actors Jessica Chastain (who played Celia Foote in "The Help") and Brian Cox.
They're starring in Shakespeare's tale of a feared and revered military commander who courts tragedy when he enters the political arena. But before any students make plans to skip the reading and see the movie, they should know the story has been updated from ancient Rome to contemporary Europe.
Mr. Fiennes makes his directing debut — Mr. Cox was left "gob smacked" — and he's old school when it comes to the Bard. He was asked if he buys into the historical thriller "Anonymous" suggesting Shakespeare did not pen the works credited to him.
"I think it's a bit of a dead end of a discussion in the end, because I don't know that any of our reactions to the plays should be any different because it might have been written by someone else. I don't know the reasoning, and I haven't followed the arguments behind why it should not be William Shakespeare from Stratford on Avon.
"I believe it is. I believe it was this young man from Warwickshire who was extraordinarily gifted and wrote these plays but in the end, the plays stand alone and we experience them as live pieces of drama that work."
Ms. Chastain, recently on screen in "The Debt," "The Help" and "Tree of Life," is often considered a doppelganger for Bryce Dallas Howard. Both red-haired women are in Toronto, but "50/50" actress Ms. Howard is very pregnant with her second child and Ms. Chastain is not.
It does seem as if she cloned herself, though, enabling her to be in so many projects.
"This has been such a very strange year for me. It was a bit of a joke in my life … called the Chastain curse where I made 11 films in 41/2 years and for some reason they would be stalled or companies would be sold and it was a bit of a comedy.
"And then to have just the flip side of it where they all now come out within six months of each other, it's really feast or famine in this business, and this whole press aspect of the business has been baptism by fire for me. The most wonderful thing is I love the films I'm involved in," she said, especially "Coriolanus."
Shakespeare opened for Madonna, with some members of the accredited press showing up for the "Coriolanus" press conference so they could be assured of a seat for "W.E.," directed by Madonna.
That proved to be a win-win strategy since the "Coriolanus" session was enlightening and entertaining and Madonna drew one of (if not the) largest crowds to date. Resplendent in red dress and lipstick with her hair in soft, old-fashioned waves, the director was accompanied by actresses Abbie Cornish and Andrea Riseborough along with musician Abel Korzeniowski.
"W.E." tells the story of two women, lonely New Yorker Wally Winthrop and Wallis Simpson. The former is obsessed with the latter, who led King Edward VIII to give up the throne in 1936. As Wally researches their lives she finds they weren't as idyllic as she imagined.
The Grammy-winning singer revealed: "I was always fascinated with the story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII's decision to abdicate the throne for the woman he loved, and I wanted to investigate that story and his reasons and try to understand what it was about this woman that would lead this man to make such a big sacrifice, but I was never interested in making a straightforward biopic.
"So I created the modern-day story and the modern-day character of Wally Winthrop so that I could have a point of view in which to tell this story because I think in the end, truth is subjective. We can all read the same history book and have a different point of view and get something different from it, so it was important for me to not present the story and say this is the one and only story, but rather to say this is the story that moved me and inspired me. That's how the two love stories were created."
Madonna is a newcomer to the festival but not directing. She also made 2008's "Filth and Wisdom" about three flatmates.
The 36th annual film festival, front-loaded as usual with the biggest names in the earliest days, continues through Sunday. In addition to providing a showcase for movies looking for distributors, it's a key stepping stone for awards and a launching pad for fall and holiday movies. It's also a place where bad buzz can kill a movie before the first TV spot even airs.
First published on September 14, 2011 at 12:00 am