With a filmography chockfull of cataclysmic event flicks (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Independence Day), Roland Emmerich has never been known for subtlety. While the historical drama Anonymous, about whether it was actually William Shakespeare who wrote all of Shakespeare's plays, may seem like a gentle new direction for the German filmmaker, it treats authorship with a degree of explosiveness that would make Michael Bay blush. We spoke with Emmerich about why he thinks Shakespeare was a fraud, preferring epic movies to small stories, and his plans for the end of the world.
You've said you believe that Shakespeare was a fraud. What's the most compelling piece of evidence?
There are so many. One, for example: Never ever was one letter found by this man. And you have to ask yourself: A writer who wrote 36 plays would have written at least a note to his wife home in Stratford and said, "How are the kids, babe? What's going on?" Or let her know that his life is going well in Southwark: "I just sold a play to somebody." You know? Another [piece of] evidence for me is, okay, his father was illiterate. So were his two daughters. That's very strange for a writer. Who comes from illiterate parents, went to school, became a learned man — one of the most learned men ever, a true renaissance man — and he doesn't want his kids to read his work? It's quite ridiculous, actually.
You're known for epic films. What do you love about maximalism?
Well, I like big ideas. That's probably what combines Anonymous with my other films. You know, "What if Shakespeare was a fraud?" Or, "What would happen if finally, in one big storm, we get the bill for all the bad things we've done to the environment?" Or, "Godzilla comes to New York." All big ideas, in a way, and you can say them in one sentence. And because of that, they catch me, and I know that's worth a movie, because in a movie, you need something like that. At the end, you have to have a poster and a short 15- or 30-second TV spot, so that's that.
In the future, will we ever see you make a small, quiet, character-driven Roland Emmerich film, with no special effects, where not a lot happens?
I don't know. Time will tell. I have a lot of plans for a lot of movies, but there's not a quiet one with no visual effects in there, because when you know certain things, you want to use what you know and what you're good at. It's also for me a goal to show that you can do a historical film and use visual effects to the effect that it looks bigger, but was cheaper to shoot. A lot of these historical movies are done a lot by theater directors. You know, they come from the theater, which is great because they know how to work with actors. [But] their films are a little bit tight with a lot of close-ups. So I wanted to show that you can actually have the same great performances, the same great dialogue, but in between, you know, see a little bit of the city where you're in. Because the city is a part of the character. It's all kind of a part of the story, and visual effects can help to put this onscreen.
You've said that you think history isn't explored enough in movies. Are there any other stories from the past that you'd love to tell?
I've always wanted to make a movie about a man called Edgar Cayce, who lived at the turn of the century, and was like a clairvoyant, a seer, a healer; he's a very interesting man. And then, the life story of King Tut. It's like an old project of mine.
There's a rumor that you will be directing the film adaptation of Asteroids. Any merit to that?
Well, the merit is that I very much liked the script and was toying with it, but then decided to do my own script called Singularity instead. A little bit inspired by Ray Kurzweil's work. I love his books. Actually, the thing started with one sentence in his Age of Spiritual Machines, where he says, "Maybe one day we will build out of nanoswarms a human body, and scan a brain into it."
Now that 2012 is around the corner, do you anticipate what the Mayans predicted? Are we close to the brink of civilization?
I will say that 2012 was a movie. It was a film. Mainly, it was a modern retelling of Noah's Ark, because Noah also knew a flood will come, and we just used the year 2012 as a tie-in, in a way, so people say, "Oh my God, this happens in like three, four years." It made it very real and visceral. I don't believe in it. But I'm playing it safe and going skiing on the 21st of December, so I can be on a mountain, so in case the wave is coming, I can stay alive. And at least I'm doing something I really love at the end of my life.