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Ariel and Caliban The Human Supernatural
Ariel is the embodiment in spirit of human emotion, vulnerability and compassion. How does an actor play pure spirit, both and beyond male and female, appearing and disappearing on command, able to change shape and size and yet able to move the audience to laughter or tears? In the theater, Taymor utilized the art of puppetry in the form of a disembodied mask that could be moved in any direction, defying gravity and human limitations. In the film, however, the character of Ariel was conceived as an actor's fully human performance treated with the use of cinematic visual effects. The challenge was to retain the visceral, nuanced performance that only a human can give while transforming his physical presence into essences of light, fire, wind and water, and the corporeal manifestation of harpies, frogs, stinging bees and bubbling lava.

"In casting Ben Whishaw,” says Taymor, "I had to accept a major condition: he would be unavailable until the end of the shoot and thus never on location in Hawai'i. That meant that Helen would have to film most of her Ariel scenes without Ariel. It was a daunting, yet fortuitous challenge.

After all, Ariel is not human, does not walk on the ground and is constantly transforming. This limitation was an invitation to Kyle Cooper, the visual effects designer, and myself to invent an entirely new way of combining a live actor's performance with CGI. Because of Ben's availability, most of his performance was filmed in the studio in front of a green screen, making it possible for us to manipulate his image in postproduction and place him in the pre-shot backgrounds with Helen.”

Not all of his scenes were shot this way, however. It was important for some of their most intense exchanges that Helen and Ben be able to act together. However, many of his arrivals and exits, as well as his physical form—whether it be translucent, grossly deformed or multiplied—were enhanced with the help of postproduction effects. A few scenes, such as his appearance as a sea nymph with Ferdinand, were shot through a large glass frame containing a few inches of water. Whishaw was underneath the glass, able to move freely and speak his lines yet his image appears to be fractured and distorted through the lens of water. "The miracle is,” says Taymor, "that the effect is live, in camera, and not computer-generated. It was extremely liberating to be able to preserve a great actor's performance and yet transform him into the various elements and creatures that are delineated by the text.”

The complex character Caliban may be perceived as simply a native of this remote island, a product of the prejudicial point of view of the Europeans who are shipwrecked on it. In casting an African in this role, one automatically brings to the forefront the obvious themes of colonialization and usurpation.

"But in order to truly serve Shakespeare's unique vision of this character, one must go beyond sociopolitical commentary achieved through a casting choice,” says Taymor. Djimon Hounsou went through a four-hour makeup ordeal every day to achieve the look of his Caliban. His skin was made to resemble the island's cracked red earth and black lava rock with raised scars of obscenities he had carved into his flesh.

The nickname "Mooncalf” suggested the white circular moon that frames his one blue eye, which in itself was motivated by the notion that he is the offspring of that "blue-eyed hag,” Sycorax. The "calf” part of the equation is delivered in the map-like patches of white on black skin that add to the "otherness” of this unique racial mash-up. "This Caliban, both beautiful and grotesque, is the island; nature personified. And Djimon's athletic and antic movement, inspired by the Japanese dance form Butoh, completes his physical embodiment,” states Taymor.

"In casting Djimon Hounsou in this role, we were privileged to have not only a great actor but one who brought with him experience, belief and respect for the power of white and black magic,” says Taymor. "His personal stories of sorcery in his country, Benin, were both inspiring and harrowing.”

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