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CORIOLANUS

About The Production
Ralph Fiennes' ambition to make a film of William Shakespeare's "Coriolanus " took root when the actor played the role in an acclaimed production directed by Jonathan Kent for the Almeida Theatre in 2000. Fiennes lived with the play and the role for a substantial length of time: the production originated at the Gainsborough Studios in London and subsequently traveled to the New York's Brooklyn Academy of Art (BAM) and Tokyo's Akasaka ACT Theater, wrapping up its run at the end of October 2000. With its charismatic, flawed military hero; ferocious battle sequences; coolly trenchant observation of political and social dysfunction; and intimate family portrait, "Coriolanus " had plenty of excitement and intrigue to fill the big screen. "I became obsessed with the play and the role and felt it could be very cinematic, " Fiennes explains. "I thought that its narrative drive would lend itself to film. The thought stayed, and developed, in my mind. "

Fiennes felt the story would easily work in a contemporary setting -- war, political maneuvering, civil unrest and personal struggle being as endemic to the 21st Century as they were to Shakespeare's Renaissance and Coriolanus' Roman Republic. The Russia/Chechnya conflict and the recent political tensions in Colombia were useful references as he fleshed out his concept. He envisioned Rome as a quintessential global capital, with a diverse population and pervasive economic and social inequality; the Volsces became a kind of separatist insurgency, a scrappy guerrilla movement in opposition to Rome's organized military. The deeper he got into the material, the more certain he became that he not only wanted to portray the title character, he wanted to direct, as well.

By the mid-2000s, Fiennes was ready to take the step of turning his ideas into a screenplay. He found an ideal collaborator in writer John Logan, the Tony Award-winning playwright of "Red " and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of GLADIATOR and THE AVIATOR. Logan, himself a lover of Shakespeare, responded immediately and enthusiastically to Fiennes' ideas and signed on to write the screen adaptation. "Ralph and I saw the play in exactly the same way - raw and contemporary, " Logan affirms. "Neither of us was interested in doing a polite museum-piece. "

Fiennes had already homed in on ways to streamline the text for a modern adaptation, and Logan reacquainted himself with the play and did the same. Then two men spent about a week together going through Shakespeare's play, scene by scene, line by line, deciding what to cut and how to make the story move at a brisk cinematic pace. "We sat and chucked ideas back and forth and John noted them all down, " recalls Fiennes. "The key thing I felt strongly about it setting it in the present, not some indeterminate period. So everything in the film is what we see in today's world: suits, cars, graffiti, cell phones. And our ‘Rome' is not Rome, Italy; our Rome is a city today. I think we had a first draft within eight weeks, and we kept refining from there. "

Their approach was to retain Shakespeare's dialogue, though in considerably less length. Some speeches were shortened and some were moved to different parts of the text. They made other adjustments to give the screenplay directness, clarity and contemporary authenticity. For example, the play's First and Second Citizens became the underground antigovernment activists Cassius and Tamora; the pros and cons of candidate Coriolanus were hashed out by television pundits, instead of citizens in the marketplace.

Their work led to Logan's taut, forceful screenplay, which runs just over 100 pages and immediately introduces a city on the brink, its class divisions glaringly exposed by a food shortage. When the future Coriolanus first appears in the flesh, it's at the head of a phalanx of police in full riot gear. Says Logan, "What Ralph and I always wanted to capture was the way the play makes you feel in the theatre: it hits you like a fist. "

Both Fiennes and Logan served as producers on CORIOLANUS. Joining them on the production team were Gabrielle Tana, whom Fiennes first approached while they were working on the 2008 drama THE DUCHESS; Julia Taylor-Stanley, whose credits include Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST; and Colin Vaines, who produced A DANGEROUS MAN: LAWRENCE AFTER ARABIA, the television film that launched Fiennes' star as an onscreen leading man.

The three seasoned producers were easily persuaded to join Fiennes in his first filmmaking venture. "The combination of Ralph's vision and John's script made us all passionate about getting the film made, " Taylor-Stanley notes. "One of the great things about ‘Coriolanus' is that it's so little known as a play and yet it's one of Shakespeare's finest works. The themes are so relevant: a hungry population, economic uncertainty, the threat of anarchy, and an authoritarian backlash. Ralph knew the play inside-out, he knew the part inside out, and most importantly, he knew exactly what he wanted to do in bringing it to the screen. "

From the earliest stages of developing CORIOLANUS, Fiennes knew he wanted Vanessa Redgrave for the key role of Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia. Aristocratic and patriotic, Volumnia had molded her only son for battle virtually from the cradle. Redgrave was eager to work with Fiennes as both an actor and director, but she worried about her ability to burrow into the skin of a character whose mindset was so different than her own. She finally found a window onto Volumnia by looking at her own family's years of service in the British military. Redgrave's grandfather fought in World War I and went on to become headmaster at the Royal Naval College, where he trained the officers who would ultimately serve in World War II. Two of Redgrave's uncles fought in Second World War; one was killed in battle in the Pacific, and another recuperated at her family's home after his ship was bombed. The actress had her own childhood memories of World War II and the hours her family spent gathered at the radio. "We listened to the weather forecast all around the British Isles every night as a matter of life and death. The Merchant Navy would be trying to avoid German submarines so they could make port and bring food to the country, " Redgrave says. "I realized there's a very specific, dedicated mentality held in military families. People are ready to sacrifice their lives, and mothers are ready for their sons to be sacrificed. I had to understand that if I was to play Volumnia. "

She continues, "Volumnia is a military woman, and her pride is in the history of her family. Going back generations, the men in her family have been fighters and military leaders in wars that have gone on over various decades, battles lost and battles won, great sacrifices made. That is the essence of Volumnia, the reason she is so proud of her son and her reason for living. "

A central thread of CORIOLANUS is the code of honor and sense of brotherhood among soldiers, a sense of shared identity that extends even to opposing armies. After Volumnia, the person who arguably looms largest in Coriolanus' life is his sworn enemy, the Volscian guerrilla leader Tullus Aufidius. The filmmakers brought the project to Gerard Butler, who had previously portrayed warriors in films such as 300 and BEOWULF and who possessed the kind physicality, charisma and masculine authority necessary

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