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LANGE, JESSICA: TITUS

SHAKESPEARE - AT THE CROSSROADS
JESSICA LANGE tackles Shakespeare for the first time, as Tamora in Titus, at a time she feels she is at a crossroads in her life, she tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

For centuries, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeareís earliest play, has been the subject of hot debate. Regarded as his most successful potboiler in his own day, the polite centuries before our own were shocked by the juxtaposition of heightened drama, ruthless violence and absurdist black comedy but critically acclaimed theatre director Julie (The Lion King) Taymor applies her own unique visual style to the latest movie adaptation of Titus for todayís audiences.

Anthony Hopkins stars as Titus, the great Roman general returned home victorious from a long war with the Goths during which all but his four remaining sons have died. Lucius (Angus Macfadyen), the eldest son, reminds Titus that part of the victory ritual is the human sacrifice of an enemy prisoner and Titus chooses the eldest son of Tamora (Jessica Lange), the Queen of the Goths.

Though she pleads for her sonís life, he carries out the ritual and Tamora and her two remaining sons vow revenge, which leads to double revenge when Titus is forced to again retaliate from the horror they bring to his family. Jessica Lange has won two Oscars (The Music Box, Blue Sky) and is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest actresses of our time. So itís not surprising that she should team up with another great in the world of literature, William Shakespeare. But what may be surprising is the confession from the warm and down-to-earth actress that sheís really cared about Shakespeare too much.

You are always so passionate in every role you play. What does acting mean to you?
That changes all the time. I really donít know what it means to me anymore, to tell you the truth. It has meant everything at certain times of my life. It certainly gave me an outlet for a lot of energy and expression and allowed me to be creative. But I feel sometimes like Iím at a crossroads. When I do a part like this, itís exciting because itís different. Itís nothing like Iíve ever done before but the idea of acting just for the sake of acting with something less thrilling than this, or repeating the type of character Iíve done before, I donít think I could do that anymore. You havenít seen much of me lately because to be frank, I havenít found much to be passionate about.

You have displayed an incredible range from Blue Sky to Titus. Is it easy to get in touch with the emotions required?
To a certain degree, Iím extremely lazy and if I can get around the work, Iíll find a way around it. But with this movie, it really forced me to work hard because it was the first time I played a character of this kind of dimension and with this Shakespearean language on top of it. The work does become easier in a way because youíve learned the craft and how to get somewhere. But in some odd way itís also like foolís gold, because it can trick you into thinking youíre doing things that youíre not doing. So with this one I approached it very studiously again, the way I had worked when I first started out and it was a very good exercise for me.

What is your relationship with William Shakespeare?
I didnít have much of a relationship with Shakespeare, to tell you the truth. I havenít studied Shakespeare like I am sure a lot of actors have and one of the reasons I liked this piece was that it seemed very accessible to me. I am not a Shakespeare scholar and I have always had difficulty imagining myself doing that, so I hadnít even heard of Titus before this project came along!

What do you think of revenge?
I actually think itís a senseless condition. Itís an emotion and itís basically what this film is about, but I think it is a waste of time and really canít remember ever wanting to get even, other than probably a few childhood things back in school.

What did you think of Tamara? Did you have to like her to play her?
I didnít have to, but I did like her. First of all, I found a way to justify what she did, which was important to me in playing the character. The sacrifice of her son was something so primal - and that it was for the sake of religion, that Titus totally disregards her pleas - I thought, ĎOK, now we have touched on something that is absolutely understandable.í I had great sympathy for her but the fact is that she still went too far with it.

How did you handle the costume and make-up?
They were difficult costumes to wear. We were always in the worst situations, shooting in Rome with the weather and it was very bothersome for me. I didnít have the kind of physical freedom that I like to have when Iím working, wearing fifty pounds of chains, but I do think they were brilliant. And sometimes those tattoos took up to four or five hours to do so in the long run it pays off, because I think the look was right.

Why do you think Shakespeare is still alive and well in so many movies today?
I think he was probably touched by the gods. I think he was writing about human conditions and human emotions that transcend time. This is probably one of his lesser-known plays but it has a very powerful message about violence that is still relevant today. In a lot of todayís films we see violence is glorified or romanticised and we never really understand the consequences of it. In this film we see they are devastating, and that the cycle of revenge ultimately benefits nobody.

Most young actresses look at you as a role model. Who are the actresses you look up to?
There are a lot of actresses I would like to work with, and certainly a lot of English actresses whose work Iíve always admired. People like Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave, for example. And of course people like Meryl Streep, whoíve done tremendous work over the years.

You turned fifty last year. What does this mean to you?
My age has never meant that much to me and Iíve never celebrated birthdays. Every once in a while Iím shocked when I have to write my age on an application of some kind. Fifty? But other than that, Iím more comfortable in my own skin now than Iíve ever been so I actually feel OK about it. Except that my skin is changing!

21/9/00

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Jessica Lange in Titus

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