Fincher, Jolie, Cleopatra…?

Last Tuesday Deadline‘s Michael Fleming outlined the latest configuration of Sony’s Cleopatra biopic — Angelina Jolie in the lead, David Fincher possibly directing, Scott Rudin producing from a script by Brian Helgeland (but with a new punch-up writer possibly being sought), based on Stacy Schiff‘s Cleopatra: A Life. An inside source says it’s all “conjecture” at this point, but I’m hearing the project may actually come together.

A guy I don’t know much less trust directed me to an IMDB comment posting, allegedly written by someone in the loop, claiming that (a) Fincher is “almost confirmed,” (b) “Filming to begin late in the year (Malta, Cyprus or Egypt),” (c) “The roles of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to be given to ‘no big stars,'” presumably because the intent is for Jolie to dominate and be central to the proceedings in every conceivable way, (d) “Brad Pitt was never considered for the role of Marc Antony”…THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY RIDICULOUS!, (e) “The film will be a political epic,” and (f) “Expect a fabulous work of make-up…Angelina to appear completely unrecognizable.”

This last bit of possibly imagined information is the most interesting to me. Cleopatra was not a ravishing beauty, by all historical accounts. The idea of Jolie making herself look a wee bit homely with a different nose or something sounds highly intriguing. It worked for Nicole Kidman in The Hours. When’s the last time a world-famous actress significantly altered her looks to portray a head of state? When Bette Davis had her head shaved for The Virgin Queen?

I’ve read about how this would be “the first telling of the Cleopatra story from a woman’s perspective” and that “instead of simply being a seductress, as she was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz-directed film, Cleopatra is also a shrewd politician, strategist and warrior, with sexual charisma to spare.”

What? Mankiewicz and Taylor’s Cleopatra wasn’t just some titillating queen who wore heavy mascara. She was written and portrayed as a complex combination — seductress, clever politician, willful negotiator, perceptive reader of character, something of a battle strategist. So we’re going to have to hear a bit more about the new version to be persuaded that it’s going to be a markedly different thing than 20th Century Fox’s “monumental mouse,” as critic Judith Crist called it in her review.

Here’s how I put it to a friend this morning:

“I’ve been in denial about Sony/Rudin’s Cleopatra project, and now I’m finally facing it full-on: David Fincher, my hero, might actually direct this? Wow.

“Whatsername’s source book is entirely respectable, and there certainly ought to be room for another take on the Cleopatra saga, etc. But — it might as well be faced and dealt with straight-on — the stink from Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 turkey, despite Rex Harrison‘s superb performance and other stirring and agreeable aspects, is, 48 years after the fact, still lingering in the air. And so there’s a slight feeling of ‘uh-oh’ or at least ‘oh…really?’ when you hear about a Cleopatra feature.

“Plus I have to wonder how persuadable Jolie, a tabloid queen to millions, can be in a historical context? I’m thinking of my reaction to her as Alexander the Great’s mom in Oliver Stone‘s film. But if they make her look a bit homely, maybe.

“I’m just being honest and open here. Rudin’s project, image- and expectation-wise, has to overcome the stigma of the 1963 film, and that in itself, however unfair, is going to be a bit of an endeavor. And I’m also asking myself how Fincher, a modernist and/or futurist and a digital guy who’s never gone further back in time that early 20th Century New Orleans, is going to find his way into an exotic 2000 year-old culture…the mind reels.

“I’m not slagging this project at all. I’m just being upfront and honest about the associations that people have with the name ‘Cleopatra,’ etc. If anyone can turn the image around, it’s Fincher and Rudin…don’t get me wrong. But the image does need turning around because everyone in the media remembers what a catastrophe the ’63 version was….that’s all I’m saying. Obviously doable. An educating process required.”

  • JLC

    I liked HBO’s Rome’s take on Cleopatra. She was portrayed as a teenage drug addict nymphomaniac. No wonder Julius fell for her hard.

    (By the way, you’re in denial about this Fincher project, but you were on board with the 3D 20K remake?)

  • Ray DeRousse

    How does this work? Does Fincher try and accurately recreate the woman and her period, or does it come off as stagey like the Taylor version? Do you smear the damned thing with CGI vistas of Egyptian architecture that are more tuned to our movie-generated view of the ancient world, or will it look real?

    More importantly, do you give Jolie a prosthetic nose that more accurately reflects Cleaopatra’s famous schnozz?

  • BaxterPeanut

    Think you’re right on the nail about this project. If ever a remake was going to fall hard into the “comparison game” it’ll be this one. Would think Fincher would stay away, he doesn’t need this baggage.

  • York “Budd” Durden

    At least he’s not committed to making all three of those silly GIRL WITH… remakes.

  • Eloi Wrath

    So Jolie is too much of a tabloid queen to play Cleopatra, but Taylor wasn’t?

  • DiscoNap

    If I read one comment here about Cleopatra being black or brown I will lose my shit.

  • J. Ho

    Future flop in the making.

  • dayXexists

    I think if anyone can pull this off it’s David Fincher. Fincher + Jolie + Rudin? Have faith. I don’t think all these big time players would go through with it if they weren’t absolutely sure that it was going to work.

  • cyanic

    If I read one comment here about Cleopatra being black or brown I will lose my shit.

    She’s Greek: we African Americans know that now.

  • dayXexists

    Also can we give Jolie the benefit of the doubt on “Alexander”? I know this role is going to evoke memories of that disaster but honestly, we know she’s got the chops- she’s given us plenty of strong performances both before and after that one. When it comes down to it, Oliver Stone directed that performance and OK’d that accent. I’m sure she’s learned from that turkey and in the hands of Fincher I can’t see her putting in a bad performance.

  • creepingmalaise

    You did mean Cleopatra JONES, right?

  • DiscoNap

    Tell it to the commenters almost anywhere you go. I wish everyone were as smart as you guys.

  • Y’know… it used to be “everyone” wanted to make/star-in “Cleopatra” because it was the only thing they remembered not minding being forced to read in English Lit and History because of all the sex, violence and the (supposedly) hot chick.

    Why they hell do they STILL want to make it, when the only place most people now know the name from is a notorious flop movie?

  • actionman

    i wish i was brian helgeland’s bank account

  • George Prager

    Does it have a strong third act?

  • Mr Hooper

    I think you’re all way off base – like, way way off base – if you think comparisons to the Liz Taylor version are an issue or that the stink of that film still lingers. That stink is because you’ve got your head up your ass. Nobody but film nuts remember the film, fewer still remember anything about it other than it starred Liz Taylor. The average moviegoer (by which I mean 99.9 percent of all moviegoers, not just the “Eloi” that Wells slags on) has little to no clue about it or how good or bad it was or anything. Yet if the Fincher version gets made, everybody with a film blog will write endlessly and with absolute certainty and conviction that the stink of the original is upon it like a plague of locusts and how can it ever hope to stand on its own and make people forget the horror of Liz Taylor as Cleo. Utter bullshit.

  • adorian

    I’m usually a minority of one, so I’ll say it. I love the Liz Taylor Cleopatra. I play my DVD of it often. I just wish those missing 3 or 4 or 5 hours of it were still available so we could have a marathon miniseries of it. Even bad Liz Taylor acting is more fascinating than most of the “good” acting we see today. She is gorgeous. The scenery is gorgeous. The costumes are gorgeous. I love the Liz Taylor Cleopatra.

    Yes…I said it. Minority of one.

  • Sams

    I agree with Mr Hooper that the 99.9% of moviegoers don’t know nor care about the 1963 version. This is the age of reboots after all — just look at how many times they’ve done Batman and with plans for more. The controversy surrounding Liz Taylor and Fox’s losses is of little interest to today’s audience most of whom never saw that version in theaters. If they’re aware of it now, it’s only because movie writers like to dredge it up but it has no impact on their interest or perception of this project. A historical epic of this scale should be a nice challenge for Fincher, Jolie and Rudin. If they do it right, this could be the one they all would be best remembered for.

  • Krillian

    Jolie as Cleopatra brings to mind her as Alexander the Great’s mother more than Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra. Which is probably not a good thing.

  • arispil

    LOL epic flop. No way this is getting made.

  • BobbyLupo

    “I agree with Mr Hooper that the 99.9% of moviegoers don’t know nor care about the 1963 version.”

    I’ll go one up on both of you; 99.9% of moviegoers don’t care about Cleopatra, period.

  • LexG

    Lupo FTW.

    Don’t know or care if it’s a stinging indictment of current education levels or the contemporary frame of reference, but NOBODY today knows who the fuck Cleopatra was. I know of the Liz-Burton movie and its lore, but I DON’T know who Cleopatra was, and I DO NOT CARE. Audiences will FLEE from this thing like the Plague. Three-hour costume movie with a female lead? And Jolie is one of the few women who totally sells tickets for both men and women, but dampen her down in some overlong, medicinal costume bullshit set in the Ye Olden Days about some old-ass NO ONE under 50 cares about?

    This won’t make 15 million domestic. Terrible idea.

    Also, all day I’ve been wondering what Jack Bauer is scheduled to contribute to this movie. Who IS that third pic?

  • George Prager

    i don’t know, Lex. No one gave a flying fuck about the Titanic before that movie came out. Ditto DANCES WITH WOLVES. No one gave a shit about the Indians and all of their bullshit. Ditto the Romans before GLADIATOR. Sometimes the movies take the lead.

  • LicentiousMaximus

    Oh God no, for the love of everything decent Fincher DO NOT do this….do the fucking Arthur C Clarke movie, but not this. That same fucking one size fits all Transylvanian accent she does….nooooooooo.

    Ditto HBO’s Rome. No way this has a chance of being better no matter who directs or stars in this ill conceived venture. If…..did Wells just single out Rex Harrison’s work in Cleopatra?

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