(AFP) – Since its birth four centuries ago under the pen of Shakespeare, Macbeth has never been embodied by someone of the caliber of Denzel Washington.
The Oscar-winning actor, considered one of the greatest of his time, received nominations for most upcoming film awards for his role in “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which premieres Friday on Apple TV+.
He is 67 years old and the Lady Macbeth who gives him the counterpart is Frances McDormand, 64, which may seem a bit old to produce an heir to their kingdom. “They are tired, they are older,” Denzel Washington told AFP, explaining that the passing of time plays a major role in this version, pushing them towards evil and madness.
“They are like this: + Our time has come. It is our due. Give it to us!”, He continues. “An extreme situation, extreme measures. And the clock is ticking”.
The actor, who faces sword in hand enemies twice during the film, would he have interpreted this character differently twenty or thirty years ago?
“I would probably have been more physical. Without being limited by the state my knees are in at this time of my life!”, he smiles.
And of course Denzel Washington is black, as is 33-year-old Corey Hawkins, who plays his nemesis Macduff. Although completely anachronistic for a story supposedly set in 11th century Scotland, this detail is anything but new for an adaptation of Macbeth. Orson Welles, for example, staged a version of the play in 1936 in which all the protagonists were black.
“Obviously we’re diverse and I think that’s a great thing,” Denzel Washington said during a press roundtable. “In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t even be at the point where we have to mention diversity as something special,” he notes.
“These young people – black, white, blue, green, whatever – are highly talented and skilled, that’s what they’re here for,” insists the actor.
“I can’t change that skin. I can’t change that hair. I can’t change that. But what I can do is be great where people didn’t expect me to be,” Corey Hawkins said. . “We didn’t think in terms of blacks and whites,” he says.
– “A new eye” –
Director Joel Coen chose to shoot his film in black and white, with an almost square aspect ratio that was used towards the end of silent cinema and minimal sound effects that give it the flavor of early Hollywood.
On several occasions, “Macbeth” has been adapted for the big screen, including by legendary directors such as Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa (“The Castle of the Spider”) or Roman Polanski.
Denzel Washington swears he has never seen any of these versions and even deliberately shunned them, to avoid having to think to himself “damn, how the hell am I going to be better than that?”
“I didn’t want it to affect what I was going to get out of it, so I came in with a fresh eye and my imagination”, explains the actor, whose Macbeth begins gently and subtly before pouring into rage, ambition then madness.
Denzel Washington is not yet his first Shakespeare: he played “Julius Caesar” on Broadway and appeared in the film “Much Ado About Nothing” by Kenneth Branagh.
Corey Hawkins hopes that minority children will in turn want to rub shoulders with Shakespeare after seeing his eldest and the other black actors in the film. “It might pique their curiosity,” he says.
Because “yes, black people love Shakespeare. We probably love Shakespeare without even knowing it because there are plenty of references to Shakespeare in the songs and the culture that we love”, he underlines.
“It belongs to us as much as to others,” says Corey Hawkins.