Angelina Jolie is picked by producer Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Man) to star as ‘Cleopatra’ with Ang Lee possibly directing the remake of the 20th Century Fox classic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the Egyptian queen and her warrior-lover Antony in ancient Rome.
The new movie is being developed for Sony Pictures and based on Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff’s book ‘Cleopatra: A Life’ (2010). The first draft of the screenplay was written by Brian Helgeland which was then rewritten by Eric Roth in late 2011.
Before Ang Lee, a slew of big-name directors including James Cameron, Paul Greengrass and David Fincher was attached but all later departed.
Here’s how producer Scott Rudin described the new movie –
“It is a completely revisionist Cleopatra, a much more grown-up sophisticated version. She’s not a sex kitten, she’s a politician, strategist, warrior. In the Joseph Mankiewicz movie, Elizabeth Taylor is a seductress, but the histories of Cleopatra have been written by men. This is the first to be written by a woman. It felt like such a blow-the-doors-off-the-hinges idea of how to tell it, impossible to resist. We’re pretty close. A lot of directors want to do it, but there is only a handful we’ll make it with.”
Jolie actually wrote Ang Lee and asked him to direct this remake of the 1960s epic ‘Cleopatra’ which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Lee is said to be very interested and felt that it would be right as his next project. He is yet to read the script.
Jolie is perfect for this role as well. Still the movie would be very risky. A similar production is Oliver Stone’s 2004 epic ‘Alexander’ which Jolie also starred. That one lost money because of the huge budget ($115mil) with a worldwide ticket sales of only $167mil which is far from being able to break even.
If Angie plays ‘Cleopatra’ who should play her lover Mark Anthony, the original role that made Richard Burton famous?
Personally, I hope it won’t be Brad Pitt. It would be too familiar. Have to find an actor who can match Jolie’s star power and fill Richard Burton’s shoes too. Perhaps Leo DiCaprio would fit the bill. Maybe James Franco? His ‘Oz the Great and Powerful 3D’ movie is busting box office right now. Ben Affleck, may be? Neither Johnny Depp nor Colin Farrell would be right in my view.
While we wait for the new ‘Cleopatra’ movie starring Angelina Jolie, a 4-hour TV miniseries on the Egyptian queen is also being planned by Lifetime TV right now. No word on casting yet. The original ‘Cleopatra’ with Liz Taylor & Richard Burton was almost 4-hours long. Recently, the History channel showed this theatrical version.
Because of ‘Cleopatra’, Liz Taylor became well-known as the first actress in Hollywood being paid $1 Million to act in a movie. She actually earned much more than that as you will learn later.
The time was 1959, Elizabeth Taylor was taking a bath one day and her phone rang. Her husband Eddie Fisher answered and it was producer Walter Wanger who really wanted Liz to play the Egyptian Queen. Liz was annoyed and told Eddie to ask for $1 Mil thinking that it would discourage Wanger. Yet the Fox executive immediately agreed. Big mistake!
‘Cleopatra’ almost bankrupts a studio, 20th century Fox.
The original ‘Cleopatra’ was one of the most disastrous movies Hollywood had ever seen. Weather delays and labor problems drove the budget up from the originally intended $5 Mil to $44 Mil (or more than $300 Mil in today’s currency). Elizabeth Taylor became so sick that production had to be shut down and eventually moved from London to Rome. Entire sets at England’s Pinewood Studios were scrapped. 20th Century Fox lost so much money that it almost went bankrupt. While filmmakers always hope for a good chemistry between lead actors, in Cleopatra’s case, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz got way more than he bargained for.
When Liz Taylor & Richard Burton met, passion exploded!
When the director yelled ‘Cut’, Liz and Dick were still making out. Both were married but not to each other. The Pope got so upset that he issued a disapproving message saying that Taylor was guilty of “erotic vagrancy.” I looked up that term in a dictionary which loosely translated into sexual loitering. An accurate description I suppose.
Liz Taylor ultimately made $7 Mil. How!?
Besides a salary of one million, Liz Taylor also earned 10% of the gross (that’s right off the top from the box-office). She also stipulated that the movie be shot in the large format Todd-AO system which she owned the right to as the inventor of that system was her late husband Michael Todd who died in a plane crash in 1958. So the royalty went to Liz. Ultimately, she earned $7 mil & that’s all 1960s money.
To raise cash for the production of ‘Cleopatra’, 20th Century Fox sold off about 180 acres of the studio backlot in L.A. to developer Alcoa. The area later became known as Century City which was conceived as ‘a city within a city’.
Though it was a box-office success in 1963, Cleopatra remained a money-loser for a long while. It was not until 1975 when ABC paid $5Mil to broadcast it on TV that the movie recouped most of its expenses. Eventually all movies make money as the production and marketing cost are very much fixed once the picture is released while revenues keep coming in.
With Angelina Jolie firmly in place (and rightfully so in my view) and possibility of having the meticulous and artistic Ang Lee as director, this new ‘Cleopatra’ still has many hurdles to overcome. Casting, budget, international appeal etc. Hopefully we shall see all these resolved one by one and won’t be a repeat of the fiasco that the Taylor-Burton version is well-known for.
Ray Van Eng is an award-winning Photographer/Videographer, Screenwriter and Movie & TV Producer. One of his videos is currently on view at the Hava Nagila Exhibit, Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan, New York, NY. from Sep 2012 to May 2013.
Century City, LA, CA
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