This year marks 50 years since the debut of Tom Stoppard”s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” and 25 years since the release of the play”s film adaptation.
Stoppard himself took on the challenge of scripting and directing a film adaptation of his celebrated absurdist comedy that depicts what”s going on “off-stage,” so to speak, during Shakespeare”s “Hamlet.” Then relative unknowns in the U.S., English actors Gary Oldman and Tim Roth starred as the Danish prince”s untimely death-bound friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And for the Player – who, with a twinkle in his eye, schooled us on death and exits and entrances – Stoppard turned to Richard Dreyfuss.
Packed with wordplay, super-speedy banter, existential musings, slapstick, and silly anachronisms, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” got its big screen premiere at the 1990 Venice International Film Festival, with a release in U.S. theaters the following February. Today the film is available on Blu-ray for the first time.
Dreyfuss remains just as proud of his performance in the film as he was 25 years ago. Here is what we learned from our chat with the “Jaws” actor about becoming the Player King.
He based his Player King performance on Donald Wolfit, giant ham of British theater.
[“Stoppard] said to me that he wanted me to play the Player King. And I said I would play it, but I would love to play it like Donald Wolfit. So I got to play not only the acting of our era, but I had the opportunity to play the acting of the prior era and it felt like trying to play an oak tree. It was so much fun.”
“It”s of a style that we just simply don't accept now. Way too big. It”s over-the-top. Onstage in London, Donald Wolfit was a star for 40 years. In film, he never was a star. He always was a supporting player. Because film needed something more realistic. So he just never had a film career really that matched his stage career. But there was no question how to play it, and when I said Donald Wolfit, Tom knew completely.”
He holds this film and his performance in it in high regard, and he always has.
“It”s one of the best things I ever did. When I watch it now I think that, and I thought so then. I am very proud of that performance.”
He has praise for his “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern” co-star Gary Oldman.
“I”m a huge fan of Gary”s. A very rare creativity comes out of him. He has a lot of bravery as an actor. When you watch ‘The Fifth Element” – that performance is as out there as you can get, and it”s all funny.”
He wants students studying Shakespeare to see “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern” and is always pleased to hear the play has a place in English class curriculums.
“In a good Shakespeare class, to introduce young people to Shakespeare, they should see this film, because there”s more there than meets the eye, and you can be, as a student, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and you can let the Player King lead you though this delicious problem. It”s like you have this personal relationship with one of the actors in it.”